Monday, December 22, 2014

Will school officials be like judges?

There are those who are trying to turn the board of education of the Chicago Public Schools into a mayoral campaign issue.

Specifically, mayoral challengers Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Robert Fioretti are both trying to attack incumbent Rahm Emanuel for having the authority to pick members of the school board, saying it gives him way too much authority.

OF COURSE, WE all saw how this particular mayor would misuse that authority (in their view) when the Chicago Public Schoos engaged in a cost-cutting measure that shut down some 50 neighborhood schools – all of which happened to be in the non-white parts of the city.

That act was allegedly a blow to those people, and several mayoral challengers in the upcoming elections are more than willing to pledge that they will push for measures permitting the board of education’s members to be chosen by the voters.

It sounds nice. But I can’t help but wonder if this is something that people will wind up coming to despise once it is implemented. Because I’m not convinced that an “elected” school board would be any different than an “appointed” one.

If the sole objection is the person who gets to make the appointments, then that is a different concern than about the idea of appointments themselves.

AS I SEE it, the ballots on Election Day already are long enough, what with the many various posts that need to be filled. We already have too many people of the “Archie Bunker mentality” – remember how he only voted for Richard Nixon against Jack Kennedy, and deemed all other elections as not worthy of his time?

If somebody believes we’re going to have spirited elections for seats on the school board and great debate over educational issues, that’s naïve.

What is more likely to happen is that school board elections would wind up at the bottom of the ballot, and most people will either skip over them – or just randomly pick a few names.

Way too much like they already go about picking judges or seats on boards like the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

DO WE REALLY need more officials elected to positions just because of random luck, or the fact that the local political organizations were able to stir circumstances to ensure their preferred candidates got picked?

Because that is what will happen. The same organizations who already wind up dictating who actually serves in the state Legislature will wind up being able to slate their preferred party hacks to sit on the school board. Electing people will merely benefit those within the political party who know how to play the game, so to speak, of Election Day.

At least now, the school board being picked by Emanuel means we can hold him directly responsible for anything we believe it has done wrong. I’m not criticizing people who want to blame the mayor for what has happened in the schools – I just think they’re being naïve if they think an elected board will make a difference.

There are those who argue that the suburbs already elect their school board members, and that city residents ought to be entitled to do the same.

BUT HAVE ANY of you ever seriously observed the structure of many of those school boards? In my duties throughout the years with various suburban newspapers, I have.

Many of them wind up consisting of would-be political hacks who don’t have the intelligence or skills necessary to get elected to their local city council or village board. A school board seat winds up being the consolation prize that allows them to say they’re a local public official.

There are times I wonder if those voters would be better off having their school boards appointed by some entity that might actually have educational issues at stake. Just as I wonder if judges ought to be appointed by some non-partisan entity more concerned about the law!

Electing them doesn’t seem to create intense interest in the judicial composition, and occasionally creates dumping grounds for former political people who managed to make it through law school.

THERE ARE TIMES when I feel like a judicial post is just another teat for political people to feed off of once they are no longer of daily use to the crew at City Hall.

For the good of us all, I’d hate to see the Chicago Board of Education become the equivalent. Which is what an elected board could wind up doing.


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