A history of the structure and administration of Chicago’s Board of Education: Part I

By: Quinn Newman and Ryley Bruun

Overview 

The city of Chicago has had a turbulent history in recent years with its public schools system as strikes, the COVID-19 pandemic, and numerous inequities have created a need for change. One solution currently being deliberated is to replace the current mayor-appointed school board with an elected body which would allow for more control on the behalf of city residents. However, this has not been a universally popular measure with many also coming out against the idea.

There are two versions of a bill in the General Assembly which would create an elected school board for Chicago. Considering the ongoing challenges imposed by the pandemic and the contentious history between the school district and CTU, the decisions regarding the school board will have lasting consequences. 

To gauge whether an elected school board would provide a better model, an examination of the board’s history is paramount. This is the first part of a series of pieces analyzing the structure and administration of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and their Board of Education

Functions of the Modern Chicago Board of Education

School boards are responsible for crucial decisions in the lives of many, such as the quality of local education and levying property taxes. The role of the entity is to provide local citizen control over education so they can make policy decisions for their school districts. This includes funding, curriculum, and other functions that determine the quality of the education.

The Chicago Board of Education governs Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and is responsible for overseeing the administration of the district and passing initiatives to help improve public education. Chicago Public Schools functions as a distinct entity from the city itself and has its own budget. The property taxes levied to fund it are also separate from the other property taxes the city of Chicago collects (which go towards the pension fund). School districts also have some of the highest paid public employees in the state and CPS is no exception.

According to CPS data, there were a little over 5,100 positions that paid at or above six figures. However, with the district serving 355,156 students, CPS has about 41,625 total positions to meet the demand. It should be noted that not all of these positions are filled.

There are currently seven board members in total, all appointed by the mayor, and those positions are unpaid. However, the Board of Trustees is a separate department within CPS and have staff to assist the Board members. There are nine staff positions and the Board’s chief of staff earns a salary of $160,000. The CEO of Chicago Public Schools, acting as a de facto village manager of the entire district, earns a salary of $260,000.

A high amount of capital requires the entity to net a lot of money to help pay for operations and delivery of services. Figure 1 below illustrates the sources of CPS revenue as a percentage.

Figure 1: Chart created by Prairie State Policy via data from CPS.

In 2021, the district collected a total of roughly $6.9 billion, with nearly $3.7 billion coming solely from local revenue sources. The bulk of these local revenue are property taxes. 

The Board of Trustees are primarily responsible with divvying out the revenue and making decisions such as hiring personel and approving contracts. One of the Board’s most important hires is the CEO to to manage the district. This model allows the Board to govern efficiently, while not having to worry about the day to day administration of the district.

In most cities and municipalities the school board is an elected body that is chosen by residents. In Chicago, however, this is not the case. Instead, the board is appointed by the mayor. 

In Part II, Prairie State Policy will look at the history of Chicago’s Board of Education prior to 1995, where massive reforms were implemented.

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