Parents, Teachers Begin Citywide Petition For Referendum On Elected School Board

CHICAGO (CBS) – A newly-formed coalition of parents, teachers and community groups have begun a door-to-door petition drive to get a referendum question on an elected Chicago school board on the November ballot citywide.

The group calls itself “Communities Organized for Democracy in Education,” or CODE. After an initial meeting at an Albany Park church, they fanned out through the neighborhood with petitions seeking to put the question on the ballot citywide.

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It’s a scenario the group hopes to repeat in neighborhoods on all sides of the city for the next seven weeks. The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization’s Jitu Brown said their goal is to have twice the number of signatures they need by the end of next month.

At the same time, Brown said, members of the group are working with the black legislative caucus to get legislation introduced in Springfield that would replace the 1995 state law that mandated mayoral control with a Chicago school board elected from as many as 13 districts citywide.

Speakers said that the current board lacks diversity, is controlled by business interests, adheres to a failed “one size fits all” approach and has little regard for parental input, no matter how well intentioned or thought out.

The groups have the support of the Chicago Teachers Union, whose recording secretary spoke to the crowd before the petition drive began.

Parent Erica Clark said the current board’s policies reflect “politics more than about education.”

“What we have now does not work,” said fellow parent Jill Wohl, who has served for four years on local school councils and has had children in the system for eight years.

The activists applauded UIC Education Prof. Pauline Lipman, who recounted the results of a 2009 study that called for an elected Chicago board saying that there is “no evidence” of a “Chicago miracle” and that mayoral control has not worked in Chicago or elsewhere. In fact, she said the board’s policies on reconstitution of schools and disinvestment of schools that are candidate for closing creates neighborhood instability.

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