Chicago School Reform Act Highlights

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Original provisions effective July 1, 1989. Major revisions effective July 1, 1995.

Local School Councils

Composition, Selection
Each school will establish a local school council (LSC) consisting of the principal, six parents, two community residents, two teachers and, in high schools, one student. Parents and community residents on the LSC cannot be Chicago Public Schools employees. Members are elected by their peers at each school.

1991 Amendment in response to a court ruling on LSC election provisions. Parents and community members get five votes to divide among parent and community candidates; teachers and students are appointed by the School Board following advisory elections among their peers.

Powers, Duties

1. To appoint the principal, who serves under a four-year contract. The only requirement for new principals is a state administrative certificate; the Board of Education cannot impose additional eligibility requirements.

1996 Amendment: The board is given the authority to impose its own requirements for becoming and remaining a principal. It moves quickly, requiring Chicago residency, six years’ experience as a teacher and administrator with consistently good performance, an internship and training beyond the standard administrative certificate.

2. To write and approve a performance contract with the principal. LSCs may make additions to the basic systemwide performance contract, provided these are neither discriminatory nor in opposition to the board’s basic contract provisions.

3. To evaluate the principal’s performance and decide whether to renew his or her contract at the end of four years.

1996 Amendment: The system’s chief executive officer is given veto power over the retention of principals; the School Board becomes a court of appeal.

4. To help create and to approve a school improvement plan, which details how the school will boost test scores, cut truancy and dropout rates and ensure that children are prepared for the future. An LSC can request policy waivers from the board, and/or waivers of union agreements, to help implement its school improvement plan.

5. To help create and to approve a budget for the school, using a lump-sum allocation from the board.

6. 1995 Amendment: To approve receipts and expenditures for schools’ internal accounts.

LSC Training
An 8-hour training session for new LSC members is "strongly encouraged," but not required.

1995 Amendment: The state mandates three full days of training for new LSC members, to be completed within 6 months of taking office. It also changes some of the content of the training, emphasizing legal issues and ways to improve student achievement, and shifts LSC elections so that members can be trained in the summer. LSC members who do not complete the training must be removed by the board.

Central Authority
School Board membership
The existing 11-member Board of Education is abolished. A School Board Nominating Commission is created; it includes 23 parent and community representatives from LSCs across the city and five members appointed by the mayor. It screens candidates and gives the mayor a slate of three candidates for each vacant position on an expanded 15-member board. The mayor has 30 days to act; his choices must be approved by the City Council. If the mayor rejects all three slated candidates for a particular slot, the commission must come up with three more.

1995 Amendment: The 15-member Board of Education and the Nominating Commission are abolished. The mayor is given unfettered authority to appoint a five-member School Reform Board of Trustees to serve through 1999. Thereafter, the mayor will name a seven-member board; there will be staggered, four-year terms.

Board responsibilities
The board is responsible for setting curriculum goals and standards; supervising special and bilingual education; providing meals and transportation; developing a discipline code; and building, renovating and closing school facilities.

The board must write specific educational reform objectives and goals, which must be approved by the Chicago School Finance Authority.

The board will choose a General Superintendent, who serves under a three-year contract.

1995 Amendment: The mayor chooses a Chief Executive Officer to serve for four years; thereafter, the School Board will choose a general superintendent.

The new School Reform Board of Trustees is directed to trim costs of non-educational services; to provide a long-term, balanced budget; to streamline the administration; to create an Academic Accountability Council to ensure schools’ progress; and to establish any structures deemed necessary to help the system work better.

The new board is given authority to hire outside contractors to do work currently done by board employees; staff may be laid off upon 14 days’ written notice.

The board will determine, subject to judicial review, whether a teacher or principal is fired. Previously, those decisions were made by state hearing officers, who now only provide findings of fact and recommendations.

The teachers union is stripped of authority to bargain over a wide range of operational and educational issues, including class size, school schedules and staff assignments.

The board no longer must submit educational and financial plans to the Chicago School Finance Authority for approval.

The board is given greatly increased flexibility in the use of state and local funds, which paves the way for four-year union contracts and dozens of new programs. Details.

Principals’ Authority
1. Principals can fill vacant educational positions with the applicants of their choice, regardless of seniority. Tenured teachers who lose their positions at a school because of falling enrollment or curriculum changes (so-called reserve teachers) are guaranteed some form of employment by the system for 20 months.

1995 Amendment. Protections for reserve teachers are stripped from the law. Principals may use non-teachers for library duties and school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

2. The in-class remediation time principals must grant to unsatisfactory teachers is cut from one year to 45 days. However, principals may extend remediation up to a total of one year, part of which can take place outside the classroom.

3. The principal, along with the school engineer, may keep a set of keys to the building. The principal, along with subdistrict supervising engineers and lunchroom managers, together conduct regular evaluations of the school engineer and the school lunchroom manager. The subdistrict superintendent handles conflicts between principals and their engineers and lunchroom managers.

1995 Amendment: Principals are given sole authority to evaluate engineers and lunchroom managers. In the case of a negative evaluation, they can reprimand, suspend, or recommend the dismissal of the employee.

4. Each principal, with his or her LSC, is responsible for developing a school improvement plan and a curriculum. A Professional Personnel Advisory Committee (PPAC) is created to help. Each PPAC consists of certified teachers; its size and manner of selection is up to each school.

5. Principals are required to give LSCs copies of audits of internal accounts and any pertinent information generated by reviews of programs or operations.

Accountability
Each of the 23 existing elementary and high school subdistricts will establish Subdistrict Councils, composed of one elected parent or community member from each LSC in the subdistrict.

The Subdistrict Superintendent will suggest actions to remedy low-performing schools, including drafting remediation plans and, if problems continue, placing schools on probation. The Subdistrict Council must approve or disapprove the Subdistrict Superintendent=s recommendations.

In cases where a school fails to make progress after being on probation for a year, and it has unsuccessfully pleaded its case at a hearing, the Board of Education can do any of the following: order new LSC elections, replace the principal, replace teachers or close the school.

1995 Amendment: Subdistricts are abolished. The authority for moving against low- performing schools is transferred to the newly created post of chief executive officer and to a reconstituted board. The board and CEO are given new options for intervention and do not have to wait for a year of probation to act. The CEO also assumes authority to evaluate principals, who continue to be evaluated by LSCs, too.

State Chapter 1 Funds
Chapter 1 funds must be distributed to schools based on their enrollment of poor children. Those funds must be used only on programs that supplement the basic curriculum: reduced class size, early childhood, enrichment and the like. These two initiatives are to be phased in gradually, with full compliance by 1994. Principals are given the lead in developing spending plans; LSCs must approve the plans.

The law suggests that the board use revenue from "administrative reductions" to plug budget holes caused by the transfer of these funds to individual school budgets.

1995 Amendment. The amount of state Chapter 1 funds that is distributed to schools for use at their discretion is capped at $261 million, with the Reform Board gaining control over annual increases above that amount.

School Choice
The board must draft a plan for increased school choice for families. This plan must let students attend schools based on a lottery admissions process, provide busing for low-income students, and comply with the board’s desegregation consent decree. Magnet schools are not part of this program.

Compiled by Catalyst