We need an elected school board…and that’s just for starters
“Institutional racism, poverty, systematic underfunding of education, and their effects lie at the heart of problems in education. Yet there is a complete lack of political will to discuss, much less begin to solve, these fundamental issues.”–-from A Just Chicago: Fighting for the City Our Students Deserve by the Chicago Teachers Union
Whatever it is that Chicago’s unelected school board talks about in their closed sessions with their closed minds, it isn’t good for us in the 29th Ward. We are concerned with life and death issues here and their educational policies are of no help to us.
We lost 6 neighborhood schools in the 29th Ward during the school closing Katrina of 2013. We lost many fine teachers, counselors and other school workers. This represents a massive disinvestment from our community, a community which has already lost businesses, jobs, and necessary social services.
It was a crime against our young people because fully funded and well resourced neighborhood schools can help anchor their lives in a society that constantly assaults them with racism, poverty and disrespect.
It was a crime committed by an unelected school board appointed by a Mayor who does not care about working class people, especially if they are Black or Brown.
We need an elected school board. Now. There is an advisory referendum on the ballot for an Elected Representative School Board in 38 wards, including here in the 29th. If it wins big, it will help us when we take the battle to the state legislature in Springfield.
When I, Zerlina Smith, go to school board meetings the only people who discuss real issues are the ones who sign up to make public comments. They come with sensible suggestions.
They ask for equal funding across the city, not the racist way resources are currently allocated. They ask for an end to the standardized test abuse which turns schools into boring, alienating “teach to the test” factories. They ask for art, music, science, world languages and full wraparound support services. They ask for full day early childhood education. They ask that our teachers and support staff be treated with kindness and respect instead of treated as enemies. They ask for restorative justice for students instead of a constantly flowing school to prison pipeline.
Their proposals are routinely ignored as Board members fiddle with their laptops or stare into space with their vacant empty eyes.
Public comments are limited to two minutes. How is it possible to propose solutions to complex problems in 2 minutes; problems that experts have written entire books about. If speakers go over the limit, security guards strong arm them out of the room.
The priorities of our unelected school board seem to be spending tax money on privatizing schools, awarding “pay to play” contracts to the Mayor’s cronies and allowing LaSalle Street banks and hedge fund hustlers to dictate educational policy.
Just the other morning a young man was shot to death around the corner from my campaign office. How many more young people are going to die because our communities are deliberately starved of educational resources and destabilized by budget cuts in social services?
Why doesn’t Deborah Graham, the current 29th Ward alderwoman, support an elected school board to replace the Mayor’s collection of walking rubber stamps?
Chicago is the only school district in Illinois that does not allow people to vote for their school board. We know the reason why. The majority of the students are Black and Latino, as are the majority of public school parents. This is voter suppression, no better than the days of Jim Crow As far as Mayor Emanuel is concerned, the 1965 march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery never happened.
An elected school board will not be the answer to all of our problems. We can be sure that the Chicago wealthy elite will do everything possible to get their compliant cronies elected and subvert every sensible measure an elected Board tries to implement. We must be prepared for that.
In order for young people to get the education they deserve they must live in the city that they deserve. That is certainly not Chicago as it is today with its outrageous race and class inequities. That is why we need an education justice movement larger, better organized and more strategic that any Chicago has seen within living memory.
We can do this.