On April 16 and 17, Chicago Public Schools parents and community members voted in a new set of Local School Council representatives%uFFFD but just barely. As late as mid-March, CPS Executive Director of LSC Relations Jose Alvarez reported that 55 schools
Twentyfive of those schools, or 45 percent, were on academic probation. CPS extended the candidate application deadline a week, acknowledging that only 6,000 candidates had filed to run for 6,000 positions district-wide.
That candidate number is virtually the same as 2004 and 2006, the last two LSC election years, and this is the second time since 2004 that CPS has had to do a candidate application extension, Alvarez said. In 1989, LSC’s first election year, CPS reports that 17,256 candidates ran for 6,000 seats.
Approximately 312,000 people cast ballots giving LSCs%uFFFDcreated to decentralize the district%uFFFDauthority to approve school budgets, improvement plans and hire principals. But Bill Rice, a consultant in CPS’ office of community relations, said that the high number is illusionary.
“The 17,000 was only the very first year. It then dropped by half… and the number of candidates has been in the upper 6,000s-low 7,000s for the last five or six elections,” Rice said. The reason, he said, is a steady decline in support from society at large.
“There was a huge amount of interest with the very first election%uFFFD and there was a big push by the government and civic leaders to get involved, and people responded to that call. There was a fair amount of pro bono advertising that radio stations, newspapers provided in addition to what [CPS] had purchased,” he recalled.
He credited the most recent dip in involvement to a struggling economy. “Everybody’s feeling a little bit squeezed and people are having to do additional work to maintain the same standards of living, and that cuts into time for a variety of things,” he said.
Tunyona Frazier, whose young daughter attends the Easter Seals infant program at Abbott Elementary School, agreed that some parents literally cannot afford to be activists. “You have a single parent that has to provide a roof over [the child’s] heads, clothes and food. In my opinion, it can be hard [to get involved].
And mothers now are younger. Parents are much younger than my parents were,” she said. But Jitu Brown, an LSC facilitator and educational organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said that LSCs never took off because they were “designed to fail,” and many community members are disillusioned.
He currently sits on the LSC for Dyett High School. “One of the major mistakes, in my estimation is that oversight and governance of LSCs was put in the hands of CPS%uFFFDthe same agency that they are trying to hold accountable,” he said. CPS currently allots each LSC a $400 annual budget, and has provided 12 facilitators for 6,000 LSC representatives, district wide.
Brown said that these resources are far too small, and have decreased the capacity of many LSCs. “LSC facilitators are reduced to putting out fires at these schools, and they are not capable of meeting their developmental needs%uFFFDYou can’t meet the needs of these schools with just 12 people,” Brown said.
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