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Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Illinois Strikes Compromise on Chicago Principals

Illinois Strikes Compromise on Chicago Principals

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Illinois lawmakers have approved a compromise bill that would give top school officials in Chicago a new avenue to influence the selection of principals, but less sway than the district had originally sought.

Passage of the legislation late last month capped a bitter political battle that pitted representatives of local school councils and independent school reform groups against district leaders and the city principals' association.

The council representatives and their allies accused Mayor Richard M. Daley's management team of trying to engineer a power grab that would eviscerate the parent-dominated boards that operate at most of the city's 589 schools. But district officials argued that they needed a way to intervene when local school councils, known as LSCs, make improper or ill-founded decisions about who will lead their schools. ("Battle Over Principals in Chicago: Administration vs. Local Councils," May 5, 1999.)

"At the end of the day, we did not upset the balance of power," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat and a sponsor of the bill. "But we did provide a safety valve so in egregious circumstances, the decision of the local school council will not stand."

The bill would put in place an appeals process for principals who had received positive performance evaluations from district officials but whose councils chose not to renew their contracts. Both the city schools chief and LSC members who disagreed with their councils' majority could support such challenges by ousted principals.

Under the measure, the superintendent or dissenting LSC members could also challenge a council's decision to renew the contract of a principal who had received a poor evaluation from the district.

Proposal Evolves

As first envisioned by the district administration in a plan made public in March, the city's mayorally appointed school board would have had direct veto power over council decisions in either set of circumstances. District officials later amended their proposal to call for a special review panel that would make recommendations to the central board for final action.

But under the legislature's plan, a hearing officer from the American Arbitration Association would conduct reviews of council decisions and have the last word. And a council's decision could be overturned only if it was shown to have been arbitrary or capricious.

"A local school council that has done a thorough job of principal evaluation will be able to win in this appeal process," said Bernard Lacour, the policy-reform director for Designs for Change, a Chicago school reform group.

District leaders, too, said they had essentially achieved their aims. "If this legislation does nothing else but make councils more scrupulous about documenting their decisionmaking--and about making sure their decisions comport with quantifiable, objective performance measures--then that is what we wanted," said Marilyn F. Johnson, the district's general counsel.

The legislation was awaiting action by Gov. George H. Ryan, a Republican, who had yet to say last week whether he would sign it.

Vol. 18, Issue 39, Page 3

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