Too much democracy in CPS – HB4777

I’ve served on the local school council (LSC) at Pilsen Academy for the last 4 years.  I joke that I ran so I could drink bad coffee and practice my Spanish once a month.  Really though, there was a city-wide push to get people involved in their schools and neighborhoods.  I ran to get more involved in the neighborhood.  I also ran knowing that Latino STEM PhD’s are severely underrepresented [pdf] and I felt I could possibly be some sort of role model.  That said:

My attempt to drink bad coffee and practice my Spanish became serious very quickly.  A teacher representative and the parent rep/president of the LSC followed me out of the first meeting and begged me to help them get rid of the principal.  They said he was terrorizing the teachers.  Knowing the politics of the neighborhood I took their comments with a grain of salt and decided to withhold judgment.  At the next meeting I asked the principal a clarifying question about the budget.  He responded by yelling at me.  In a public meeting.  I would be voting on his contract in two years.  Who does that?

I won’t go through all the craziness.  You can review that entire experience in the second half of this post.  In short, he fired the teacher representative and his brother, the parent rep/president’s child graduated, which left me and a few other key members to get rid of him.  Before we would be rid of him, he would go on to harass the next teacher representative until she left CPS, suspend the non-teacher faculty representative without pay (twice), and threaten to call ICE on an undocumented parent representative.  After I wrote a letter to the CPS CEO and the parents came together to bravely speak at the Board of Education meeting, he was escorted from the building.

This year I chose not to run for the LSC community representative position.  Between my job, home remodeling, and volunteer work with NASA and PERRO, I have enough on my plate.  I also feel that, while I don’t agree with our new principal on many of her decisions, she has done a decent enough job of getting the school back on track.

Local School Councils

In Chicago the board of education is chosen by the mayor.  It’s been that way at least since the 90’s.  Back in the early aughts I was studying to be a high school math teacher and I looked at the makeup of the board of education.  Not one had a background in education.  Lots of bankers and property developers.  The board appeared to be filled with vanity seats given to supporters of the mayor who would rubber stamp his decisions… much like many ambassadorships for the President of the United States.  When Rahm took over it was big news when he appointed an educator to the board.  An educator on the Board of Education! Groundbreaking stuff.

The response to this nonsense was to create local school councils (LSCs).  Each school in CPS has one.  The LSC consists of the principal, two of their teachers, one non-teacher faculty member, six parents, and two community representatives.  Their responsibilities are primarily to advise and approve (or disapprove) the principal’s proposed budget and to renew or not renew the principal’s 4-year contract.

HB4777

The purpose of this post is address a new bill in the Illinois House of Representatives.  HB4777 proposes to limit the LSC’s ability to remove a principal.  This is a ridiculous bill for many reasons. First, as stated above, LSC’s are the last bastion of democracy in CPS.

Second, this bill is directed explicitly at CPS.  So who is the sponsor of this bill?  Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D) from the 83rd District …in Aurora.  Why is she so interested in the minutia of CPS administration?  Something stinks.

Lastly, this bill handcuffs LSC’s from doing what they were created to do; hiring and firing the principal.  As an example of how bad this is, from the summary:

Provides that in order to not renew the contract of a principal whose school’s rating rises one level during his or tenure at the school, the local school council’s vote to not renew must be agreed to by at a minimum of 75% of the council’s members.

Seems reasonable, right?  So how bad is this?  There are 12 members on a full LSC.  The seats are not always full.  A representative moves, the community rep loses interest, a parent rep’s child graduates, the teacher “can’t find” a substitute (even though this is required).  So let’s say we have 10 members for easy calculations.

This means that we would need 3 members to vote to renew a principal’s contract instead of the current 7.  As I wrote above, principals have a lot of leverage over non-compliant teachers and faculty; e.g. layoffs, suspensions, etc.  This makes it tough for independent teachers/faculty to want to join the LSC.  So they don’t.  Those are 3 members right there.

But they still need to raise the level of the school!  I have two problems here.  First, a school can request that their rating be moved up for various reasons.  Again, due to Chicago politics, this is no great feat.  Second, our principal had been at Pilsen Academy for 12 years.  With this law he could’ve raised the level in his first year and then just coasted for the next 11… coast and consolidate power.  That actually happened.  Third, CPS has instituted their own grade inflation.  Instead of being level 1, 2, and 3 we now have levels 1+, 1, 2+, 2, and 3.  If my memory is correct, in 2014 the number of level 3 schools went from 90-ish to single digits.

Action

I could go on and detail the rest of the problems with this bill.  I won’t.

My 4 years on the LSC at Pilsen Academy taught me that there are a lot politics in CPS.  This law rewards politically connected principals with tenure via CPS grade inflation.  All they have to do is exercise their great leverage over their faculty.  No one should be in favor of this, least of all a state representative from Aurora.

Please contact your state representatives and tell them to oppose HB4777.

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