Governor Signs Bill Putting Mayor in Control of Chicago Schools

By Lonnie Harp — June 07, 1995 4 min read
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Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois last week signed a Republican-drafted bill overhauling the Chicago school system that hands over the reins of the 410,000-student district to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

It will be Mr. Daley’s job to appoint a five-member board that will govern the city’s troubled schools, and his job as well to gain control of the district’s $2.9 billion budget and its $150 million deficit. The 141-page law restricts the power of the Chicago Teachers Union and gives principals new authority to fire employees and set their schools’ schedules.

“Without a doubt, it is one of the major accomplishments of the recently completed legislative session,” the Republican Governor said in signing the bill into law. It will dissolve the present 15-member school board, transferring authority to the new panel of trustees as soon as Mr. Daley makes the appointments.

“This bold, innovative approach should bring more accountability, better fiscal management, and a higher quality of education to a system that desperately needs an overhaul,” Mr. Edgar added.

The plan still faces many critics, however, including Democratic Chicago lawmakers who say they were left out of the process. Mr. Daley’s office also has complained that lawmakers should have given the Democratic mayor more flexibility in his new authority over the schools.

Some observers also noted that the law gives little additional money to the district, leaving a host of tough decisions to the mayor.

A New ‘Superboard’

“We’re going to buckle down and work at it, but it’s not going to be easy,” said Noelle Gaffney, a spokeswoman for Mr. Daley.

Argie Johnson, the district’s superintendent, and D. Sharon Grant, the school board president, made no formal comment last week on the governance changes.

The bill, which promises to transform the top layers of the district’s management, passed the Senate on a 33-to-26 vote that split along party lines. The House passed it 67 to 49 with few party defections.

Beyond appointing what observers are calling the “superboard” that will run the district for four years, the mayor will be allowed to name a chief executive officer to supervise the district. A new operating officer will have the task of improving financial efficiency and overseeing efforts to privatize district services.

Subdistricts and the subdistrict superintendents will be eliminated by the law.

The plan streamlines state funding for the district by creating two block grants, one to pay for general education and one for educational services.

Meanwhile, seven of the district’s property-tax categories will be collapsed into a single operating levy. The district’s School Finance Authority will be suspended for four years, giving the trustees and Mr. Daley the job of managing the finances.

Limits on Union

The law also takes a swipe at the local teachers’ union by limiting the items on the table during contract talks and placing a moratorium on strikes for 18 months. It bars managerial employees from union membership and allows the new board to adopt a contract that runs for up to four years, one year more than is now allowed.

Among the law’s other provisions:

An “academic accountability council” will monitor school performance and identify failing schools where the district could intervene and implement wide-ranging corrective measures. A new anti-nepotism policy must be adopted, and trustees must take recorded votes for contracts of more than $10,000. Principals will gain supervision of custodial and food-service workers and have authority to set school schedules. The district’s local school councils--committees of parents, teachers, and the principal that oversee each school--will be guaranteed minimum funding at this year’s level of $261 million.

The councils were created under the landmark Chicago school-reform law adopted by the legislature in 1988.

“The good thing is that there’s nothing about the bill that limits the authority of school councils,” said Donald R. Moore, the ex~ecutive director of Designs for Change, a nonprofit group working on reform projects with several of the councils. “The school-reform process that began in 1989 has not been undermined.”

Not Enough Help?

But some Chicago lawmakers were not so upbeat. Many were left feeling that Republicans had rammed through a bill that dumps Chicago’s problems in Mr. Daley’s lap with few resources to fix them.

“More flexibility without more money doesn’t help a whole lot when you are talking about a severely troubled school system,” said Ann Liston, a spokeswoman for Sen. Arthur L. Berman, a Democrat from Chicago. “And a lot of this is punitive.”

At least publicly, however, officials in the mayor’s office were talking last week only about getting on with the job at hand. Mayor Daley plans to meet with teachers and principals as he puts together his own management plans.

He is required to appoint the district’s new trustees by the end of this month.

A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 1995 edition of Education Week as Governor Signs Bill Putting Mayor in Control of Chicago Schools


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