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Progressives to Take Fight for Elected School Board to Council Floor

By Ted Cox | October 6, 2014 3:30pm
 Aldermen Scott Waguespack and John Arena talk following Monday's Finance Committee meeting.
Aldermen Scott Waguespack and John Arena talk following Monday's Finance Committee meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — City Council progressives plan to take the fight for an elected school board straight to the floor of the City Council on Wednesday.

Using a parliamentary maneuver, Ald. John Arena (45th) will bring his proposal for a citywide advisory referendum on an elected school board directly to the council floor, after it's been bottled up for more than a year in the Rules Committee, which has been called "where good legislation goes to die."

On Monday, Arena pointed to a similar referendum, on the ballot in select city precincts two years ago, that found an overwhelming 87 percent of voters in favor of an elected school board.

The seven-member Board of Education is currently appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel under Chicago Public Schools reforms pushed through by his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

"We think it's something residents deserve," Arena said. "Right now, they have no direct say over those folks."

Parents, students teachers and activists have previously campaigned for an elected school board.

Arena tried last November to get the referendum to the council floor, but it failed by a 32-15 vote and was left to stay under the consideration of the Rules Committee. It has not had a hearing since.

That was after other aldermen had filled the city's three allowed slots for referendums with other proposals a year ago.

Yet Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Arena's colleague in the Progressive Reform Caucus, pointed out that 33 members of the City Council originally signed on as sponsors of Arena's proposal for an advisory referendum.

Arena is hoping to place the advisory referendum on an elected Board of Education on all city ballots in the municipal election in February.

On Monday, both Arena and Waguespack put forth a proposal that might select the board from Local School Council members who might first be promoted to regional school councils, then to the Board of Education. They said that would address criticism that the board might become "politicized" if subjected to elections with high-priced campaigning.

"That way, we'd have a board that's regionally representative, socio-economically representative and ethnically representative," Arena said. "That's not happening with the appointed board."

Yet first they have to get the proposed referendum out of committee, approved by the council, on the ballot and backed by voters before they start working out those fine details.

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