Mayoral Accountability

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Migdalia Rivera Latino Institute

“The image of our schools has improved tremendously under Mayor Daley’s administrators and board, and that has helped us garner the good will of Springfield and has increased funding. … Concentrating power in the hands of a few—a smaller board of directors, a smaller administration—helps facilitate a better relationship with the mass media. If you get the media on your side, you’re halfway there. … Besides that, concrete improvements have occurred. There is a very significant capital develop-ment project going forward.

“However, the jury is still out in terms of how well the kids are achieving. We don’t know, for example, what the result of the new promotion and retention policies will be. … We don’t know what will happen as a result of putting uniformed security personnel in some schools, instead of parent patrols.

“I suppose having any one person in charge of anything has an intrinsic plus, and that is that you know who to blame if it doesn’t work. … He can be held accountable at the polling booth. There’s no question that that allows for a consistent set of policies being put in place. … But that also lends itself to the danger of not including people in decisionmaking who are affected directly. I certainly hear some reports of that happening.”

Tom Reese Chicago Teachers Union

“There was a certain ‘disconnect’ with previous boards of education. Sometimes we felt they had other agendas, and they weren’t interested in settling [negotiations] for one political reason or another. [Daley’s appointees] seem to be on task, and the relationship has been quite good. You can’t complain about an improvement. … The people that came in have a real terrific grasp of budgeting and the political process in Springfield.

“But when you have people come over from a different situation, they don’t necessarily have an education background, and they have to depend on people to get their information. … I think it takes a certain amount of time for them to get on the track educationally. …One of the other problems could be that they could take things for granted: Let’s charge forward and maybe we don’t have to meet as much with the employees.”

Donald Moore Designs for Change

“No system of centralized control is going to significantly improve education in the big-city school systems in this country. The research … indicates that the core of school improvement is a commitment by principals and teachers and local school councils. A central administration can play a critical role in making resources available on a predictable basis, and holding schools accountable. “The new management has made a number of very positive changes. Balancing the budget and ensuring that schools will open on time is extremely important. As are the major initiatives to improve school facilities, the expansion of after-school programs and early childhood education.

“Some of our major concerns focus on the lack of support for local school councils and local school initiative, the inordinate focus on test scores … and the long-term fallout of the retention policy. … In general, putting school systems under the control of mayors creates a strong incentive to make changes that may produce short-term results, but will be detrimental in the long term, because most mayors are elected every four years or less.”

Paul Green Institute for Public Policy, Governors State University

“I advised the mayor not to do what he did, because historically no mayor who ever got involved in the schools in Chicago came out ahead. … It is really unique that any mayor would take this kind of responsibility, given … a very checkered past in terms of the relationships of City Hall and the Board of Ed.”[Now] you have nothing but praise about how the schools operate on the basic nuts-and-bolts, that is, getting materials and equipment to the schools, not getting them lost in a warehouse, managing the schools, repairing the schools. … The mayor and his staff have made a monumental contribution to education in Chicago.

“[Mayoral accountability] adds muscle to what they’re trying to do, be it the negotiating of contracts with various suppliers or negotiating with the teachers union. [But] it puts tremendous pressure on the mayor. His reputation is on the line. And it shows just how much faith he has in Chico and Vallas, because given a foul-up at the schools, previously the mayors were able to deflect criticism; now there’s no way the mayor can deflect criticism of the schools.”

Sheila Castillo Chicago Association of Local School Councils

“The goals of the schools get mixed up with the goals of the mayor. … Is the accountability measure, the test scores, being used to measure how much kids are learning or how the mayor can talk tough and punish the bad guys? That, I think, has really been a disservice to the kids. The positive piece is in the handling of the business of the school system. They’ve taken care of the business beautifully. They’ve started the process of fixing the schools.

“I would prefer that the schools be accountable to the parents and the community, but that may very well be pie in the sky. … How would I do it? I would work in a lot more local voice. One idea we tossed around is, let the local school councils elect a school board.”

Ald. Patrick O’Connor City Council Committee on Education

“Among Chicago’s many traditions, one of them is that the mayor gets blamed for pretty much everything, bad or good. Clearly, the ability to effect change now accompanies the ability to be blamed. … I think that [the mayor and School Board] still give great deference to community and local school decision-making when it relates to truly local issues. It’s a good balance.

“[But] one problem that is out there is that no matter how accountable the mayor is … you can’t really solve long-term concerns about funding until they solve it on the state level.”

Lisa Delpit, author “Other People’s Children”

[Commenting on the situation in Baltimore.] “Sometimes the school system is in such deep trouble that you need an outside influence. Other times the mayor will add an additional layer of bureaucracy and ignorance to the process.

“[It’s] likely to increase the politicking in the school system. [But] when the mayor agreed with efforts that I was trying to push forward, then he was able to facilitate the process in a way that the school system just was not able to. For example, he was interested in having a school focused on the arts, as I was, and he did push that with the school system.”

Arnold Weber Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

“It permits the mayor to marshal his political capital to change the way they do business in schools. For example, the way they cleaned up the budget and their program for evaluating the schools, resulting in 109 being put on probation. I think it’s pretty clear evidence of a willingness to deal with problems directly and seek solutions using both political capital and statutory authority.

“To change a system as large, complex and inertial as CPS requires almost a physical effort … [Daley has] brought in two of his very talented operatives, [schools chief Paul] Vallas and [board president Gery] Chico, and they’ve performed with skill and great energy and dedication.”