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In Switch, Chicago Principals Plan To Fight for Reforms

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After long being among the most vocal opponents of the Chicago school-reform law, the city's principals last week served notice that they now intend to fight to defend the reform program.

The Chicago Principals Association held a rally in the state capital in Springfield to argue that a legislative package supported by the Chicago school board and teachers' union to solve the district's budget crisis would "turn back the clock'' on reform.

At a press conference, 40 principals charged that the Chicago Teachers Union's new contract would take away their authority to staff their schools, since the board of education could permanently assign "reserve'' teachers to schools. Reserve teachers are those who have lost their positions because of enrollment shifts or program closures.

Although the reform law removed principals' tenure, over the objections of the association, it also was supposed to give principals greater freedom to choose their own staffs.

"We are being held accountable, and we want to choose the people who will play on our team,'' explained Beverly Tunney, an elementary school principal and the new president of the group.

Noting that all of the principals in Chicago have now been hired by local school councils, Ms. Tunney said the association must take positions that reflect the views of its membership.

"There has been an infusion of new blood,'' she said.

The principals' apparent change in attitude was praised by reform advocates.

"Historically, the principals' leadership has been totally at odds with school reform,'' said Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change. "Now, a very progressive group of principals has taken over.''

Mr. Moore estimated that about 70 percent of the principals in office when the reform law was passed in 1988 are no longer running schools.

The association also sent a letter signed by more than 50 Chicago principals to state lawmakers, warning them not to approve a proposed change in school-budget rules that would give advisory committees of teachers in each school the power to approve expenditures of up to $10,000.

The principals argued that the proposed change would create conflict between the teacher committees and the local school councils, which currently must approve spending.

Lawmakers last week continued working on legislation to resolve the Chicago financial crisis, but were not expected to take action.--A.B.

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