I love my alderman, Joe Moore. I’ve worked on his re-election campaigns. Moore has given me a lot of free beers at his Follow Me on Friday events, at which he holds court in various Rogers Park bars and restaurants.
But I have to disagree with Moore on his resistance to an elected school board -- and on his reasons for resisting it. Moore used his position as chair of the Human Rights Committee to block a citywide referendum on school board elections, and is now speaking out against an advisory referendums taking place in 327 precincts next Tuesday.
(Ward Room interviewed a Chicago Public Schools mother advocating an elected school board; we called CPS to request an interview with a school board member who could argue why he shouldn’t have to run for election. We haven’t heard back.)
Here's what Moore told Crain's Chicago Business:
Interestingly, one guy who has caught some flak on this issue is Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, a normally pro-union liberal who declined to put the elect-the-board referendum on the ballot in his ward.
“I have an open mind on the idea,” he says. “But I’d like the advocates to show me how an elected school board would have a direct (positive) impact on the quality of education.”
In Los Angeles, Mr. Moore says, the now-elected board has become "highly politicized," spending much of its time not on education but on process. And end performance by LA schools isn't any better than it is in Chicago.
“At least in Chicago,” he adds, “you’ve got a clear line of responsibility.” Translation: If the schools are awful, voters can decide to fire the mayor.
But would Chicagoans fire a mayor just because the schools are awful? For generations, Chicago has had some of the most awful schools in the state. In 1988, Education Secretary William Bennett called the city’s schools “the worst in the nation.”
Since the beginning of the Machine Era in 1931 -- effectively the end of democracy in Chicago -- an elected mayor has only been fired twice. Martin Kennelly was maneuvered out of office by Richard J. Daley and William Dawson, who resented him for busting the Black Belt’s policy kings -- he was, essentially, fired by the Machine, not the voters. Jane Byrne lost a fluke election to Harold Washington, when State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley split the black vote. Even Eugene Sawyer -- who was mayor when Bennett dissed the schools -- didn’t lose over that issue. His defeat had more to do with the city’s racial politics.
The schools are only one of a mayor’s responsibilities, but they would be a school board’s only responsibility. If the schools are bad, it’s much more likely that voters would fire a school board member than a mayor.