Threat to LSC power dropped, activists ready for elections

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Local school council advocates are celebrating.  They saved LSCs from a state senator’s attempt to strip their power, and they recruited enough candidates to make half the upcoming LSC elections competitive.

Local school council advocate are celebrating.  They saved LSCs from a state senator’s attempt to strip their power, and they recruited enough candidates to make half the upcoming LSC elections competitive.

The office of Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) confirmed that the Far South Side lawmaker is no longer pursuing a bill that would have made LSCs advisory, taking away their power to choose principals and decide how discretionary money is spent. Meeks, who surprised activists when he introduced the legislation this winter, said he introduced the bill to consolidate responsibility and accountability in schools.

Given the threat to LSCs, it was important that people showed up to run for the councils, says Don Moore, executive director of the advocacy organization Designs for Change. But Moore says the central office staff didn’t provide activists a list of specific schools needing more candidates, thereby thwarting targeted recruitment efforts.

As the March 11 candidate filing deadline neared, fewer than 2,000 candidates had registered for about 5,400 seats, and less 5 percent of schools had contested parent and community member elections.

But Moore and other activists were able to get CPS to extend the deadline by two weeks. They developed a strategy for recruitment and by March 24 had 6,742 candidates for the April election. Elementary school elections are on April 21 and the high schools hold their elections on April 22.

Half of the schools now will have contested elections for the six parent seats and two community seats. The councils also include two teachers.

“Our goal is to have competitive elections, but we want to make sure we at least have enough candidates to fill the positions,” Moore says.

He is optimistic that with more advanced planning next year, schools will have more than 10,000 candidates. 

Moore thinks that Meeks’s effort to take away power from LSCs made some decide not to run. “When we talked to some of the potential LSC members, they said the legislature is going to get rid of the LSC, so why should I run,” Moore says.

Others say that a school’s environment encourages candidates or turns them off.

“I think we had parents feeling more comfortable and welcome in the school,” says Stevenson Elementary School Principal Karen Kowalski. Stevenson has 22 candidates for six parent positions.

She says LSCs can be a positive or negative force in a school. Kowalski has had a good experience with Stevenson’s council, but she knows other schools have struggled with their LSCs.

“If you have people who are always going to be disagreeable, and that’s their intent — to disagree with the administration or bring in problems that don’t even exist — that could be a problem,” Kowalski says.

She thinks there should be guidelines to ensure that LSC members are contributing in a productive way.