Schools scramble to find enough candidatesPhoto courtesy of Chicago Public Schools This is a 2004 recruitment poster, which CPS hopes will break the cycle and bring in candidates.
Every other year, Chicago Public Schools struggle with the same task: recruiting enough candidates to fill more than 6,000 empty seats on Local School Councils across the city. This year, officials face the dilemma once again. And they have until the filing deadline on March 17 to solve it.
In 1989, the first year for LSC elections, more than 17,000 candidates ran for seats on Chicago Local School Councils. In 2002, only 7,500 candidates vied for the seats. School reformers blame limited funding, stingy budgets and lack of community support for the low turnout.
A Local School Council is the governing body for an individual school. It has the power to appoint a principal, approve the school budget and set the long-term school improvement plan. Each LSC consists of the principal, six parents, two teachers, two community representatives, and in high schools, one student.
James Deanes, officer of school and community relations for CPS, says this year's recruitment is "very, very shaky.
"The last two elections we got a few more candidates than in previous years, but it's nowhere near what it was in '89 or '91," he says.
According to Deanes, there was more corporate and foundation money supporting recruitment efforts then. CPS pays for a media campaign with posters and flyers distributed to libraries, parks, local businesses, government offices, city colleges, newspapers and television stations.
But Idida Perez, a former LSC member who is running for re-election in 2004, says she has received only one mailing from CPS. "It's really the outreach that's not happening. It seems no one's even talking about it."
Andy Wade, director of the Chicago School Leadership Cooperative, agrees. He says the school system needs to devise a better way to recruit. As a nonprofit, he has limited cash for the cause, he says. "But, it's the government's job to adequately fund the institutions it creates," he adds.
Patricia Jones, a parent representative on the LSC at Songhai Learning Institute on the South Side, says it all boils down to the lack of community interest. "These days, parents just don't take the time to be concerned. They don't want to sacrifice."
Even so, most everyone agrees that continuing the 15-year tradition of LSCs is worth the hassle of recruiting candidates.
"We're the only school district in the country, and in parts of the world, that has Local School Councils with the kind of power they have," says Deanes.
"If you look at the past 15 years, achievement has been steadily increasing in Chicago Public Schools," says Wade. "And you ask, ‘What's different now?' And the fact is, it wasn't until authority became involved at the local level that things started to change."
For more information or to request a nomination form, call the Chicago School Leadership Cooperative at (312) 499-4800.