Residents in 327 precincts will have a chance Tuesday to weigh in on whether Chicago’s appointed school board should be replaced with elected members.

The vote will be largely symbolic, as state lawmakers are the only ones who can change the way the school board is formed.   However, supporters believe it will give Rep. LaShawn Ford (D -Chicago) the boost to introduce a bill that would create a task force to reconsider how board members are selected.  

The referendum will be on the ballot in some 35 wards.

The movement to elect a school board has arisen among grassroots activists angered by school closings and other actions. One argument they note is that Chicago is the only municipality in Illinois with a board hand-picked by the mayor.

Within the coalition behind the referendum, however, there is disagreement about the best way to get there. Pauline Lipman, a University of Illinois education professor and member of Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE), is opposed to the task force and argues that “all the research has already been done” and favors an elected board.

Dwayne Truss, of the Progressive Action Coalition for Education, on the other hand, believes a task force will make the process more transparent and ensure support from a broad cross-section of politicians.

Truss believes state legislators are waiting for the outcome of the vote before they’ll lend public support. The bill would call for a mix of legislators, community organizers and representatives picked by the district, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Supporters acknowledge that an elected board won’t address every grievance and say it is just a starting point to reform.  

“Right now there’s no process [people] can follow that gives you an idea how they’re making these decisions,” says Truss. “If I can’t have a say as a parent, as a taxpayer, something is wrong.”

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