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Decentralized Governance Sought for Chicago

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A plan that would split Chicago's 435,000-student school district into 10 smaller units and would sharply reduce the size and power of the central bureaucracy has been drafted by a study commission appointed by the state legislature.

The draft proposal is a "modified" decentralization plan that would leave some major responsibilities, such as devising school funding formulas and negotiating union contracts, with the central school board, said the executive director of the commission, Michael J. Bakalis.

But the plan would hand over to 10 new local school boards the power to hire and fire teachers and other employees, to draw up budgets from the amount allocated by the central board, and to define curriculum needs, Mr. Bakalis said. The proposal will be reviewed this month by the full 23-member commission, which includes 12 legislators, and could then move to the state legislature.

One objective of the plan is to reduce the $1.3-billion annual cost of the school system, said Mr. Bakalis, who is a professor of education and management at Northwestern University.

With the transfer of some duties to the local boards,"several thousand people would be dropped" from central administrative posts and substantial savings made, he said. Personnel increases by the local boards would be slight, he said.

Another objective of the plan is to increase parent participation in the school system by allowing voters in each of the 10 new districts to elect their own seven-member school boards, Mr. Bakalis said. The chairman of each board would sit on the central board.

The commission plan is not patterned after that of any other major city, such as New York. It differs significantly from the former Detroit system, in which each local district had to support itself from its own tax base, said Mr. Bakalis, a former state superintendent of public instruction. The 11-year Detroit experiment with decentralized governance was ended by voters last year in favor of a strongly centralized administration under Superintendent Arthur Jefferson.

Mr. Bakalis said the main impetus for drawing up the Chicago plan came from legislators who said they were frustrated by the performance of the present system.

Some observers said the decentralization plan has a good chance of succeeding if Harold Washington, the Democratic mayoral candidate, wins the upcoming election. Mr. Washington has supported some form of decentralized school system.

The Chicago Teachers Union has taken a position opposing the plan, according to a spokesman.--ha

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