Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chicago school leaders seek to limit local council power

You know this article comes about off the heels of the news regarding Curie High School. Curie is one of those elite high schools that has been in the news for the past couple of months or so because a mostly hispanic Local School Council ousted the incumbent black principal in a vote that was seemingly along racial lines. I saw this video that looked at the student view of what's going on at Curie. I'll post it here...

So this has been a debate probably before this whole Curie debacle. There are people who want to curb the powers of the LSC. I'm sure you guys out there want to know what an LSC is, right?

I'll tell you what. Think of an LSC like a school district that consists of that school's principal, community representatives, parents/guardians of students, and teachers from that particular school or that general attendance area. They do hold elections for these positions and the basic idea is to decentralize control from the Chicago Public Schools. Another basic idea is to discourage long-term tenure of principals in the public schools.

So the LSC's have the ability to hire and fire the principals and they can control their particular school's budgets. They also can work the school's curriculum although some control is still maintained by the Chicago Board of Education. Anyway back to this article, let's see what it's talking about...

Board President Rufus Williams and other district leaders met with key legislators last week to discuss possible changes to the 1995 School Reform Act, which gave these elected councils of parents and community members broad authority to approve school budgets and select principals. The district wants councils to get approval from the central administration before firing a principal—a movecouncil advocates denounced as a power grab.

Valencia Rias, a director with the reform advocacy group Designs for Change, decried the legislative maneuver during the public comment segment of the Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

"You are trying to gut the power of 575 [local school councils] . . .because of what happened with one LSC," said Rias, referring to the recent controversy over the council firing of the popular principal at Curie Metropolitan High School. "No one wants to have $110,000 contracts handed out by this board, by the mayor of this city."

During a March 1 news conference, Mayor Richard Daley called on legislators to curb council powers and described the Curie principal as a "superstar" and her firing a "great disgrace." Rias said advocates have been bracing for an assault on council powers, and she said she fears the timing is perfect because city elections are over and the summer lull is looming.

The district "supports the mayor's proposal" but has not yet drafted a bill or sought a sponsor for legislation, said Steve Washington, chief of staff to Chicago's Board of Education. Washington said he "couldn't say" whether that will happen in the month before the legislative session ends. .

"What we are doing is focusing on getting what it takes to get good leaders in our schools," Washington said. "We wanted to get any valuable advice we can get from our legislators."

Getting this controversial change through the legislature could be a long shot this year.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she discussed the issue last week with Chicago school leaders, who she said were "feeling out" legislators about support for a local school council change.

"I think they have a long way to go. I don't know if I feel comfortable taking power away from an elected official," said Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood. "Right now, it's not on anyone's radar. But if it's something the mayor wants, and the governor and [legislative leaders] agree, we could wake up and find an amendment floating around. Anything could happen around here."

Eight years ago, Schools chief Paul Vallas and Daley pushed for the same change, inspired by a similar controversy over a principal firing. The mayor said in 1999 that the legislative change is needed because some good principals are "being thrown out for no reason."
Well while I may still say I'm glad I don't have any kids in the system yet this doesn't sound good for the idea of parental and community participation in education. Though if a principal wants to keep their job they can go to an arbitrator. In a body such as an LSC, there are still bound to be some bad decisions made. It's just that this time it's been made public.

Hmmm, I wonder what parents and LSC member have to say about this. Perhaps there is someone out there who reads this blog who is on an LSC. I want to hear from you!

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