Activists to lawmakers: Give LSCs more power

December 11, 2008

Supporters of local school councils are planning to target state lawmakers in a nascent effort to strengthen LSCs.

LSCs have faced a barrage of criticism in recent years, including calls
by Mayor Daley and CEO Arne Duncan to curb one of their most
significant powers, selecting a principal. And earlier this year,
community groups received far fewer dollars for recruiting candidates
for the most recent LSC election. (See related story.)

Next month, a coalition of community groups and activists plan to
unveil recommendations for amending the Illinois School Code to beef up
LSCs’ authority and power. Among the proposals: a requirement that
charter and other new schools have elected LSCs. Supporters of local school councils are planning to target state lawmakers in a nascent effort to strengthen LSCs.

LSCs have faced a barrage of criticism in recent years, including calls by Mayor Daley and CEO Arne Duncan to curb one of their most significant powers, selecting a principal. And earlier this year, community groups received far fewer dollars for recruiting candidates for the most recent LSC election. (See related story.)

Next month, a coalition of community groups and activists plan to unveil recommendations for amending the Illinois School Code to beef up LSCs’ authority and power. Among the proposals: a requirement that charter and other new schools have elected LSCs.

“The public institution of local school councils has been weakened and this gives some folks reason to say, ‘This is not working, let’s dismantle it,’ ” says Pauline Lipman, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of education policy and a member of Teachers for Social Justice. “But there are others who say [LSCs] need to be revitalized, not gotten rid of.”

Since April, hundreds of local school councils, community leaders, organizations and parents have attended meetings and a citywide summit that included discussions about the state of LSCs. Training, the conduct of elections, support and oversight emerged as top concerns.

A task force made up of Lipman, Brown and representatives from Parents Responsible for Responsible Education (PURE), Designs for Change, Blocks Together and the Pilsen Alliance boiled down suggestions into a set of specific recommendations.

“Research proves that when LSCs receive the support they need, they are effective bodies that create successful schools,” says Jitu Brown, a community organizer from Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.  “There is no research that says LSCs don’t work”. 

The proposal includes recommendations to:

•    Reinstate LSC powers at probation schools. Since 1995, councils at schools that have been placed on probation do not had the authority to select a principal, control their budget or write school improvement plans.

•    Provide funds for leadership development, fundraising and community partnerships to address the needs of their schools.  

•    Require every publicly funded school to have a publicly elected council, including charter, alternative and small schools. Many charters have governing boards, but they often do not have parents as members and do not the same legal powers as LSCs. Small and alternative schools are not required to have LSCs.

•    Provide more funds for training and support, up to $2,500 a year. Currently, councils receive just $400.

•    Create an independent commission to conduct oversight, offer support to councils and develop a training protocol. The commission should be made up of community organizations, school reform groups, CPS administrators and post-secondary partners.

The task force plans to complete a draft of its recommendations by the end of December, then unveil them and begin lobbying in Springfield in January.