In her campaign for mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, promised a return to an elected school board in place of the mayoral control that was ushered in during the 1990s. It seems, though, she might now be having second thoughts. Cities where mayors oversee schools have made far more progress in reopening during the pandemic than those with school boards. That has underscored the importance of school governance not disproportionately influenced by teachers unions.
The return of pre-K, special education clusters and students in kindergarten through eighth grade came after agreement was reached with the Chicago Teachers Union on health and safety standards. Getting teachers on board was no easy task; negotiations were so bitter that the union at one point threatened to strike. But Chicago’s experience stands in contrast to the paralysis in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, where school boards are easily swayed by union demands.
San Francisco city officials were so frustrated with the school board’s inertia that they filed suit against their own school district to try to force it to come up with a plan. Stressing the educational and social harm done to children each day they are out of the classroom, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, pointedly wanted to know why the school board spent time and money on far less urgent issues, such as renaming schools that included those honoring Abraham Lincoln and Paul Revere.