Ald. Moore nixes elected school board referendum
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org July 23, 2012 2:32PM
The Chicago Public School Board, in February. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: August 25, 2012 6:10AM
Voters in 10 Chicago wards will not get a chance to weigh in on the possibility of an elected school board after all, thanks to a parliamentary maneuver made Monday by an alderman who once railed against such strong-arm tactics.
Colleagues accused Ald. Joe Moore (49th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Human Relations, of completing the transition from a leader of the Council’s independent bloc to an ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel co-opted by a committee chairmanship.
Citing a series of technical violations, Moore ruled that aldermen representing 10 wards — the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 15th, 22nd, 32nd, 36th, 38th and 45th — could not place advisory referenda on the Nov. 6 ballot asking their voters if they want to make the switch to an elected board. The other 40 aldermen did not try to put the referendum on the ballots in their wards.
The ballot questions were filed with the city clerk’s office a few minutes after last Thursday’s 10 a.m. deadline, and they were filed with the wrong City Council committee, Moore contended.
The chairman further ruled that so-called “direct introductions” to a City Council committee are reserved for emergencies and that advisory referenda do not qualify as an emergency.
After the ruling, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) was overheard telling Moore not to “do the mayor’s bidding” and denouncing the chairman’s technical arguments as “baloney.”
Chicago has the only school district in the state that does not have an elected school board. Instead, the board is comprised of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.
Only the General Assembly could make the switch to an elected board, but advisory referenda would clearly give momentum to the grass-roots movement by voters fed up with the “top-down” decisions made by Emanuel’s handpicked board.
“The mayor doesn’t want to have a discussion about an elected school board or a partially elected school board,” Waguespack said.
Ald. John Arena (45th) argued that Emanuel was “personally offended this was being entertained” and communicated his displeasure to Moore, who promptly “folded” in response.
“A group of people who have the power to raise taxes and are not elected by the people is fundamental to reform,” Arena said, referring to an Emanuel board that has raised property taxes to the legal limit for two straight years — by a total of $212 million.
“I’m happy to join the mayor in reform efforts. This is a place where he could have shown some of that leadership.”
Moore flatly denied doing the mayor’s bidding.
“Like every matter that comes before the committee, I have a discussion with [the mayor’s office]. But, in terms of them telling me what to do, they didn’t give me any direction,” Moore said.
“If I was doing the bidding of the mayor’s office, I wouldn’t have even entertained this in the first place. I told them I would do it.
“I gave them the ground rules. I called them the day before to remind them, and my staff assistant literally ran down to the clerk’s office. They didn’t make it in time.”
The grass-roots movement toward an elected school board is being led by Raise Your Hands and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Council (KOCO).
Five months ago, Emanuel’s school board voted unanimously to close or phase out seven chronically failing schools and turn around 10 others, to jeers of, “Shame on you!”
Joining that standing-room-only crowd was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who argued that an elected school board would have been more responsive than the mayoral appointees who, Jackson claimed, “sat there reading papers while we were talking,” then voted like a “rubber stamp.”