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All Eyes On Chicago School Board After Closure Vote

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 23, 2013 1:45PM

The fallout continues to rain down after the Chicago School Board voted to close 50 schools Wednesday. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as his PR press office often does, released a statement after the vote thanking Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the board for their courage.

I want to thank CEO Byrd-Bennett, the Board, the Commission and the tens of thousands of community members who have played an invaluable role in helping to ensure every child in this city has access to an education that matches their full potential. I know this is incredibly difficult, but I firmly believe the most important thing we can do as a city is provide the next generation with a brighter future. More hard work lies ahead, but I am confident that together with teachers and principals, engaged parents and community support, our children will succeed.

Whatever. Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick wrote School Board President David Vitale used a parliamentary maneuver to vote on all closures at once, without listing the schools by name. The whole scenario took around 90 seconds to complete and silenced what was a raucous showing by opponents to the closures in less time.

If you would like to know more about your non-elected school board, the Sun-Times has a nice article listing who they are, what they've done and the dates they were each appointed by Emanuel. Board member Mahalia Hines, who riled opponents at the meeting for saying they were "invisible" while she was trying to save schools, is a former educator and the mother of rapper and actor Common. Henry Bienen, who said opponents of the closure plan "don't know economics," is the former president of Northwestern University. Board president David Vitale, who referred to people watching the hearing in an overflow room as "the peanut gallery," is former president and CEO of the Chicago Board of Trade and used to chair the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the group that manages most of the schools in the system in turnaround.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown was also at the School Board meeting and was so repulsed by the vote he wrote a column calling for an elected school board.

Securing a unanimous vote was intended to project strength, I suppose, as in: “they must be doing the right thing if all of them agreed.”

But it struck me as quite the opposite, to think that here in a city as vast and diverse as this there was nobody on its school board who felt the need to reflect the dissenting point of view of those on the receiving end of the closings.


Some of the school board members are known personally to me as substantial, thoughtful and well-intentioned individuals, and I’m happy to assume the same of the rest. I have no doubt they all believe they did what is right, although I am among those who would have favored far fewer closings.

But as a whole, this appointed school board is not truly representative of the community.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which announced last week they would file lawsuits fighting the closings in federal court, sent five busloads of people to Springfield to lobby for a moratorium on school closings. Capitol Fax's Rich Miller captured the scene.

CTU reiterated its earlier announcement it would mobilize its political arm to strike back at Emanuel and supporters of the closures. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten released a statement condemning the closures and siding with CTU President Karen Lewis.

“Separate and apart from what it means for the continuity and stability of children’s schooling, the evidence makes clear these mass closings will destabilize neighborhoods, and it has raised serious safety concerns for children in a city where there is already too much violence. “We are left at a loss as to why the board chose to ignore the parents, teachers, students and residents of Chicago in pursuing this reckless strategy that is not what the people want and will not help children.

“We commend CTU President Karen Lewis, CTU members, parents, students and the greater Chicago community, who have attempted at every step to do what is in the best interests of kids and Chicago’s public schools.”