Look out, Rahm—the elected school board movement is back!

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State rep Robert Martwick and supporters introduce an elected school board bill at Tuesday's press conference. - DAN "SLOW HAND" POGORZELSKI
  • Dan "Slow Hand" Pogorzelski
  • State rep Robert Martwick and supporters introduce an elected school board bill at Tuesday's press conference.

The movement for an elected school board is a little like Gypsy Joe Harris, the legendary one-eyed welterweight from the 60s. Just when you thought he was down for the count, he'd come back fighting even harder.

And thus it was Tuesday, when a merry band of state reps, aldermen, and activists gathered at the Thompson Center to unveil a proposed bill that would create an elected school board.

Currently,  our school board's appointed by the mayor. And the current mayor—oh, what's his name?—wants to keep it that way, despite repeated efforts by activists to turn Chicago into something resembling a 21st-century democracy.

The sponsor of the legislation is, of all people, state rep Robert Martwick, who hails from a politically well-connected Democratic family on the the northwest side. 

Apparently Martwick realizes that it's in his best interest to gain a little distance from the mayor's record on schools.

"I can't promise that an elected school board will make the schools better," says Martwick. "My motivation is simple—I'm a democracy purist. Our system functions better when we have power in the hands of people."

As a veteran of this long-shot crusade, I want to welcome to Representative Martwick to the cause and predict the counterargument he will get from the mayor and his allies. It goes like this . . .

We can't have an elected school board because that would wind up with Karen Lewis and her teachers union running the system!

This observation is preposterous for several reasons, starting with the notion that Lewis oversees a mighty electoral machine.

With all due respect to my old friends at the Chicago Teachers Union, they're only marginally better than I am at getting the people they endorse elected.

And my endorsement has historically been the kiss of death.

It's ludicrous to think the teachers' union has the money, bodies, or clout to stomp the mayor's well-financed political machine and seize complete control of the school board.

At best, they might help elect one or two independent school board members. Sort of like their track record at electing aldermen.

Still, that would be a big improvement on the seven rubber-stampers we currently have.

Hell, Karen Lewis and I could come up with a better board than this bunch over a lunch of corned beef on rye at Manny's delicatessen.

The big problem with mayorally appointed school boards is that the appointees do whatever the mayor tells them. Even if that means spending pension money on things other than pensions. Or letting the mayor divert hundreds of millions of property tax dollars for his slush fund. Or signing on to horrendous borrowing deals in which we pay back existing loans by taking out new ones.

And you wonder why the schools have been broke for so long.

Sad to say, I don't think Martwick's bill will be signed into law anytime soon.

Governor Rauner's already announced he's against it on the grounds that it will give too much power to the teachers' union.

Apparently, Rauner thinks teacher unions are only useful as a source for him to make money.

Mayor Emanuel's against it because it gives him less control. And boy, does he loves control.

It's not clear whether house speaker Michael Madigan will bury the bill in the rules committee—where he stashes bills he wants to kill—or let it go to the education committee for a hearing.

I urge speaker Madigan to let the bill live.

At the very least, he can then extract something from Mayor Rahm for eventually killing it.

Like Speaker Madigan hasn't figured that out already.

"If I lose with this bill, I'll continue," says Martwick. "I plan to build support for this movement. How can you be against democracy?"

Just call him Gypsy Joe Martwick.


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