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Edgar Urges 'Superboard' To Run Chicago District

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Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois released a proposal last week to restructure the Chicago public schools that calls for creating a powerful "superboard" to run the system for the next four years.

The five-member board, to be appointed by the mayor of Chicago, would assume complete control of the system, including levying taxes, adopting budgets, and approving union contracts.

The Governor's plan calls for simplifying district finances, including collapsing 16 state categorical programs into block grants and consolidating more than a dozen local tax levies that support the schools.

The Chicago School Authority--as the board would be known--would have the authority to contract with private companies to provide food services, transportation, maintenance, and other support services.

The Governor's ideas were floated as nearly 300 education bills, many targeted at Chicago, were wending their way through the Illinois legislature. (See Education Week, 4/19/95.)

Mayor Richard M. Daley last week endorsed many of Mr. Edgar's ideas and offered to meet with the Governor to craft a consensus plan.

Under the current governance structure, the mayor appoints a 15-member school board only after a complex nominating process that gives him little control. In contrast, he would have complete authority to name the members of the superboard.

No New Money

Local school-reform advocates criticized Governor Edgar for failing to address the school system's financial problems in his proposal. The Chicago schools are facing a $150 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year, out of a total budget of about $3 billion.

The reform groups also warned that the block-grant proposal threatens the state Chapter 1 money that has fueled reform in the city. That program provides discretionary funding that has allowed individual schools to hire teachers and pursue improvement strategies.

"There is no protection for state Chapter 1 and no increase in overall funding," Sheila Castillo, the coordinator of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, said of the Governor's plan. "He hands it to the mayor and says, 'Fix it.'"

The Civic Committee, a Chicago business organization, recently called for spending $350 million more on schools statewide, including $100 million for Chicago.

But without taking the politically unpopular step of raising taxes, said Al Grosboll, a senior adviser to the Governor, the state has no extra money for Chicago.

"Right now, the Governor's education package will be lucky to get through [the legislature] without being cut," Mr. Grosboll said.

Both the Governor and Mayor Daley had relatively kind words for the overall reform effort in Chicago, which established local school councils to govern individual schools and restructured the board of education and central office.

"There is not, at least, a frontal attack on the heart of school reform," said Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a research and reform-advocacy group. "Everybody is paying lip service to giving schools more authority and more flexibility."

Accountability Agency

Nonetheless--while the current school-board-selection process itself is widely regarded as ineffective and too politicized--giving the mayor the responsibility for picking members of the superboard would remove the voice that members of local school councils now have in selecting the central board.

"We need to keep some decisionmaking role for councils in that selection," Mr. Moore said. "That's one of the areas we're going to fight on."

The Governor's plan calls for the proposed Chicago School Authority to appoint a three-person top management team to handle the educational program, finances, and overall operation of the district.

To achieve "true accountability," it recommends creating a separate agency that would report directly to the authority on the academic progress of individual schools.

The plan would eliminate Chicago's subdistrict councils, a layer of governance between schools and the central office. It would give the new chief educational officer direct authority to intervene in failing schools. Currently, the superintendents of the city's subdistricts can intervene in troubled schools but generally have been slow to do so.

Other legislative changes included in the plan include barring the Chicago Teachers Union from striking for a year, removing legal constraints on privatizing services, and placing limits on issues that can be decided through collective bargaining. The process for dismissing teachers also would be streamlined.

Principals would be given more control over their schools, including the supervision of custodians and janitors.

Many of the changes have been sought for years by reform advocates, but were stymied in the legislature by Democrats with close ties to Chicago's unions. Republicans now control the legislature.

Jackie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union, said Mr. Edgar's proposals contained some "interesting concepts."

Although some provisions raise red flags for the union, she said, they are preferable to other legislation under consideration.

"In total, it is a move that doesn't smack of the same mean-spiritedness we've experienced down here the whole legislative session," she said. "It's been a bad legislative year."

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