The Illinois State Board of Education has released its second draft of the comprehensive statewide literacy plan! (Read it here) The Illinois Early Literacy Coalition conferred with lots of members and experts and developed this memo with feedback on the plan. Illinois is moving off the sidelines and this plan is the first step. It’s not perfect and it won’t solve the problem, but it is a strong foundation on which to build. We are grateful that ISBE has devoted so much staff capacity and passion into this work.
Welcome to our third and final installment of this “Confused about Chicago’s Elected School Board?” blog! If you need to get caught up, Part 1 covers the timeline of the change, history of Chicago’s school board, and background on other Illinois school board structures. Part 2 recommends Ranked Choice Voting in the 2024 CPS school board election.
Today, we will finish up with another recommendation: allowing CPS elected school board members to collect a stipend for their work. In anticipation of this blog, we sent an informal survey to our members and others across Illinois to get their perceptions about this topic and inform our own position, and we’ve embedded those findings throughout the blog. (We’ve even decided to keep the poll open so others – like you! – can add their thoughts.)
What’s the role of a school board member?
As we started thinking about equitable board representation, the concept of compensation came up early on. But the question to start with really shouldn’t be whether school board members earn a salary; the real question to start with is: what is the expectation for the job of a school board member?
The school board’s biggest jobs are hiring the superintendent, setting district policies, and adopting a budget. But what does research say about best practices for school boards? The National Association of School Board compiled research from meta-analyses, case studies of high achieving districts, and studies comparing governance of similarly-situated schools with stark differences in outcomes. They concluded that high-performing school boards do eight things:
- Set high expectations and define clear goals to reach them.
- Have strong beliefs in the ability of students to learn and of the system to teach them.
- Spend less time on day-to-day operations and more time on setting policies that drive achievement.
- Maintain collaborative relationships with the community, educators, and families.
- Embrace and monitor data to drive continuous improvement.
- Align resources to meet goals.
- Lead as a united team with the superintendent.
- Participate in team training and development.
In another intriguing National School Board Association (NSBA) report, the group surveyed its members across the country and asked how many hours they spent on school board business. More than three-quarters of them reported that they devoted between 7 – 40 hours per month to school board duties.
That’s a significant chunk of time for a middle-class parent who has to take time away from their paid job and their family to serve on the board – but it’s also not a full-time salaried job.
Finally, we asked in our informal survey what Illinoisans thought was the appropriate role for school board members: hiring the superintendent and setting high-level goals for the district; getting involved in day-to-day district activities; or somewhere in between. Almost two-thirds want them focused on the big picture, and just over one-third chose something in between. Two percent of survey takers wanted their school board members closely involved in operations.
Equitable representation. Most people can’t devote ten hours a week to an unpaid volunteer job, and those who can are unlikely to be representative of the communities they serve.
Yes, across Illinois school board members serve on boards for no compensation, and many are devoted to their districts regardless of how challenging it is to make it work with their competing responsibilities. But how many of them step down because it’s not sustainable? Ask your school board how hard it is to fit it all in – many will say it’s a tough balancing act and big sacrifice for their family.
The informal poll shows that statewide about 60% support paying school board members some amount of stipend or salary. Among Chicagoans, this is even more popular, with 73% saying they support compensation.
How much compensation?
A reasonable stipend, but not too much. (You’ll read more below about Los Angeles that moved to an elected board and recently gave itself a $125,000 salary… that’s not good for equity either, to be clear.)
That same NASB survey found 62% of its members were unpaid, but for larger school districts, paying board members is fairly common. LA’s $125,000 is the outlier… by far. Florida sets school board member salaries in statute at about $42,000… Some state laws (like CA’s and VA’s) allow compensation by law with a cap the varies based on district size, recognizing that leading a larger district takes more time. I’m particularly fond of FL’s law that sets base board member salaries by district size, tied to inflationary increases, with a caveat that it cannot be higher than the salary of a first year teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree.
To the right are some examples of amounts paid to school boards in large districts in the country.
All Illinois school boards are unpaid by law, but plenty of other Illinois boards and commissions have salaries or stipends for members, such as these appointed positions, which are held by professionals and expected to be full-time jobs:
|Illinois Commerce Commission||5||$125,790||$144,038|
|Education Labor Relations Board||4||$100,945||$112,157|
|Illinois Human Rights Commission||6||$127,894||$134,342|
|Illinois Labor Relations Board||8||$112,157||$100,945|
|Pollution Control Board||5||$125,790||$130,086|
|Prisoner Review Board||10||$92,305||$103,037|
|Illinois Workers Compensation Commission||10||$156,253||$164,066|
And these appointed members, who investment significant time, but less than a full-time job:
|Chicago Transit Board||7||$25,000||$25,000|
|Civil Service Commission||5||$27,212||$32,676|
|Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board||7||$39,127||$39,127|
|State Board of Elections||8||$40,379||$62,809|
|Executive Ethics Commission||9||$40,379||$40,379|
|FOID Card Review Board||7||$40,379||$40,379|
|International Port District Board||9||$20,000||$25,000|
|Illinois Liquor Control Commission||7||$36,598||$41,825|
|State Mining Board||6||$16,821||$16,821|
|Metra Board of Directors||10||$15,000||$25,000|
|Property Tax Appeal Board||5||$56,079||$69,538|
|Illinois Racing Board||7||$13,462||$13,462|
|Regional Transportation Authority Board||16||$25,000||$25,000|
|State Toll Highway Authority||9||$31,426||$36,077|
And these elected positions:
|Board / Body||Size||Compensation|
|Chicago City Council||50||Varies: Min = $115,560, Max = $142,772|
|Metropolitan Water Reclamation District||9||$70,000||$80,000|
|Cook County Board of Commissioners||17||$93,500||$187,000|
We asked our own polltakers to choose among a handful of salary ranges and by far, modest amounts were more popular. Seventy-seven percent of compensation-supporters think the most appropriate stipend amounts are under $40,000.
Keep up the Transparency
One more thought… before the first elections were to take place, the law required a financial entanglements report and an ISBE response report. But this is a big change and we hope the legislature will add some additional reporting requirements so we can keep shining a light on this process as Chicago shepherds in its first elected school board. We propose an interim report a year after the 2024 election that includes information like: how are the financial disentanglements going and how has that impacted the fiscal health of the district? How much staff time is being allocated to managing the new board? After the 2026 election, additional questions, such as school climate survey data, teacher retention, and academic outcomes, should be included as well.
Next week is Veto Session, beginning October 24 and ending November 9. We could see some major action on this issue in the next month, or we could see the issue punted until spring session. In the end, it will be more important to the future of the students served by CPS to have this transition done responsibly, smoothly, equitably, and thoughtfully than to have it done quickly; we look forward to seeing what unfolds and supporting that smooth transition however we can.
The Chicago Board of Education will undergo a dramatic transformation over the next three years as it transitions from a mayoral-appointed board of seven members, to a hybrid board of 10 elected and 11 appointed members, to a fully elected 23-member board. It’s a big change that’s coming up fast – so the clock is ticking for the legislature to finalize some pretty critical details. The legislature returns for Veto Session October 24 and will have the opportunity to address some of these questions.
This blog series will feature three installments. Read last week’s post to see a summary of the law, the implementation timeline, and the history of school governance in Chicago and other Illinois districts. Our last post will look closely at school board compensation across the country, which is really deeply intertwined with another question: what is the role of a school board member? (If you have thoughts on either the compensation question or the role-of-a-school-board-member one, pop over to take our poll and share your thoughts…)
Today, we will talk about some potential pitfalls of holding a General Election without a Primary – plus a possible solution!
The Lifecycle of an Election
Most Illinois school boards are elected in non-partisan Municipal Elections. In any election held outside of the traditional November election, significantly fewer voters cast ballots. Los Angeles’s school board election was decided by 8.7% turnout. That is a prime reason why we commend the legislature for sticking with the General Election cycle for Chicago’s school board. Most school board races in Illinois feature all the candidates running at large to fill some number of available seats. (Or if there is a two-year term and a four-year term on the ballot, there may be two different match-ups, but still with multiple candidates running.) This often lends itself to candidates joining forces and running as a slate, which isn’t officially partisan but often falls along party lines.
But in Chicago, each subdistrict will vote for one candidate. (To be clear, this is overwhelmingly positive—carving a district into subdistricts has been ordered as part of desegregation consent decrees to increase racial representation on school boards and will likely have the impact of a more representative board for CPS.) Normally, in such a circumstance, there is some process to whittle down the number of candidates before the General Election. (Like in a House or State Senate race, where there is a partisan Primary. Or in some municipal elections, where there is a nonpartisan Primary with a run-off vote if no candidate secures over 50% of the vote.)
Petition season is already underway for other offices that are up for election in November 2024; those candidates will file their petitions between November 27 and December 4 and have a Primary election March 19. School board candidates presumably will have a later filing date for their petitions – but we will have to wait to find out when. There is also nothing in the law about a Primary, or a run-off, or ranked choice voting when it comes to Chicago’s school board election.
Let’s say Subdistrict X is full of a strong majority of voters who support a culturally-affirming curriculum and a small minority of voters who prefer to, say, ban high-quality, thought-provoking books (like Just Mercy – I’m looking at you, Yorkville [Yorkville School District Y115 board removes book from high school English course – Shaw Local] 😠!). If twelve candidates file petitions and eleven reflect the views of the district, they might split the vote such that the one bigot ends up with a plurality of the vote and weasels their way onto the board.
Let’s look at one notorious example from Illinois: the 2010 Lieutenant Governor Democratic Primary Election. This is the fiasco that led to lasting change; instead of voting for a Lt. Governor nominee in the Primary, now the nominee for Governor selects their own running mate. In the 2010 primary election, six candidates ran for Lt. Governor on the Democratic primary ballot: four were higher profile candidates than the others and the media focused a lot of their candidacies. But there was hardly any vetting of a relatively obscure candidate: Scott Lee Cohen. Pawnbroker and relative unknown Cohen spent a large sum of his own money sending direct mail about job fairs he had hosted and pulled off a win with 26% of the total vote – a slim plurality over the next leading candidate’s 23%. Certainly no one secured a majority of the voters’ support. Only then did the public and media start to vet Cohen, looking into his background and learning about a history of domestic violence, including holding a knife to an ex-girlfriend’s throat.
If there was a run-off, voters would have an opportunity to look at the top two candidates and decide which was better suited for the job. One of them would have earned a majority of voters’ support. Or if this was a race that would be considered on its own merit in the General Election, voters would have chosen between Cohen and Republican Lt. Governor candidate; instead, the Lt. Governor nominee would be added to the Governor nominee’s slate.
The Cohen example is not the only one; on down-ballot races, Illinois is no stranger to one candidate’s camp deliberately recruiting others into a crowded field with similar (or identical) names, ethnicity, or gender as a strategy to divide a legitimate opponent’s votes. And in this first school board election, without any malicious intent or political games, it is entirely possible that numerous candidates get on the ballot, voters divide their votes among several candidates who reflect the demographics and values of the subdistrict, and an outlier candidate who is not representative of the district wins the race with a plurality of the vote, far short of the majority.
With technological advancements in voting, ranked-choice voting has become less of an election judge’s nightmare and more of a realistic tool to empower voters. It is done in a growing number of cities for local elections, including Evanston, IL as one of the newest additions to the list. “Instant runoff voting,” “ranked choice voting,” “preferential voting” in Australia, and “alternative voting” in the UK are generally used interchangeably. There are different ways to approach it, but the goal is for one candidate to reach 50% +1 of the vote.
We like the idea of voters ranking candidates in their order of preference. If no candidate has 50% of the vote, the last choice candidate is eliminated and the #2 choice of the ballots who ranked that candidate #1 are added in next. Then the next-lowest vote-getter is eliminated with their voters next choice added in, repeated until one candidate has a 50% +1 majority. If there is a tie for last place, the tie breaker could be which candidate has the fewest #1 votes.
One downside is that this is more complex for the average voter than simply choosing one candidate from the list. Voters may never have heard of some candidate on a very long list. If a candidate just ranks their first choice and leaves the rest blank, it is important for that one vote to still count. It could also make sense to go with a “top five” or “top three” approach, where candidates choose their top choices only. After the first round of tallying, only the top five (or three) remain for the counting, with all others’ voters automatically reallocated to the voter’s top choice among those five (or three).
Cambridge, MA is the longest running experiment with ranked voting, where voters have adopted it for school boards and city council racers since 1941. Maine and Alaska use ranked choice voting in their Congressional races. Five states used it for the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. New York’s 2021 Mayoral Primaries employed ranked-choice voting, following a 2019 ballot initiative allowing voters to rank up to five candidates. Other places have used a ranked choice approach in local elections: Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Fe, Minneapolis, and dozens of other municipalities. Sarasota, FL adopted it in 2007, but never had technology to enact it until recently; now that technology is available, the state of FL has banned it statewide. North Carolina also had ranked-choice voting, but has since repealed it.
The Illinois legislature created a Ranked-Choice and Voting Systems Task Force to study various voting methodologies and issue a report by March 1, 2024. It appears that eight of twenty appointments have been made.
You have until Friday to complete this survey on school board compensation! Please help us reach a critical mass.
 “Veto session” is a short window of time in the fall when the legislature reconvenes for the purpose of taking action on bills the Governor has vetoed, though they often take up other time-sensitive matters as well.
 Stand supported a bill years ago to move all school board elections to the General Election cycle. While we see this as good for transparency and community engagement, apparently change is hard. It never went anywhere despite bipartisan support.
 With the exception of nine other districts that divide into subdistricts, like the new CPS board; at least 17 that carve out some portion of seats for a specific county(ies); and one (North Chicago) that is transitioning away from its State-appointed oversight board.
 This is a labor-intensive process that I never fully appreciated until I volunteered help a candidate collect signatures. To appear on the ballot, candidates and their volunteers circulate petitions that are drafted precisely as required by law, with each page signed by the person who collected the signatures and then officially notarized. Often, lawyers who specialize in this get involved to make sure everything has been done precisely as required by law, including binding together the pages properly. The point is: this isn’t like a Change.org petition that an inexperienced candidate could throw together on a whim.
The Chicago Board of Education will undergo a dramatic transformation over the next three years as it transitions from a mayoral-appointed board of seven members, to a hybrid board of 10 elected and 11 appointed members, to a fully elected 23-member board. It’s a big change that’s coming up fast – so the clock is ticking for the legislature to finalize some pretty critical details. On Tuesday, the legislature began another round of listening sessions for input on the school board map. The second (and last, as far as we know) hearing is October 12; then the legislature returns for Veto Session October 24 and will have the opportunity to address some of these questions.
This blog series will feature three installments. Today’s post summarizes the law, the implementation timeline, and the history of school governance in Chicago and other Illinois districts. Next week, we will dig into elections – and some of the potential ramifications of skipping the Primary process. And finally, we will close with a blog that looks closely at school board compensation across the country, which is really deeply intertwined with another question: what is the role of a school board member? (If you have thoughts on either the compensation question or the role-of-a-school-board-member one, pop over to take our poll and share your thoughts…)
Summary of the Law
In 2021, SB 2908 (Martwick/Ramirez) passed, shepherding in Chicago’s new school board structure. At the November 5, 2024 general election, ten school board members will be elected to four-year terms, with one member from each of ten subdistricts. Elections will be nonpartisan. By December 16, 2024, the mayor will name ten appointed members – one from each subdistrict – to serve two-year terms beginning January 15, 2025. The board president will be appointed during the hybrid period and elected Citywide in 2026.
In the 2026 general election, a board will presumably be elected from each of twenty subdistricts – though the law is somewhat ambiguous about how the ten districts become twenty. (Will the ten districts be split in half to make twenty total or will a different map be drawn? Since the legislature and advocacy groups have so far only released draft maps of twenty districts, perhaps the twenty will be paired up to become ten?)
“From January 15, 2025 to January 14, 2027, each district shall be represented by one elected member and one appointed member. After January 15, 2027, each district shall be represented by one elected member.”105 ILCS 5/34-3
A trailer bill was enacted after the initial legislation passed to make several changes, including explicitly banning board members from receiving compensation and removing the requirement that mayoral appointees receive City Council approval. The General Assembly extended the date by which subdistricts needed to be drawn when they failed to reach consensus by the initial deadline of July 1, 2023. State law now requires the legislature to draw the subdistrict map by April 1, 2024, though we expect this issue to arise during the upcoming Veto session.
Candidates for the board cannot be employed by or hold significant contracts with the school district. Members must collect 250 valid petition signatures to get on the ballot, though the timeline for submitting those signatures is not specified. The board president must collect 2,500 signatures.
There are questions that have not been addressed in the law to date; perhaps the mapping legislation will also provide answers to some of these open questions. For example, when are petitions due? What’s the alternative to a primary that would safeguard against an extremist candidate winning with a fraction of the vote in an extremely crowded field? Are there are campaign contribution limits that should be added?
History of CPS School Governance
Chicago has a long history of innovative governance initiatives, amid a long history of perennial school finance crises, which were often solved with short-term funding band-aids that inevitably caused the cycle to continue. If you want to skip this section, this Chicago Sun-Times cartoon by Jack Higgins on October 20, 1993 provides a concise summary:
If you’re still reading along with us, let’s go back to 1980… CPS relied on short-term borrowing to make payroll, but when investors learned that the district was spending from its debt service fund, there were zero bids on CPS’s attempt to issue more bonds. The legislature intervened, creating a School Finance Authority to oversee CPS budgets, enabling CPS to issue short-term bonds, and diverting an existing 50-cent tax levy to repay them. The School Finance Authority (SFA) meant that after 1980, schools could be shut down either by the SFA failing to balance the budget or by a union strike.
A 19-day strike in 1987 (which was the eighth strike since 1970) resulted in a groundswell of parent activism, with vocal community members coalescing around finding a long-term solution.
This movement led to a historic governance change in 1988: the creation of Local School Councils (LSCs). LSCs are school-based governance councils consisting of teachers, parents, community members, and other school staff who are elected to their seats. Their major responsibilities were hiring the school principal and allocating school-level discretionary funds, although legislation later removed this decision-making power from underperforming schools. This was the largest decentralization effort in any school district in the country.
The LSC legislation also created a nominating commission process, where 23 parent councils across the city would nominate board members for the mayor to choose from for the seats on the Chicago Board of Education. LSC members take required hours of training and earn no salary. Title One funds that the district received were transferred to LSCs for their members to determine locally how that funding would be spent – a good move toward school-level funding equity, but a $260 million hole in the district’s budget.
In 1993, another crisis struck: the SFA ruled the budget unbalanced. A series of short-term court interventions kept schools open, but that was not a sustainable solution. The legislature stepped in and allowed CPS to issue two years of bonds, which would be paid back through freezing the Title One money that flowed to LSCs and diverting $110 million from the pension levy.
When those two years ended, the next fiscal cliff set in and it was time for another state intervention. But unlike the others in recent memory, this time the Republicans held the Governor’s Office and a majority in the State House and Senate. The 1995 shift in CPS governance brought a mayoral-appointed reform board of trustees of five members, which would be replaced by a seven-member mayoral-appointed school board in 1999. This posed an unusual dichotomy: highly decentralized governance at the school level with LSCs and highly centralized power at the district level. The 1995 reform law included many other provisions that gave the district unprecedented authority to maximize budget flexibility and, in theory, get the cycle of budget crises under control. In addition to the school board composition changes, the bill collapsed multiple tax levies into two streamlined pots, allocated state funding through unrestricted block grants, and narrowed the issues subject to collective bargaining. (Since then, the General Assembly has added back the pension tax levy as a separate funding stream, ended the Chicago Block Grant for most state grants, and put items back on the collective bargaining table.)
The next major shift in CPS board governance is scheduled to take place in 2025 when the 21-member hybrid board is seated, with 10 elected members and 11 appointees. In 2027, the fully elected 21-member board will take over governance.
School Governance in Other Illinois Districts
No other school district in Illinois has either LSC structures or a mayor-appointed school board. Nearly every other district has seven unpaid school board members elected districtwide (such that all districts voters vote for several candidates from among whoever runs for school board). A handful of Illinois school districts elect their board members from among subdistricts, where the school district is mapped into seven areas and voters from within each elect their own board member who lives in that subdistrict. We found nine Illinois school districts that elect board members through subdistricts:
- Rockford SD 205
- Springfield SD 186
- Peoria SD 150
- Urbana SD 61
- Crete-Monee 201U
- CHSD 218 (SW suburbs)
- North Mac CUSD 34
- Bureau Valley CUSD 340
- W. Carroll CUSD 314
Several of these were mandated by a consent decree as a measure to encourage boards’ demographics to reflect the population of the district. We also found approximately twenty districts that allocate a certain number of seats to candidates in one county and another in remaining counties. One district – North Chicago SD 187 – has remained under an ISBE-appointed independent authority since 2012, but has begun the process of transitioning to an elected school board, with a hybrid board beginning in 2025 and a fully-elected, seven-member board in 2027.
We’ll share Part 2 next week, where we’ll get into Election issues. If you have thoughts on school board member compensation, please head here to take a quick survey.
 “Veto session” is a short window of time in the fall when the legislature reconvenes for the purpose of taking action on bills the Governor has vetoed, though they often take up other time-sensitive matters as well.
 SB 2123 (Morrison/Stuart) August 4, 2023 PA 103-0467
 State law prohibits school board members from being compensated.
 These districts include: Bloomington, Edwardsville, Belvidere, Charleston, Sterling, Manteno, Hoopeston, Mendon, LeRoy, Griggsville-Perry, Warsaw, Southeastern, Hiawatha, Hartsburg-Emdon, Murphy, and Ramsey.
Illinois has undoubtedly made progress in career and technical education (CTE) over the last decade—both in expanding opportunities for students and in collecting disaggregated data to support equity. School leaders are clamoring for more CTE investment and it’s a win-win proposal: smart for students and their individual futures and a strategic investment for Illinois’ economy. Last year’s budget saw a $4.6 million increase to the program; however, if Illinois had kept pace with inflation, the CTE appropriation would be about $80 million instead of $48 million.
But strengthening CTE is not just about more funding. It’s also about deliberate growth of programming in high-demand, high-skill, high-pay career areas, and equitable opportunities for students in every zip code. This report identifies four strategic policies to advance dual credit in Illinois:
- Conduct a return-on-investment analysis.
- Commit to sustainable funding.
- Complete a capital needs assessment.
- Provide CTE course parity.
We also hope this report is a helpful hub of CTE information – like historical budget information, funding allocation flowcharts, links to existing datasets, models from other states, exemplars from several school districts, and other pertinent resources related to Career and Technical Education, Workplace Learning, and Dual Credit.