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Elected School Board Approved By House — Is Rahm's CPS Control In Danger?

 Elected School Board protest.
Elected School Board protest.
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Chicago Teachers Union/CTUNet

JEFFERSON PARK — Chicagoans would be represented by an elected — not appointed — School Board, under a measure that won overwhelming approval Thursday in the Illinois House.

The bill, which must also be approved by the Illinois Senate and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner, passed 110-4.

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.

The action of the Illinois House comes more than a year after Chicago voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of an elected School Board in a nonbinding referendum pushed by leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union, who called the absence of an elected School Board the "most pressing civil rights issue" in Chicago.

The bill, authored by state Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Jefferson Park) would go into effect in 2018.

During the debate over the bill, Martwick said the lack of an elected School Board has "eliminated democracy in Chicago."

"These are our schools, and we should have a say in how they are run," Martwick said in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago.

State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Lakeview) said the measure — which faces an uncertain future in the Senate that has been gridlocked by partisan fighting — won't solve all of CPS' woes.

"While not a panacea, the elected School Board is an important step to restore faith in public education in Chicago," Williams said.

Martwick said he hoped Rauner would take note of the bill's huge margin of victory before deciding whether to veto the bill.

"A vote of 110-4 is what I call a veto-proof majority," Martwick said.

In September, Rauner said he opposed efforts to overturn the 1995 law giving Chicago's mayor control of the school district.

Initial conversations about the bill with members of the Senate have been positive, Martwick said.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square) said he had been working with community groups since his failed 2012 bid for the Illinois House to get legislation requiring an elected School Board in Chicago.

"I’m incredibly excited to see our efforts bear fruit today," Guzzardi said.

The call for an elected School Board reached a fever pitch after the board voted in 2013 to close 50 schools — most on the South and West sides — at Emanuel's direction.

The revelation that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett took bribes in return for awarding a no-bid contract also renewed the push by many organizations to end mayoral control of the district, Martwick said.

During his re-election campaign for mayor, Emanuel opposed the push for an elected School Board, saying since local school councils are picked by voters, Chicagoans' voices are heard. 

"This has nothing to do with Rahm Emanuel," Martwick said. "This is a movement."