Final push for elected school board petitions this weekend

Although the campaign for an elected, representative school board took a hit in City Council when a ward ballot advisory referendum sponsored by 10 aldermen was blocked on July 23, the petition drive to get the matter on ballots on November 6 continues for a few more days. Tonya Payne, of the 19th Ward Parents, speaks at the CODE (Communities Organized for Democracy in Education) press conference July 25. Portions of speeches by Jawanza Malone (far left), the executive director of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and Phil Cantor, a CTU and Teachers for Social Justice member, (far right) are included in this article. Organizers are in the final weekend of petition drive in more than 300 precincts in Chicago. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt. “Democracy will reign in Chicago,” said 19th Ward Parent Tonya Payne, the opening speaker at the CODE press conference at City Hall on July 25. CODE (Communities Organized for Democracy in Education) is leading a campaign to change the law in Illinois to allow Chicago voters to elect their school board. (See a list of CODE's member organizations at the end of this article.) CODE wants to see an overwhelming vote on November 6 in favor of Chicago voters’ right to choose an elected school board to use as leverage in Springfield with legislators.

If the 10 aldermen’s attempt to get the referendum on ballots in their wards through the City Council had succeeded, it would have been a huge impact in obtaining more votes on the question. But Ald. Joe Moore (49th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Human Relations, blocked the aldermen on a technicality. He ruled that the questions were filed with the city clerk’s office a few minutes after the July 19 deadline. CODE speakers condemned the political maneuver, but said it wouldn't stop their movement. “Earlier this week we had a situation where 10 strong aldermen were willing to stand on the right side of justice and allow their constituents to have a voice,” Payne said. “Their constituents said ‘I want to have a voice in electing a representative school board.’ They were ready to present, they had filed their paperwork only to be told later that they had filed it three minutes too late. True Chicago politics in action.”

“However, that did nothing but make us stronger and more powerful,” she continued. “And it will show our loving mayor — who we believe has something to say (‘not on my watch’) — yes, on your watch. This is what we want. The people will have a voice and democracy will reign in Chicago.”

Alderman John Arena (45) and Raise Your Hand founder Wendy Katten at the CODE press conference. Arena was one of 10 aldermen who attempted to get the elected school board question on the ballot in their wards. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Members of CODE will finish canvassing targeted precincts this weekend. Petitions are due on August 6. Organizations are calling on volunteers for one final weekend.

“We need you Saturday from 3-5 p.m. to help finish up petition gathering in wards 13, 47 and 49,” Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand organization posted on Facebook. “Please email me if you can spare a few hours. Petitions are due early next week.”

CODE began the petition drive in June. In order to put the question on ballots in Chicago precincts, 8 percent of registered voters in the precinct must sign the petition. There are 2,369 precincts in 50 wards in Chicago. CODE targeted more than 300 precincts to canvass. John Arena (45th) one of the 10 aldermen who tried to get the referendum on ward ballots through the City Council, spoke at the press conference of some “interesting examples of the nature” of the council. First he mentioned the fight over food truck regulations, then he spoke about Ald. Joe Moore, who had blocked the referendum question broke to the council by 10 aldermen.

“When an alderman, with whom I had looked forward to working with, turns on 10 of his colleagues by blocking our prerogative to communicate with the voters of our wards, simply to curry favor from the fifth floor, I can’t restrain my disappointment,” Arena said. “The good news is we are here with a large and vocal group that will continue this dialogue.

“While they may believe that this battle has been won, I suggest it is not. By making this so much about process and transparency they have shown their hand. They do not support transparency. They honor pettiness over dialogue with the residents of the city. This question has been asked and elevated due to these political maneuvers. We will have a conversation about an elected school board for CPS. “The question will be on ballots in November in precincts throughout the city. The work done and that which lies ahead will ensure that voters will weigh in precinct by precinct. This issue is over the fundamental right that we may elect those who tax us and spend our money. And there is no more important a bill to pay, no more important a right due our children than education. The movement you started will go forward. Your passion has carried it and it has carried me through an educational week. For this I thank you."

Aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd)
 Scott Waguespack (32nd) Roderick Sawyer (6th) listen to John Arena (45th) at the CODE press conference. Fioretti, Waguespack, and Sawyer also spoke on behalf of their constituents. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd)
 Scott Waguespack (32nd) Roderick Sawyer (6th) also spoke at CODE press conference. Pat Dowell (3rd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th), and Timothy M. Cullerton (38th) were also part of the City Council group that attempted to get the elected school board question on ballots in their wards.

Fioretti talked about the problem with an appointed school board — no representation by the people — and machine politics.

“Ald. John Arena summed up the frustration we are feeling this week. But the principle is simple about what we’re dealing with— a $6 billion budget and no representation by the people,” Fioretti said. “Next time maybe we ought to be bringing tea bags here. It’s not the ‘Tea Party’ issue; it’s what happened way back in 1776 that caused us a revolution of democracy. ‘It was strange that if you’re in the room at five o’clock and the door is closed, everything gets stamped and everything becomes legal. But if you’re in the room before 10 o’clock, the clerks and everybody can play games with what is happening. And one gets stamped at 10:01 and one gets stamped at 10:03 and then they say, ‘Adios, you’re too late.’ “Well, we all know that everybody said, including the corporation council’s office, that this was fine. The clerk’s office said, ‘This is 48 hours, this is fine.’ It seemed like some people who have been around for a long time had not read the rules and the law of what happens. “To keep the people out is pure machine politics. This should have been on the ballot in November. The people don’t know what happened. They will find out. We will have an elected school board.”

Waguespack also spoke out against the politics played in City Council.

“If politics can trump democracy every time the people try to get out there and do something right, this city will never move forward, this country will never move forward,” Waguespack said. “Whether people want an elected school board or not, the choice is theirs. The choice should be theirs. You cannot thwart democracy every time you don’t want to have a conversation becomes about important issues in the city. That’s all I have to say. We need to have this conversation. Let’s move forward on it.”

Sawyer promised there will be an elected school board.

“We were extremely disappointed in the actions taken in council committee this week,” Sawyer said. “We were confident that we had an agreement to have it voted up or down, in a true democratic fashion, if we should have an elected school board throughout the city of Chicago. “This is something that has been going on far too long. The conversation needs to stop. We need to get into direct action. I appreciate what you all are doing, because this is not going to stop. We will have an elected school board, come hell or high water. It’s going to happen, with your help.”

Jawanz Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said he was disappointed that the aldermen’s move was blocked, but reiterated that a peoples’ movement would prosper.

“We’re disappointed because yet again the mayor of this city is working behind the scenes to take the power away from the people, to take the power away from our representatives who are in office to do what need them to do,” Malone said. “How can the mayor of this city take that power away from us? Well, he’s not. We are in these precincts, walking door to door to make sure that the people who want an elected, representative school board get that. “While the mayor’s actions are disappointing it does not slow our momentum one bit. This is not going to stop us. There are points in history when people take control and overthrow their tyrants. This is one of those times. We are done letting people make decisions for us who don’t care about us. We want people in those seats who don’t just care but they show us they care and do what we need them to do. We need them to make sure that our children learn and our children are safe and make sure that our children have the type of lives that all want for our children. We are not going to put all our eggs in one basket. We have multiple strategies.

“We need all citizens to have the opportunity to grow and thrive and to be an excellent person. Everybody, everybody wants their children to grow and develop and be strong. Is there anybody who looks in their child’s face and says to that child, ‘I don’t want you to be anything.’ Is there any parent up here who can look their child in the eye and condemn them? Is that possible? So why is our mayor doing that to our children?”

Other CODE press conference speakers included students, parents, and teachers. Phil Cantor, a science teacher at North-Grand high school, parent of three CPS students, and representative of Teachers for Social Justice, spoke about the need for the elected representative school board.

“The only way to bring the voices of the people into education policy in this city is to have an elected representative school board,” Cantor said. “People say that this will bring politics into the system. The current situation is completely dictated by politics but the people of Chicago are shut out of it. The current board is accountable to one person. We need a board that is accountable to all the people of Chicago.”

According to its website, "CODE is a coalition of parent, community and teacher organizations working to bring the voices of Chicago's diverse communities into education policy for CPS by attaining an Elected Representative School Board." Member organizations listed on the site: 19th Ward Parents
, Action Now
, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, COFI - COmmunity Organizing and Family, Enlace, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Parents 4 Teachers, People for Community Recovery, Raise Your Hand Coalition, Teachers for Social Justice.


July 27, 2012 at 4:31 PM

By: Anthony Smith

Am I Being Too Cynical...? False flagging at City Hall...

The 10 Alderman insist that they arrived in the city clerk's office around 9:45 am and that they were "stalled" until 10:03 am, at which point they were told they were too late. This sounds like they went through the motions necessary to "appear" as if they were trying to push through the democratic tradition of voting. Perhaps I am too jaded in my thinking but please tell me if I am being too cynical: They show up, nearly in the nick of time, only to be tossed out on their ears, because of a time technicality. This way they appear to have done what their constituents wanted but were foiled by a time technicality. And this way there is no one to blame. Oh well, they tried! I am thinking they did exactly what they had to in order to avoid the Wrath of Rahm and they are shielded by the technicality from to much hostility from their constituents. What do you think? Yours in solidarity, Anthony Smith

July 28, 2012 at 8:11 AM

By: Maureen Cullnan

Cynicism warranted

I would say your cynicism is warranted about Ald. John Moore, as his office delayed the paperwork until 10:03. Emanuel put a lot of pressure on Moore. But your cynicism does not apply to the other aldermen who were going out on a limb. The mayor\'s press office very quickly changed the narrative and distracted voters by shoving the Chick-a-filay story forward for a favorite alderman, Joe Moreno.

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