Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart calls for an elected school board

Almost lost amid the tumultuous arguments that punctuated the October 28 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education is the fact that the president of the largest labor union in Illinois, Marilyn Stewart of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), called for an elected school board in Chicago. The call came during Stewart's remarks to the October 28 school board meeting held at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart spoke more sharply against the policies of the Chicago Board of Education at the Board's October 28, 2009 meeting. Above, Stewart is gesturing towards Board members and President Michael Scott while telling the Board that she now supports and elected school board for Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Stewart, who is also secretary treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) spoke critically to the board members and Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman during her brief remarks at the monthly board meeting. She was cut off after having spoken for less than two minutes by the Board's Secretary, Estale Beltran, and Board President Michael Scott. Although Scott allowed several speakers to speak beyond the two minutes the Board allows for public participation, the courtesy was not extended to Stewart.

Stewart's remarks were largely missed by the few members of the press covering the meeting. At the time she made them, some reporters were in the hallway, while others simply missed the importance of Stewart's call.

At Substance press time (2:00 a.m. on October 29, 2009), Substance had not been able to reach the leaders of the major caucuses within the CTU to ask for more details on Stewart's plan for an elected school board for Chicago. The majority of school boards in Illinois, including all of those where the IFT has collective bargaining agreements, already have elected school boards.

Stewart's call for an elected school board for Chicago represents a decisive break with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who obtained complete control over the Chicago Board of Education by virtue of the Amendatory Act of 1995. The Amendatory Act, passed by the Illinois General Assembly, required massive privatization of Chicago's schools and was an attack on the Chicago Teachers Union and the Cook County College Teachers Union, both of which were barred from striking and limited in their collective bargaining rights once the Act was passed.

Surrounded or supported? One of the many photographs that will never be published in the Chicago Union Teacher, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart stands outside the fifth floor chambers of the Chicago Board of Education on October 28, 2009, with members of CORE and GEM who had protested Board policies on the day of the monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. When Stewart was abruptly cut off during her remarks by a testy Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott, a number of the teachers in the audience protested. Scott's rudeness towards the President of the 31,000-member union was nothing compared to his later refusal to hear from dozens of parents and other average citizens who had taken the day off work to come to the Board meeting and talk about the problems in their schools. One of the questions asked during the CORE conversations with Marilyn Stewart was why the other factions in the Chicago Teachers Union were not actively protesting at every Board meeting. The Board's schedule for Renaissance 2010 attacks on schools begins in the fall with the false claims that CPS has "community" support for changes in schools and continues with the hearings against the schools on the annual Office of New Schools Hit List in January and February. Since December 2008, CORE has been leading protests both at the Board meetings and at hearings and in community meetings across Chicago. The leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union under Stewart has become more and more active in the same protests. Others seeking to unseat Stewart and her United Progressive Caucus (UPC) in the forthcoming May 2010 union elections have either been invisible or nearly invisible in the increasingly heated fights. Unlike Marilyn Stewart, who was at the Board meeting as part of her full-time job, all of the other union members above were taking a personal business day to protest the Board's policies on October 28. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. An elected school board for Chicago would require the passage of legislation by the Illinois General Assembly and the signature of the governor.

Two years ago, at the time of the massive protests against school closings in 2008, PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) and other groups called for an elected school board. Their chosen method was to try and get a referendum on the ballot. The effort failed when the groups supporting it failed to get the required number of signatures on their petitions.

The Chicago Teachers Union Web site ( had no additional information about the push for an elected school board at the end of the day on October 28, 2009, the data of the school board meeting at which Stewart made her announcement. 

Final edited version of this article posted at October 30, 2009, 6:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


October 29, 2009 at 3:53 AM

By: SARAH Loftus


The Board shows the height of disrespect when they cut off remarks by the President of the Teachers Union. One would think they would show professional courtesy, but this is CPS.

Maybe Marilyn has just a little taste of the disrespect teachers and support staff have suffered daily by CPS and CTU under her 'leadership'.

October 29, 2009 at 11:14 AM

By: Jean Schwab


Meeks was in the Tribune today stating that the "bad" teachers are on the South and West side of Chicago. My experience when going to budget hearings and to visit the south and west side in 2008 was that they just don't have such basics as currant text books, computers, working furnaces and playgrounds. Compare the best of those schools with Coonley. Coonley has enough computers in the classrooms (except special education rooms which had two eomputers for ten students when I left) for most of the students to use as a group. Coonley also has an abundance of supplies and most recent polayground and furnace. The lack of supplies and support on the south and west side was also my experience when I taught there for about 4 years. When the dificenties are so obvious, how can he possibly say it is the staff? Meeks is blind.

October 29, 2009 at 12:51 PM

By: mom


I agree that the CTU president should get a little more than 2 minutes. On the other hand, it sounds like grandstanding--she should bring this up legislatively if she really wants to bring it about.

October 29, 2009 at 11:25 PM

By: Jay Rehak

Demanding Respect

President Stewart or any President of the Chicago Teachers Union needs to DEMAND respect from the Board of Education. President Stewart need only tell the people at the Board (prior to the meeting) that she will not tolerate being interrupted during her speech, and then insist on not being interrupted.

I agree that it looks bad when our leader is abruptly told to conclude her speech by a nameless Board of Ed employee. Marilyn is the current President of the CTU and if she is not respected by the Board of Education then the OFFICE of the PRESIDENCY of the CTU should be respected. PERIOD. President Stewart needs to assert her power as the PRESIDENT of 32,000 members, and make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she will not be cut off midsentence by any Board of Ed person.

This cuts to our need, as a Union, to reassert our role as the Educational leaders of this City. This will begin when the President of our UNION asserts her right, to the Board or anyone else, to speak on behalf of the members without being told to sit down by a random Board employee.

October 30, 2009 at 12:03 AM

By: truth seeker

revenue is all that matters

Perhaps students need to be educated about their role in determining the revenue received by CPS, and how this can be used as a lever. Categorical program participating students especially. It may lead to some short term pain, but at least it's an action which the mandarins can't control. Especially if homeschooling supports can be linked to any action taken.

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