This summer, Chicago saw some of its only tangible wins to date in the fight for police abolition when seventeen Chicago Public High Schools voted to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from their schools. The site of the struggle was Local School Councils (LSCs), a CPS institution that has been largely out of the public eye for the past two decades as CPS has consolidated power within the mayor’s appointed school board.
Most public elementary and high schools in Chicago have a Local School Council. Each LSC is made up of the school principal and parent, teacher, student, non-teaching staff, and community representatives. Chicago Public Schools currently oversees 509 school councils throughout the city, around 70 of which are high school councils.
The councils were formed after Mayor Harold Washington’s administration passed the Chicago School Reform Act in response to the historic nineteen day teacher’s strike of 1987. The ordinance created 500 LSCs and mandated that each create what is now called the Continuous Work Improvement Plan (CIWP) that lays out the progress that each school intends to make in the coming year. In the first ever school election, over 17,000 people ran for 6,000 council seats and over 300,000 people cast ballots.
Today, in the absence of an Elected School Board and with Chicago Public School resources stretched thin, Local School Councils stand unpaid, under supported, and unable to fill elected seats. This year, many councils facing the choice to remove or retain SROs from their schools could not even reach a quorum to vote because the councils had too many vacant seats.
Local School Councils’ current lack of power and participation is a feature of the CPS system, not a fluke. In its inception, the Chicago School Reform Act allowed for budgetary decisions, principal evaluations, and CIWPs to be made by the school councils. In practice, however, the scope of LSCs are much more limited, with power being consolidated over time within the unelected school board appointed by the Mayor.
While LSCs can develop and approve budgets, each LSC only has meaningful control over around $500,000 a year in state funds and they don’t have any say in the amount of money schools get overall. The councils can evaluate principals in most cases, but if a school’s test score average drops, the decision to retain or remove said principal is torn from the LSC and is instead granted to a CPS network chief. CPS also fails to provide meaningful translation services and outreach to councils, which severely limits parent and public participation of non-English speakers, especially in a school system where one in five students are nonnative English speakers.
Despite the many flaws in the current LSC system, individual LSC members and the larger school communities can make outsized changes at their individual schools through the power that the council is given.
This past summer, socialists organized alongside their communities to urge councils to remove SROs at Benito Juarez Community Academy, Lane Tech College Prep, Senn High School, and more. Progressive and socialist candidates in schools all across the 48th ward are running on anti-gentrification platforms, focusing their energy on declining enrollment due to luxury developments and lack of affordable housing near their schools. One socialist candidate at Swift Elementary wants to “push against the overreliance on standardized testing when used to inappropriately access school rating or to label under-resourced students as inadequate.” Another aims to sway the council at his daughter’s elementary school to remove the armed security guard employed there.
Research your local school council elections and vote in them. Support local candidates fighting against an unjust CPS system meant to stifle community support and engagement. And if your local school councils don’t have enough candidates to seat a full council, consider nominating yourself for an appointment.
After the elections are over, stay involved with your councils. Participate in public comment during their monthly meetings and offer support in their various subcommittees (in which unelected community members can hold seats). Schools in my area have subcommittees on Racial Equity, Online Learning, Language Access, and Housing and Enrollment, to name a few.
Far from when they were once conceived, elections now can be and are won with dozens of votes. Absent a citywide Elected School Board, these Local School Councils are the closest thing to democratic participation that we have in our public education system.
Elections for Elementary Schools are November 18th 7am-7pm
Elections for High Schools are November 19th 7am-7pm
- Any community member who can prove they live within a school’s boundary can vote in person on election day.
- TWO FORMS of ID, one with proof of address (can be a bill, photo ID, or lease) are required to vote.
- Parents within each school boundary are mailed their ballots prior to the election. Ballots postmarked by election day will be counted and considered valid. Parents can also drop off their ballots in person or opt to vote in person instead.
- Each voter is allowed to vote at both their local elementary school and local high school.
- Each community member/parent is allowed to vote for up to five candidates, regardless of whether they’re running for community representative or parent representative. If they vote for six+ candidates, their ballot is voided.
- Only teachers are allowed to vote for teacher representatives at the schools they work for, and only students may vote for student representatives.
- Local School Councils are required to post videos of the candidate forums on their website, where you can also find monthly meeting times and agendas.
- Also, fuck Arne Duncan.