June 28, 2017



It will not become a reality until 2023, but it will happen. There will be an elected school board, which will run the Chicago Public Schools system, with its 600 schools, and 400,000 children, pick the chief executive officer, spend $5.41 billion, and inject racism, politics and even greater union dominance into an already abysmal situation.

What Chicago’s schools do not need is 15 bickering, opportunistic on-the-make politicians making self-serving decisions of fundamental importance to Chicago parents concerning per-pupil spending, class size, school closures, charter schools, teacher salaries and qualifications, pensions and the school year, not to mention the property tax burden on non-parents.

And, by the way, none of these board members will get paid, so they will all have a personal agenda, which essentially means political self-aggrandizement and advancement, and they will all be subservient to the special interests that spend the millions of dollars necessary to get them elected, and to the Democratic committeemen who provide the votes.

Doesn’t this sound just wonderful? Under House Bill 1774, which passed the Illinois House, was amended in the Illinois Senate, and is back before the House for concurrence, there will be 14 single-member districts, of equal population, which will elect a board member for a 4-year term beginning with the 2023 municipal election, and there will be a board president elected at-large citywide, along with the mayor, clerk and treasurer.

Like Chicago’s 50 aldermen, the board members will be elected on a non-partisan basis, with 50-percent-plus-one required in the primary, or a runoff between the top two finishers.

Chicago’s population, according to the 2010 census, was 2,695,598, a decline from 2,896,016 in 2000, with each ward having roughly 54,000 people. Usually about 60 to70 percent of that number are registered voters in white- and black-majority wards, and 25 to 30 percent in Hispanic areas. A school board district would contain 192,500 people, making it the equivalent of 3.5 wards, one state Senate district, two state House districts, and about 40 percent of a congressional district. That’s a lot of territory with a lot of Democratic ward committeemen who are going to care a lot about having a board member who is under their thumb, and not a potential rival. A rambunctious and ambitious education board member can generate a ton of publicity on issues about which voters care.

At present, the mayor appoints the seven members of the school board. Under the proposed law, an 11-member Chicago School Board Independent Redistricting Commission (CSBIRC) will be created, of which at least six of the commissioners must have children in the Chicago public schools. Their job will be to design the 14 districts, not later than September of 2021. The Chicago Election Board, consisting of three members appointed by the Circuit Court, one of which by law must be a Republican, appoints the 11 CSBIRC commissioners. Under the House bill, the state legislature, meaning Mike Madigan, drew the lines.

Under the 2010 census, Chicago’s racial mix was roughly 32 percent white, 44 percent black and 24 percent Hispanic, with Asians lumped among whites, and Hispanics growing exponentially. In many Northwest Side schools, 40 to 45 percent of the schoolchildren are Hispanic. The 2020 census will surely boost the Hispanic population to 30 to 33 percent. However, among citywide registered voters, whites still comprise 51 percent, blacks 40 percent, and Hispanics less than 10 percent — but that will grow as more “anchor babies” turn age 18.

Of Chicago’s 50 aldermen, 18 are black, ten Hispanic and 22 white (with one Asian). However, at least four whites represent Hispanic-majority wards.

Right now. If lines were drawn based on 2010 numbers, there should be seven white-majority education districts, five black- and two Hispanic-majority districts. That will never happen. The federal Voting Rights Act mandates non-retrogression, which means that once a minority-majority district is created anywhere, it cannot ever be diluted or abolished. But the education board map is virgin territory, so the CSBIRC can stuff all the whites, such as those in the Loop, north Lakefront, Rogers Park stretching westward, and the far Northwest Side, into three districts, leaving plenty of room for the creation of 11 minority-majority districts. The remaining whites in the Southwest Side 19th, 13th and 23rd wards, where powerhouses like Mike Madigan, Bill Lipinski and Matt O’Shea dominate, would be swallowed in a sea of Mexican-American votes.

It should also be noted that, under the voting act, districts need not be “compact and contiguous,” which means that redistricters can cram a lot of one minority, like whites, into as few districts as possible, while spreading another minority into as many districts as possible. That doesn’t necessarily help Hispanics, since their vote is diffused anyway, but it does aid blacks, especially in a black-Hispanic district.

The current members of the Chicago Election Board, Marisel Hernandez, Jon Swain and William Kresse, serve 3-year terms, with one expiring every year. Those appointed in 2018, 2019 and 2020 would be especially powerful.

So the question would not be whether there is a 6-5 Hispanic or a 6-5 black majority among the district members, or whether a black or Hispanic is elected president (which will surely happen). Race will not be an issue. The question is whether the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and allied unions, such as those in the public sector, allied with the Democratic Establishment, spend enough money and exert enough effort to insure a majority. And they will.

In the open 2nd District, a heavily Hispanic (most Puerto Rican) district where Willie Delgado abruptly quit and insider Omar Aquino was slated, an advocate of school-choice and charter schools came very close to beating Aquino in the Democratic primary. That will be the template of education board elections. The CTU will spend whatever millions it takes to get their flunkies in place, especially if the runoff choice is between a CPS supporter and a private-school advocate.

It should be noted that, while the Redistricting Commission requires six appointed parents, there is no such reservation for school board members. That would be unconstitutional. There is a requirement that judges are lawyers, but the pending law does not and cannot require that board members be parents of CPS children. And there is no preclusion for double-dipping, which means simultaneously holding two elected government jobs, since there is no pay involved. And, from an ethics standpoint, since a board member is not being paid, there can be no conflicts-of-interest.

The crown jewel will be the education board presidency, as the occupant of that post must run citywide, must raise $3 million-plus to win, will be widely-known after winning, and will have a phenomenally visible platform for a future campaign. One of the reasons why Rahm Emanuel is favored to win a third term in 2019 is that he has no viable opposition. “You think Chuy Garcia is going to beat him?” said Alderman Nick Sposato (38th). “There’s nobody who can beat him.”
Unlike New York City, where there is a comptroller, public advocate and at-large aldermen, and Los Angeles, where there is an at-large Board of Supervisors, Chicago has just a clerk and treasurer, neither of whom are consequential and unknown. But a school board president, from day one, would change the scenario.  He or she would be an instant mayoral contender.

It is far too early to handicap any 2023 contest, and, presumably by then, Emanuel would be history, but he would be the one to appoint the Board of Election commissioners who would appoint the CSBIRC. But in 2027 or beyond, the board president would be a factor in any mayor election, and 2023 will be a titanic battle between blacks and Hispanics for the post, with the CTU-backed candidate winning.

The current Chicago Board of Education is composed of seven members, all appointed by the mayor. Of that number, two are Hispanic and two are black. All serve unpaid, and none has any political base. But an elected school board would bring out a plethora of Local School Board (LSC) members, particularly since they would be running in a local district, thereby cluttering the ballot. They would make it easy from the local Democratic committeemen and the CTU to collude to get their candidate elected.

At least initially, there would be huge candidate fields, which would drive up turnouts in both the primary and runoff. That would theoretically be beneficial to the Democratic organization, as lots of money would be spent on both media and in-precinct activity, and various alliances would be formed, but it would also create a poisonous atmosphere where there are candidates of different races or CTU-versus-school-choicers, as that polarization would carry over into aldermanic contests.

The best that can be said about an elected school board is that the politicians are doing something that most people want . . .  and, of course, their own way and for their own benefit. They can now trumpet the concept as an “accomplishment.” If it proves disastrous, they won’t be around in 2027 to face voters’ wrath.

I asked state Representative Robert Martwick (D-19), the bill’s House sponsor, if he wanted to run for board president or member, since he thinks an elected school board is such a great idea. “No way,” he responded, and not jokingly. That says it all.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.