Mayoral candidate Bill Daley called for a series of complex overhauls to Chicago Public Schools this week, as he advanced a government-shrinking policy agenda that included plans to slash the City Council’s ranks and constrict its remaining members’ power.
On Thursday, the former U.S. commerce secretary and heir to a Chicago political dynasty offered to replace a CPS school council system that empowers parents and community members at many district-run campuses to hire principals, supervise school budgets and set dress codes.
Daley instead hopes to install as many as 60 “neighborhood school councils” that have similar authority but oversee eight to 12 school campuses at once instead of just one. He’d also change the city’s system for automatically assigning students to certain schools in their neighborhoods if they don’t elect to attend class elsewhere in the city. There are more than 500 local school councils in the city today.
That idea arrived days after Daley floated a plan to combine the school district’s enormous government with the City Colleges of Chicago system under the authority of a single administration — then offer free community college to all CPS high school graduates.
Representatives from the new neighborhood councils would be eligible for seats alongside mayoral appointees on a city board Daley would assign to the unusual primary, secondary and post-secondary school government his camp billed as “the nation’s first pre-K-14 school system.”
“Only government is structured basically how it was 80 or 90 years ago,” Daley told the Tribune this week. “All I’m saying is, we have to look at some of these things. We can’t be afraid to make some changes.”
That’s a lot of change for a CPS system already responsible for multibillion-dollar budgets and hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren. Plus, to accomplish such expansive overhauls, Daley would likely need the support of state lawmakers and Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker — not to mention a list of answers for what the candidate acknowledges are missing details about his ideas.
“I don’t underestimate the difficulty of convincing people that we’ve got to stop doing things the way we’ve been doing them if we want a different result. I understand that, and I understand the political system is often very slow to make changes,” Daley said.
“But, the definition of insanity is that if you keep doing the same thing and think you’re going to get a different result, that’s generally what happens.”
Here’s the heart of the problem, according to Daley: Too few students graduate from high school and go on to obtain two- or four-year college degrees. Too many students travel far from their homes to attend elementary or high school.
Daley said his plans for city education offer one way to advance the debate about how to solving those problems.
State laws enacted amid past CPS fiscal crises established the city’s local school councils, with the intent of making each campus the core of decision-making by parents, community residents, teachers and administrators.
But by slashing the number of councils and making the remaining groups responsible for entire neighborhood school ecosystems, Daley sees a new path to having community members decide how to prioritize scarce resources and solve problems such as empty school buildings.
And while Daley has not backed the concept of a fully elected Chicago Board of Education like some of his rivals, the former White House chief of staff sees the new neighborhood councils as a way to bring community input to the administrative ranks of his CPS-City Colleges hybrid.
“I believe the mayor must have skin in the game for education, because that’s the future of the city. On the other hand, I get the need for bottom-up participation. There is no real evidence that (with) an elected school board, the education of the children is any better than an appointed school board, but I get the need,” he said.
Much of Daley’s rhetoric behind his proposed merger of CPS and the City Colleges builds on initiatives spurred by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, including the STAR Scholarship program that offers low-income public school students free tuition at City Colleges if they have a B average, and have applied for federal and state financial aid.
Bringing the two systems together would present new challenges. For example, more than 40 percent of the City Colleges’ funds for day-to-day expenses this year come from property taxes the school system is authorized to collect.
CPS collects its own tax revenue, but Daley said he doesn’t want to leave City Colleges revenue on the table. It’s also not clear how the college system would absorb CPS’ burdensome pension and debt loads.
“Do I have all the details worked out on how this exactly would work? No. But I do think it’s important that we begin to talk about and look at this. We all know the difficulties in the results of our education system,” Daley said.
Daley’s plans for the City Colleges have also drawn fire from the Chicago Teachers Union, as the powerful labor group backs Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s candidacy. Union President Jesse Sharkey described the idea as “one of the more ridiculous ideas we’ve heard in recent memory.”
“His plan to combine Chicago Public Schools and the City College of Chicago is the kind of tone deaf proposal you hear at thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners frequented by the donors supporting his campaign, and would add multiple layers of bureaucracy to two systems already struggling under their own weight,” Sharkey said of Daley’s proposal this week.
City Colleges officials declined to comment.
JOIN THE MOVEMENT #iBELIEVE