Governor Seeks Major Revisions In Chicago Bill

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The fragile consensus that has kept alive a proposed overhaul of the Chicago public schools was jarred last week, as Gov. James Thompson of Illinois made good on his promise to seek changes that are staunchly opposed by key participants in the debate.

Mr. Thompson's action raised the possibility that the massive reform bill could die, a victim of the ongoing battle between the Republican Governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature.

The bill "may very well die in November," when the legislature meets for a brief veto-override session, said Senator Arthur Berman, chairman of the education committee.

In an 18-page amendatory veto message, the Governor requested numerous alterations in the bill approved by lawmakers this summer. But two changes in particular have raised the ire of political leaders who scuttled an earlier version of the measure.

The first change would give the Governor an equal voice with Chicago's mayor in naming a seven-member oversight commission that will have broad powers to impose financial sanctions on the Chicago district if it fails to implement reforms.

This proposal is vehemently opposed by Chicago's black legislators, who view it as an attempt to wrest control from local elected officials.

The second change would eliminate the seniority rights of teachers who lose their positions due to falling enrollment or changes in the curriculum. The Chicago Teachers Union has called this move "unacceptable."

"Why should even one teacher be asked to sacrifice their job security for some idea that the Governor has that will not improve classroom instruction?" asked Chuck Burdeen, a spokesman for the ctu

"You can't bash the very people you expect to make education reform a success," he said, adding, "There are very strong feelings that the bill is dead."

The Governor's amendments would not affect the bill's central provision, which would create parent-dominated governing bodies at each of Chicago's almost 600 schools.

The measure would also abolish the current board of education, replacing it with a board nominated by a newly created advisory panel; eliminate tenure for principals, making them accountable under three-year performance contracts; and reduce the central bureaucracy's role in the day-to-day operation of the schools.

During their veto session, lawmakers must either endorse Mr.Thompson's amendments by a majority vote or strike them from the bill by a three-fifths vote. If a deadlock occurs, the bill will die.

Partisan Deadlock

Republican lawmakers say they have enough votes to prevent the changes from being overridden.

But Senator Berman said he had surveyed his Democratic colleagues and believes that none would break party ranks to give the Republicans the majority they need to approve the amendments.

Last July, Republicans were unable to persuade Democrats to cross party lines and vote to implement the reform bill immediately. (See Education Week, Aug. 3, 1988.)

Coalition Continues Pressure

The bill is the result of a year-long push by Chicago businessmen, parents, and community leaders who are demanding radical improve4ments in the city's schools, last spring labeled "the nation's worst" by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

Action for Better Chicago Schools, a coalition of groups that has spearheaded the reform campaign, had not decided as of last week whether it would support or oppose the amended bill.

"The Governor's action creates a confrontation along partisan political lines over issues that are really of no consequence in terms of the education of children," said Donald R. Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, a school watchdog group that belongs to the coalition.

The coalition would prefer that 8the amended bill not be passed over the objections of the black legislative caucus or the Chicago Teachers Union, he said.

But "the reform coalition is not going to allow partisan bickering to keep us from coming out of the November session with a reform bill,'' he added.

"Our basic strategy will be to underscore the fact that at this point there is agreement on 99 percent of the bill," he said.

Governor Urged To Sign

The abc Schools coalition had urged the Governor to sign the bill and press for his changes in new legislation.

In an unusual move, Governor Thompson had announced the changes he intended to make almost a month before he officially signed the bill last week at Lane Technical High School in Chicago. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1988.)

In his veto message, the Governor argued that his proposed changes would "make this bill stronger" and that a majority of the people throughout the city and state "agree with me."

Senator Berman said he intended to negotiate with the Governor to see if a compromise could be reached to salvage the bill.

"Perhaps he hasn't had the opportunity to evaluate the impact of his actions," said Mr. Berman, noting that Mr. Thompson had spent most of September traveling in China.

"Once he sees what he has in fact done, maybe he'll reconsider," the Senator said.

Vol. 08, Issue 05

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