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17,000 File for School-Council Seats in Chicago

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More than 17,000 candidates--including almost 10,000 parents--have signed up to participate in Chicago's historic school-council elections, scheduled for this week.

The elections on Oct. 11 and 12 will mark the first phase of an unprecedented transfer of power to parent-led councils at each of the city's schools. A comprehensive school-reform law passed by the Illinois legislature last fall mandated the councils.

The number of candidates far surpassed the district's goal, and guarantees contested elections in nearly all of the city's 540 attendance centers, school officials said. Only a handful of schools did not have enough candidates to fill all 10 elected seats on the councils, they reported.

Each council will be composed of the school principal, two teachers elected by the school staff, two community members elected by neighborhood residents, and six parents elected by fellow parents.

The high level of interest in the council seats has also helped quiet skeptics who predicted that parents and community members, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods, could not be convinced to participate actively in their schools.

"You don't find anybody now who says it's not going to work," said Donald R. Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, a local research and advocacy group.

The school district and a host of business and community groups have used media campaigns and door-to-door drives to encourage participation in the elections.

The school board is also encouraging parents to schedule mid-term conferences with their children's teachers on the day they are scheduled to vote. Students will be let out at noon on election days.

"The strong nomination total would certainly suggest high interest among voters," said Robert Saigh, a spokesman for the district. "If we also get a sizable turnout, then we will be telling people something."--ws

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