Elected School Board for Chicago in jeopardy? Activists file federal and state lawsuits to end bottleneck against Chicago's elected school board while Chicago Teachers Union officers and lobbyists remain silent on challenge to Illinois discrimination against Chicago citizens and children...

One of the plaintiffs in the federal and state lawsuits to gain an elected school board for Chicago is Jitu Brown (above left), a longtime community activist and leader in Chicago. Despite Brown's years of alliance with the current Chicago Teachers Union leadership, the union failed to give public notice about the lawsuits for the elected school board during the first days of December 2016. This has led to speculation that the union's leaders have cut some kind of deal with Chicago's ruling class and failed to lobby strongly in Springfield for the bill that would have given Chicago the elected school board. DNA Info photo.While most public attention was focused elsewhere in Springfield, Chicago education activists filed two lawsuits on November 30, 2016 asking state and federal courts to order an elected school board for the City of Chicago. The lawsuits, whose plaintiffs include former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization activist Jitu Brown, and other community activists who have long been supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union. In the lawsuit, they utilize both Illinois and United States law to back up their arguments that it is time for Chicago's citizens to get the same right as others across Illinois. The plaintiffs charge that the city should be ordered by federal and state law to hold school board elections for Chicago in April 2017, when all other citizens of Illinois will be electing their school boards.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits are Patrick Quinn, Irene Robinson, Antwain Miller, Marc Kaplan, Christopher Ball, Danile Morales, and Jitu Brown. Most of the plaintiffs are long-time community activists from Chicago who have a long record of supporting the Chicago Teachers Union during various confrontations with the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.

The federal lawsuit is a "right to vote" litigation, charging that by denying plaintiffs and others in Chicago the right to elect the members of their school board, the defendants are denying the city's citizens, a majority of whom are African American and Latino, a basic constitutional right. The lawsuit notes that in April 2017 all other school districts in Illinois will be electing school board members, but Chicago still will not.

First page of the federal lawsuit filed November 30, 2016 for an elected school board for Chicago. A complete PDF of the filing is available at the federal courts website. Substance readers can get a copy by emailing Substance, "Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction to restrain defendants from protracting this unlawful denial of elected representation," the lawsuit states... "in particular from the delay in proceeding to an election should this Court rule in plaintiffs’ favor. Even as plaintiffs seek a final judgment on an expedited basis, plaintiffs also seek to require defendants to draft rules and procedures for a city-wide election while this case is pending. In this way, plaintiffs hope to enable the citizens of Chicago to cast their ballots on April 4, 2017, when all other Illinois citizens under state law will be electing school boards throughout the State."

The plaintiffs note in their lawsuit that Chicago is unique among Illinois school districts. Not only does Chicago have a school board appointed by the mayor, but that school board is empowered to levy taxes, resulting in a virtual "taxation without representation" situation unique in the state.

"There are 859 public school districts in Illinois, including 373 elementary school districts, 99 high school districts, and 387 unit districts," the lawsuit continues. "ISBE Public Information Division, Annual Report 2015 19 (2016), with the relevant “School and Districts” section attached as Exhibit A.1 Under the Illinois School Code, in all but one district, the citizens of Illinois elect the members of school boards that are established under Illinois law to carry out the constitutional obligation of the State of Illinois to provide a system of free public education. 105 ILCS 5/10-1 & 10-10. The one exception, District 299, covers the City of Chicago and is identical in boundary with the City of Chicago, a home rule entity. District 299 — that is, Chicago — does not have an elected school board, and plaintiffs and other citizens living in Chicago do not have the same right to vote given under the Illinois School Code to all other citizens of Illinois. 105 ILCS 5/34-3.

"Instead, pursuant to 34-3 of the Illinois School Code, the Mayor of the City of Chicago has the sole and exclusive authority to appoint the members of the Board, at his pleasure, without any oversight. Id. at § 34-3(b). The City Council of Chicago has no role in the approval or confirmation of the members of the Board. Id.

"The Board of Education is not an administrative agency of the City of Chicago but a 'unit of local government' as described in Article VII, section 8 of the Illinois Constitution. This appointed Board may levy taxes upon the property of the citizens of Chicago, without approval by the City Council, or the General Assembly, or any other legislative body or body of elected officials. Id. at §§ 34-53–54.1. Nor does the Mayor of the City of Chicago, apart from his power to appoint members of the Board, have any right or power under the Illinois School Code to concur or consent to such taxation. Id.

"Such taxation is a significant burden on the citizens of Chicago. In its fiscal year 2017 budget, the defendant Chicago Board of Education projects that it will receive 2.66 billion dollars in property tax revenue in this fiscal year. In the last five years the Board has levied over 11 billion dollars in property taxes on the citizens of Chicago..." The lawsuit then goes on with a chart showing how much in taxes CPS has levied on the taxpayers of Chicago.

The plaintiffs in the case read like a "Who's Who" of community leaders who have long supported the Chicago Teachers Union in what the union has claimed was the fight for better school for all Chicago citizens. In addition to former Governor Pat Quinn (whom the union supported for re-election), the plaintiffs are known for their activism both in their communities and in support of the teachers union (which until recently had been supporting them as well).


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