In the first public hearing since Democratic state lawmakers released their proposed boundaries for Chicago’s elected school board districts, community members spoke in strong opposition for more than an hour, with some citing issues with the map and others critiquing more structural parts of the impending changes.
State Rep. Ann Williams, who leads the House Democrats’ Chicago Public School’s Districting, stressed the current map is only a starting point.
“We will be seeing another map; it will look different,” Williams, who represents Lakeview, said at the end of Saturday’s hearing. “We are hearing what you are saying and taking your input into perspective and into account.”
Representation was the main issue for the roughly 30 people who spoke to the panel of elected officials at Curie Metro High School.
“The preliminary map that you released yesterday under-represents the Latino population compared to their proportion of the CPS population and over-represents the white population,” Jessica Cañas, representing Kids First Chicago, a children’s and parents’ advocacy group, told the panel of lawmakers.
“CPS is 47% Latino students, yet only 30% of these districts will likely yield Latino board members,” Cañas said.
Black students come in second in the racial breakdown of CPS enrollment with 36% followed by white students at 11%, according to the most recent CPS data. The map that was released on Friday shows that white voting-age residents make up the largest percentage of all voting-age residents in seven of the 20 proposed districts, compared to six with a majority Hispanic voting-age population and seven black voter-dominated districts.
“There have been lots of people coming to all of these hearings talking about the needs to represent CPS families,” said Taschaunda Hall, also with Kids First Chicago. “And your maps have completely disregarded their voices.”
For decades, Chicago’s Board of Education members have been appointed by the mayor, unlike most school systems, whose governing boards are chosen by voters. But under a change in state law, the Chicago school board will expand from seven appointed to 21 elected members by 2026. The transition will begin with the November 2024 election, when 10 members will be elected and 10 members, plus the board president, will be appointed.
The two map will carve the city into 20 elected districts, with the board president elected citywide.
One of the challenges of drawing a map with districts that are ethnically and racially propoortionate is that the demographics of CPS students are not representative of the city as a whole. The white population is 33% of the city, with Black and Latino residents each making up about 30% of the population. A relatively small percent of white students attend CPS.
But Jamie Groth Searle with the Southwest Collective, a nonprofit that advocates for Southwest Side residents, called out the borders of one district in particular to make the point that the map fails to keep communities intact.
“Can you explain why you drew a district that is 79 blocks long?” Searle asked. The panel responded by reminding the audience that this was a preliminary map.
In this draft map, the district that includes Curie High School begins at Marquette Park, cuts through Brighton Park and Fulton Market before ending up on the Near North Side.
“That’s a lot of different communities,” Searle said in an impassioned statement that was met with applause.
“I keep looking at the map that was posted last night. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Ald.-elect Jeylú Gutiérrez, who will represent the City Council’s 14th Ward, in which Curie High is located.
Hall also took issue with the fact that the proposed map was released late Friday afternoon ahead of the 10 a.m. Saturday public hearing.
Several other audience members highlighted the importance of allowing non-citizens to vote for CPS board members, while another recurring complaint was around the lack of salary surrounding the role of the elected school board members.
“While school board seats are considered volunteers, we all know if we want this done well, it’s a full-time job,” said Jianan Shi, executive director of the organization Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. He noted that the CPS budget is around $10 billion and that school board members in Miami-Dade County in Florida and in Los Angeles are paid around $47,000 and $125,000 respectively.
“Take a look at what kind of jobs the current school board members hold,” Shi said. “If they are not retired, their employers are large institutions and businesses that have agreed to provide them the capacity to serve.”
The panel that included Democratic state representatives Mike Kelly, Aaron Ortiz and Theresa Mah, did not respond to most of the concerns, instead opting to take notes while members spoke. They provided assurance in closing remarks that there will be more map drafts to come.
The Illinois Senate’s special elected school board committee will hold a virtual hearing on the map proposal at 5 p.m. Tuesday at ilga.gov.
This article was originally published here.