A proposal to allow the soon-to-be-elected members of the Chicago school board to be paid should get a thumbs-down from lawmakers in Springfield.
The 2021 law that scrapped the mayoral-appointed board for a 21-member fully elected one by 2027 was sold by supporters as a way to give the public a democratic say in school oversight and policy. The legislation didn’t include provisions to offer pay.
And now, with the district facing a projected deficit of $391 million next year, it hardly seems the time to add on new costs.
Yes, board members are giving up their time to serve. Yes, lower-income and working-class people bear a heavier burden than those who are wealthier when they choose to do so, perhaps having to forgo hourly wages or persuade a stubborn boss to give them time off for board meetings and other activities.
To make up for that, it seems entirely fair to provide a modest stipend for members and/or reimbursement for board-related expenses. If it helps pave the way for more parents and community members to run for board seats, so be it.
But a modest stipend really ought to be the extent of any compensation, and sensible limits should be clearly spelled out in the proposal introduced last week by state Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, as first reported by Chalkbeat Chicago.
We’re also not swayed by the argument that pay is necessary so teachers can run for board seats. Under the 2021 law, teachers and other Chicago Public Schools employees are rightly prohibited from sitting on the elected board. If they decide to quit their full-time jobs in order to run, taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill with anything approaching a full-time salary.
Illinois law currently does not permit school board members to be paid a salary or stipend, though it does allow for reimbursement of expenses.
Next year, 10 of 21 school board members will be elected; the remainder will be appointed. By 2027, Chicago will complete its transition from a seven-member, mayoral-appointed board to a fully elected one. There will be plenty of hurdles during the transition, among them recruiting good candidates and keeping politics and special interests out of the elections as much as possible.
If offering a modest stipend encourages parents or community members to run, great. But keep the focus on electing a board composed of people with the dedication and knowledge to improve education and keep CPS from falling into a financial abyss — not folks just looking to get paid.
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