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Short-Term Fix Approved for Chicago School-Reform Law

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The Illinois legislature last week overwhelmingly approved a measure providing a temporary fix for the Chicago school-reform law struck down by the state supreme court in November.

The bill approved by lawmakers last week provides for mayoral appointment of the city's local school councils and other governance bodies authorized under the reform law. In addition, the measure validates actions taken by the local school councils before the act was declared unconstitutional.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure and the House approved it by a 107-to-5 vote as the legislative session was drawing to a close last Tuesday night.

Aides to Gov. James R. Thompson said he would sign the School Reform Restoration Act before leaving office this week.

The revisions remove the reform act's election procedures for local school councils, which on Nov. 30 were found by the Illinois Supreme Court to violate the "one person, one vote" requirements of the state and U.S. constitutions. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1990.)

The measure also requires the4legislature to enact new procedures for the election of local school boards by July 1.

In the interim, the revisions provide for mayoral appointment of local school councils, subdistrict councils, the Chicago Board of Education, and the School Board Nominating Commission within seven days after the act takes effect.

Mayor Richard M. Daley has said he would move quickly to reappoint all sitting members of the panels, including 15 board members and nearly 6,000 elected members of local school councils.

The restoration measure represented an attempt to reauthorize the reform act and keep the current sys8tem in operation without devising new election procedures to replace those found invalid by the court.

Earlier last week, President of the Senate Philip J. Rock and Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan had met with Mayor Daley and Ted Kimbrough, superintendent of the Chicago schools, and agreed that there would not be time for full-fledged revisions in the law before the legislature adjourned.

"I think what we want to do is make sure that the local school councils and members of the Board of Education have the authority in the past and future to work on improving the school system," Mr. Daley said after the meeting.

The decision to keep the existing school-governance structure in operation was hailed by community groups that had backed the original reform measure. Fearing that the local school councils would be rendered ineffective by the court ruling, reform supporters had summoned more than 300 council members and parents to the state capital in Springfield to lobby for the restoration measure.

"When the Supreme Court decision was handed down, we were reeling," said Joan Jeter Slay, acting executive director of Designs for Change, a nonprofit school-reform advocacy group.

With the passage of the restoration act, Ms. Slay said, "Chicago school reform is here to stay."

In drafting the measure, the House Democratic Task Force on Chicago School Reform held a three-day summit attended by more than 150 parents, local school-council members, and other citizens.

Although the summit participants generally agreed that the past actions of the school councils needed to be affirmed, a number of community leaders argued against giving appointment powers to Mayor Daley and said the board of education or the legislature should make the appointments.

Several members of the legislature's black caucus also called for postponing revision of the bill until spring. They argued that the supreme court ruling offered an opportunity to make needed substantive changes in the law.

Those in favor of quick action countered that delaying action until spring would leave the local school councils focused on governance issues rather than education. Moreover, they warned, revision of the reform law could get bogged down in legislative debates over other issues.

"We felt that the children of Chicago should not be used as bargaining chips," said Abha Pandya, a policy associate at Designs for Change.

Ms. Pandya said her organization had surveyed 1,500 local school-council members and found 64 percent in favor of resolving the election-related problems in the reform bill on Jan. 8.

The original reform act, passed in 1988, had been struck down in the case of Arthur Fumarolo v. Chicago Board of Education because it contained provisions giving parents of enrolled students the right to elect six members to their local school councils, while other area residents could vote for only two council members.

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