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Legislative Action

Governor steps into Chicago school reform


Gov. James R. Thompson moved on September 26 to mold more to his liking the Chicago school reform bill. However, he said the measure still fell short of substantial reform of the Chicago public schools. And the improvements Thompson claimed in his amendatory veto of S.B. 1839 immediately drew protests from the Chicago Teachers' Union and from black lawmakers. The General Assembly will make the next move, most probably after the November 8 election.

The governor's 18-page amendatory veto and veto message did some things that many agreed were necessary. It imposed other things that lawmakers had balked at adopting three months earlier. When lawmakers gather in Springfield for the veto session on November 15 they will decide what to do. A simple majority could accept the governor's changes. A three-fifths majority could override them. Failure to do either would kill the bill and require a new effort.

Chicago school reform had passed the House and Senate on partisan roll calls by the narrowest of margins on July 2. Unable to reach compromise with Republicans, Democrats had to delay the bill's effective date until July 1, 1989. Following the vote lawmakers went home to wait and see what Thompson would do.

He did plenty. Most controversially he sided with Republicans on the two points that had sparked most of the end-of-session conflict with Democrats. Thompson scratched language championed by the Chicago Teachers' Union that would create the classification of supernumerary teachers for the approximately 200 tenured teachers who lose their jobs each year because of enrollment declines and would give them first rights to vacant teaching jobs. The governor claimed that the supernumerary provision restricted the ability of a school principal to hire the most qualified teachers.

He also took back power to appoint, jointly with the mayor of Chicago, the seventh member of the new oversight authority that is to see that reform is forthcoming. Mayor Eugene Sawyer had carried the day during the spring with his argument that he should appoint four members and the governor three. But after Thompson's amendatory veto, Sawyer said that the issue should not stand in the way of moving reform ahead.

Thompson's amendatory veto would also:

  • Revise the language that is supposed to reduce the number of administrators in Chicago.
  • Give the oversight authority the power to escrow funds if reforms are not pursued.
  • Clarify that magnet, vocational and technical schools should continue to operate.
  • Allow the Chicago Board of Education to set aside 1 percent of revenues for systemwide priorities.
  • Require the phase-in of open enrollment on a space available basis.
  • Specify that the district's reform plan must address early childhood education, reduction of class sizes to statewide averages, increased parental involvement, more authority and accountability for principals, training for all staff, less centralized control, equitable distribution of all funds, and compliance with all aspects of the state's 1985 education reform act.

Thompson praised the efforts of the parents and community leaders for school reform and said attempts to give parents more say in their schools were good. But he said the bill disappointed him because it did not fund things like education for four-year-olds deemed in danger of failing without this early education.

The governor claimed that his actions made the bill stronger and said if legislators rejected them they would be guilty of killing reform. His rewrite provoked protests. Black lawmakers objected to the changes in the composition of the oversight authority. The Chicago Teachers' Union decried the elimination of supernumerary teachers. Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-30, Chicago), in whose office most of the reform bill was written, pledged to reconvene the groups that had crafted the bill for their advice before deciding how to proceed.

The executive director of one of the groups most closely involved in the school reform effort sees hope for compromise. "I think we've still got a pretty good chance of getting something out of this bill," says G. Alfred Hess, executive director of the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance. "The thing is doable. The question is whether people really have the will to do it. I'm relatively confident because I think neither Thompson nor Madigan wants to be tarred as the guy who killed school reform in Chicago," Hess says.

Hess sees potential compromises on the two major sticking points. He says if the Black Caucus could come up with a candidate for chairman of the oversight authority agreeable to the governor, that issue could be settled. "If they have agreement as to who it's going to be, who cares who appoints him? It's going to be one person for five years, then the thing goes out of existence.

A proposal has already been floated as to what to do with the supernumerary teachers, Hess says. It would involve speeding up the process for interviewing them for vacancies and then allowing the school board and union to negotiate over the guaranteed employment of those not hired as teachers. Hess believes there would be only 15 or 20 teachers a year who get no classroom jobs and that they could find jobs among the 200 to 300 administrative posts that turn over annually.

The Chicago Panel's position is that S.B. 1839 is a start, but that reform must also include early childhood education, ongoing training for teachers, and services like tutoring and summer school for students who need them. "All these things cost money. We still think that the state should be looking at an income tax increase," Hess says.

Thompson was more critical in his veto message: "The bill as it stands does not substantively reform the Chicago Public Schools, the original intent of parents and community members last fall and this spring, although it does restructure the decision-making process. My modifications in the bill address some of the flaws, but not all. Having taken this first step, we must rededicate ourselves to improving the ways in which children are taught. That is a much more complex and costly goal but one truly worthy of all our efforts. "□

November 1988 | Illinois Issues | 25

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