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Chicago Board Rescinds Order Aimed at Local Councils

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Hours after an advocacy group filed a class action, the Chicago board of education last week rescinded an order that threatened to remove hundreds of members of the local school councils that govern the city's schools.

Schools First, a coalition of council members and parents, filed the lawsuit challenging a dictate by the board requiring council members to file detailed financial statements by Feb. 28 or be removed from their seats.

The group argued that the board of education had no legal authority to require the disclosure forms and no authority to remove council members, said Eric Outten, the co-chairman of the group.

In addition, he said, many members never received the forms because they were sent to principals rather than to the members' homes.

Mr. Outten charged that the disclosure requirement was part of "a mounting campaign of harassment'' of local councils by administrators in the central office. "We demand an end to these anti-reform policies and tactics that are coming from somewhere in the bureaucracy,'' he said at a news conference.

Tensions High

The group also complained about a recent directive from the Office of School Reform requiring that the surveys used by local school councils in evaluating principals be submitted to the general superintendent for approval. Schools First argued that the order violates the rights granted to the councils under the Chicago School Reform Act.

The same office also recently required that a district superintendent be present at each step in the councils' processes for selecting principals, the group says, which "has no basis in the reform law.''

Tensions are running high in Chicago schools now, Mr. Outten explained, because half of the schools are deciding whether to retain their principals and the other half are evaluating theirs.

Under the state reform law, the local school councils hire and fire principals, manage school budgets, and draw up improvement plans for schools. They are made up of parents, community members, teachers, and principals.

Schools First also criticized a plan recently announced by General Superintendent Argie K. Johnson to group Chicago schools into three tiers and concentrate resources on the lowest-performing schools. The group says the plan fails to give local councils a role in improvement and fails to recommend using successful schools as learning sites for troubled schools.

A spokesman for the board of education could not be reached for comment.

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