Open Letter to Senators Kimberly Lightford and Patricia Van Pelt

Dear Senator Lightford and Senator Van Pelt: I am writing to request that you sponsor or co-sponsor the Senate counterpart to HB-1152, sponsored by Representative La Shawn Ford. The bill, as you know, creates a task force to study the pros and cons of an elected school board in the City of Chicago. Specifically: Synopsis As Introduced Amends the School Code. Creates the Chicago Educational Governance Task Force for the purpose of recommending the best structure and procedure for the governance of City of Chicago School District 299. Sets forth the composition of the Task Force and the duties of the Task Force. Requires the Task Force to report its recommendation to the General Assembly on or before May 30, 2014 as to which governance structure is best designed to serve the students of the City of Chicago. Abolishes the Task Force and repeals these provisions on May 31, 2014. House Committee Amendment No. 1 Replaces everything after the enacting clause. Reinserts the contents of the bill with the following changes. Changes the membership of the task force. Requires the State Board of Education to provide administrative and other support to the task force. Abolishes the task force and repeals the task force provisions on May 31, 2015 (instead of May 31, 2014). 1. The Chicago Public School board members are appointed by the Mayor and not elected by the people. They answer to the Mayor and ignore the community. 2. Some members of the board voted to raise the CPS property taxes to the highest amounts allowed by the law. At the same time, they have lobbied to lower property taxes for themselves. Some North Lawndale and Austin residents have seen their property taxes increase at a faster rate than people from other parts of the city, in spite of the fact that property values are decreasing and many home owners are on fixed incomes. 3. The West Side of Chicago is home to approximately 17% of Chicago's public schools, yet, over 47% of the closed schools were on Chicago's West Side. We are the consistent target area for school closings, turnarounds and other educational experiments that can distract our students. Yet, there is not one person on the CPS board from the West Side. 4. Even though the board is made up of business people, Chicago Public Schools proposed a budget that will supposedly spend all the cash reserves this year, for the second year in a row. As a result, their credit score was lowered. CPS must now pay higher interest rates. The more money they spend on interest, theless money will be available for the classroom. 5. The Mayor, the Board of Education and Barbara Byrd Bennett have consistently manufactured financial crises to justify school closings, teacher firings and other unpopular decisions. For two straight years they have claimed a $1 billion deficit, and

have ended up with significant cash on hand. In 2012 they ended the year with over $600 million. In 2013 they ended up with over $900 million. The CPS budget projects a surplus of about $92 million for 2014 even after meeting the onerous pension balloon payment exceeding $600 million. Yet, they continue to talk about budget deficits in the media to this day to justify local school budget cuts and rapid expansion of charter schools. 6. The Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools developed an alternative plan to school closures with support from a number of our elected officials, including Congressman Danny Davis, Commissioner Robert Steele, Alderman Jason Ervin and Alderman Michael Chandler. This plan included plans for school improvement with a comprehensive alignment of community based organizations to provide social services, academic enrichment, arts and cultural activities and recreation. Our requests for meetings with the Board of Education have been ignored. 7. A multi-cultural coalition of grassroots organizations around the City of Chicago circulated petitions to get an advisory referendum on the ballot in select precincts asking voters if they wanted an elected school board. The referendum appeared on the ballot in about 327 precincts around the City, including Austin and North Lawndale. The 24th Ward was the only place where the referendum appeared ward wide. On average, the referendum passed by 87% around the city. In North Lawndale the referendum carried by 89%. Some 24th Ward precincts had over 90% voting for an elected school board. 8. The City of Chicago has over $1.7 billion in TIF funds, with about $250 million that is uncommitted. About half of this money would have gone to Chicago Public Schools if it weren't put in the TIF fund. The current board refuses to push for reforms that would allow excess TIF funds to go back to the schools. Instead, the unused funds collect interest, and CPS raises taxes to cover their expenses.We need school board members who can feel our pain, have a genuine concern for our community and take action. In short, we need a school board elected by the people, for the people! How Should the Elected School Board Look? We don't know whether the Task Force bill will pass. If it becomes law, we don't know what the recommendations will be. Ideally, the elected school board should have a good mix of people from around the City of Chicago. The board should include some people with experience managing large organizations or businesses, experience in law, and others with experience with Chicago Public Schools. There should also be slots for people who represent communities from each of the four-five major geographic areas of the City.
In closing, I thank you for your time and consideration.

Valerie F. Leonard

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