Candidate recruitment off to (typically) slow start

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Another LSC election looms May 1 and 2, and by the end of February, 3,486 people had signed up to run for available 5,613 seats.

Three days before the registration deadline, CPS extended it to April 3.

Low candidate sign-ups, though, are not unusual and the board has extended deadlines in the last two elections. The number of people running for LSCs has declined each election since the first one in 1989, when 17,256 candidates ran. When elections were last held two years ago, 7,095 people ran, roughly the same ran as in 1998.

“I’m not sure anybody’s figured out how to reconnect young parents, young people who aren’t connected to the schools,” says Richard Laine of the Illinois Business Roundtable.

And this year, there’s not much money for recruitment. For the LSC elections in 2000, local funders gave organizers $430,000 towards grassroots recruitment; this year, they contributed only $80,000, says Andrew Wade of the Chicago School Leadership Cooperative.

Instead, local funders are pledging money to build a $1.2 million LSC Fund that would provide about $200,000 every two years for candidate recruitment and council training, says Janet Knupp, president of the Chicago Public Education Fund, which is managing the fund.

The entire endowment will be donated by four local funders: the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago and the Annenberg Foundation.

At the Jan. 23 board meeting, School Board President Michael Scott set an ambitious goal: recruiting 10,000 LSC candidates or roughly two for every seat. Two weeks later, the board launched its candidate recruitment strategy, a mere 19 days before the registration deadline. Publicity would include ads posted on CTA buses and a public service commercial to run on the city’s cable channel.

Candidates often wait until the last minute to register, and early recruitment drives can backfire, Scott argues. “You want people to get the message not too far in front [of the deadline].”

But council advocate Don Moore, founder of Designs for Change, says such late-inning efforts are almost certain to guarantee low sign-up. The wide gap between the filing deadline and the May elections will probably mean low voter turnout as well, he explains. In a letter, Moore asked the board to push back the deadline to heighten interest.

Despite Mayor Daley’s public support, City Hall’s candidate recruitment efforts are slow to take off, too. The mayor encourages city workers to run for local councils, says Beverly J. Walker, the mayor’s chief education aide. In previous elections, flyers and posters were circulated around City Hall, but as of mid-February, Walker says, she had not seen any. “I haven’t seen anything, although that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

Some local politicians say there’s no energy behind recruitment efforts. “You need to do more than just post a sign on the school’s bulletin board that says, ‘LSC elections three weeks from tomorrow,'” says 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston of Hyde Park.

James Deanes, who oversees LSC elections as director of School and Community Relations, counters that recruitment efforts began as early as December, when posters were hung at schools. Last month, 100,000 flyers were distributed at Jewel grocery stores, he says.

Mario G. Ortiz with reporting by Catalyst staff.