The politics of this week’s Local School Council elections
BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK AND BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporters April 7, 2014 2:17AM
Jodie Cantrell, (left) communications manager, and Andrew Broy, president of Illinois Network of Charter Schools, talked with the Sun-Times Editorial Board February 27, 2014. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Updated: April 7, 2014 8:24AM
It’s election day Monday, arguably the largest yet quietest citywide election day when more than 6,000 candidates vie for the job of governing the city’s public schools.
Some 6,362 people are running for Local School Council at 513 Chicago Public Schools, including 422 elementary schools whose communities will cast ballots Monday; the rest are high schools voting Tuesday.
Among the candidates are charter school teachers, former mayoral staffers, a former Board of Education member and several employees from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools — the statewide organization advocating charters, which also opposes a bill in Springfield that would require charter schools elect LSCs, too.
Those names have been circulating on an online “do not vote” list of candidates that accuses them of loyalties to the charter movement; to charter champion and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner; or to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has closed a record number of neighborhood schools while new charters proliferate.
“It’s much ado about nothing,” said Andrew Broy, of the charter schools network, who has three colleagues on ballots. One of those staffers will have a daughter at the school in September where he’s vying for a parent council seat, Broy said.
“People think it’s a nefarious plot. The staff is deeply committed to public schools,” Broy said, adding that he encourages any kind of community involvement.
“I tutor at DePriest Elementary School on Chicago’s West Side near my home,” he said. “Is that nefarious?”
Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Michael Brunson said it’s only natural to want “some type of empowerment in the school in your community, or in the school where your children attend or where you work.
“On the other hand, it could be somewhat cynical,” Brunson said. “Are they going in there to undermine the process or what?”
For the past 25 years, Local School Councils have governed CPS schools by approving budgets and big spending, by hiring or firing the principal, and by making plans to improve the school. They hold open meetings each month. Representatives are elected to serve two-year terms, beginning in September 2014 though June 2016. Each LSC has six parents, two community members, two teachers, one staff member who isn’t a teacher, and the school’s principal. High schools also get a student representative.
Schools on academic probation retain their LSCs but their powers are curtailed — they can still make major recommendations, but final say falls to CPS. Schools that get turned around and handed over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership lose their LSCs, and charter schools never had them, though most have some kind of parent organization.
CPS forbids its own employees from running for the councils as parents or community members. Teachers can only run for teacher vacancies.
But charter teachers and employees of other kinds of schools can run since they’re not employees of the Board of Education, who are specifically prohibited in the Illinois School Code, CPS spokesman Joel Hood said.
“We’d have to go through the state legislature to change it,” he said.
The “do not vote” posts on Facebook urge against several teachers who are said to work at Noble, Polaris and Amandla charter schools, the three INCS staffers: INCS spokeswoman Jodie Cantrell, a community candidate at Blaine Elementary School; director of development and capacity, Eric Johnson, a parent candidate at Audubon Elementary School; and charter support manager, Jelani McEwen, a community candidate at Kenwood High School.
It also names two people who used to work for the mayor’s office, several teachers who took part in the controversial Teach for America program, and former Board of Education member Rod Sierra — who also worked as deputy press secretary under Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Ellie Bahrmasel, who recently left her administrative job in Emanuel’s office and also worked on his campaign, is seeking a spot on the Coonley Elementary School LSC. She said she knows about the list with her name on it and can understand why people who don’t support Emanuel’s administration might raise their eyebrows.
But Bahrmasel, 30, is representing only herself and her community, she said.
“I am 110 percent an independent candidate,” she said. “I am not in any way shape or form working on behalf of the Emanuel administration.”
David Feinberg, who has worked for investment managers who specialize in charter school real estate development and serves on the board at Great Lakes Academy Charter School, said in an email that he’s running as a community member at Pulaski International School of Chicago because “I look forward to serving the Pulaski school on the LSC, strengthening the already strong bonds between the community and school, and ensuring that all of Pulaski’s students receive an excellent education.”
Efforts to reach the other 14 candidates on the list were not successful.
The charter schools network strongly opposes the bill introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, that would require charter schools to have Local School Councils, too. Her bill also would restore money up to $2,500 to each council for training as well as some power to councils at schools on academic probation. The bill needs a second vote to get out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
Broy said the councils wouldn’t mesh with the nonprofit governing boards that run charter schools.
“You can’t really superimpose an LSC over that and have it make any sense at all,” he said, adding that most charters have parent organizations and allow local teachers on their boards.
Except those parent groups don’t have any real power, the CTU’s Brunson said.
“If these people in the charter school movement see the importance of that local empowerment of the community and the parents and the teachers, why don’t they duplicate it within their own schools?”