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STEM Magnet Academy's First-Ever LSC Election Frustrates Parents, Principal

By Chloe Riley | April 4, 2014 10:52am
 STEM Magnet Elementary's parents and principal are concerned about the school's lack of guidance for Monday's local school council election.
STEM Magnet Elementary's parents and principal are concerned about the school's lack of guidance for Monday's local school council election.
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Facebook/STEM Elementary

LITTLE ITALY — For STEM Magnet Academy's first-ever local school council elections Monday, if you live in the city — regardless of whether your child attends the school or whether you even live in the neighborhood — you will be able to vote for who will lead the Near West Side academy for the next two years.

That's because Chicago Public Schools still has yet to set proximity boundaries that decide both who can run for a community spot on STEM's local school council and who can vote for members of that council.

Currently, guidelines for the 2014 local school council elections state that the two community positions can only be filled by a resident who resides "in the school's attendance area or established voting district."

But according to Maria McManus, principal at STEM, a voting district for the school was never established by the Board of Education and won't be established until after Monday's local school council elections.

For McManus​, who's been principal of STEM since the school opened at 1522 W. Fillmore St. in 2011, the lack of guidelines for who can run and who can vote has already caused concern for both parents and school administrators.

"It potentially could cause a lot of confusion for me and these are not even things I have control over. Honestly, I wish CPS had taken the time to set the boundaries so that a month from now I'm not dealing with the repercussions of that as a building administrator," McManus said Thursday.

Magnet schools admit students who live all over the city in a lottery process, although preference is given to neighborhood residents.

Several magnet schools — including Skinner, LaSalle Language Academy and Disney II — allow anyone in the city to be members of an LSC or vote in an election, Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said. But at other city magnets, like Andrew Jackson Language Academy and Galileo, which are also on the Near West Side, candidates for the community seats and voters must live within neighborhood boundaries.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Joel Hood did not comment on why STEM's voting boundaries had not been determined prior to Monday's election, but emphasized that the voting district would be in place by the next election — two years from now.

"CPS' department of Family and Community Engagement and Local School Council Relations has been in communication with school officials at STEM Magnet Academy to establish an LSC voting district for the LSC Election in 2016," Hood said in a written statement.

At Monday's election — the school's first — anyone with a drivers license that proves they live within city limits will be able to vote.

In addition, at least one of the three candidates seeking the two LSC community spots is current Dett Elementary Principal Deborah Bonner, who lives in the Chatham neighborhood on the city's South Side.

Bonner couldn't be reached for comment. McManus said that Bonner told her she is retiring from Dett at the end of this year. While STEM's principal said she didn't have any issue with Bonner seeking the position, she did worry that parents might have concerns over the process by which STEM's first school council was elected.

"[Parents] are invested, I'm invested. This is our school community. But I can only do what CPS allows me to do," McManus said.

Some, like STEM parent Jackie Marolda, question why someone who doesn't live in the community would be eligible to serve on the school's council.

"It is incredibly disappointing and it allows for this inaugural LSC to include community members who do not have a vested interest in STEM," said Marolda, who has a third-grader at the school.

The school's local school council vote will take place Monday, from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. at the school.