Big education policy questions about school board control, charter expansion and struggling neighborhood schools have surfaced repeatedly in the race for Chicago mayor. But the city’s aldermanic races, on the whole, tend to be less focused on schools, because some voters don’t connect aldermen to education decisions in their community.
But while aldermanic power is limited when it comes to schools, those officials can still play an important role at Chicago Public Schools and in their wards, as we detailed here.
Here are seven questions and background on them that education-focused voters can ask their aldermanic candidates.
What do you see as the role of an alderman when it comes to Chicago Public Schools?
Legally speaking, alderman don’t have much power over the school district or schools in their ward. They can’t set budgets, hire or fire principals, or decide whether schools open or close. But that doesn’t mean they’re powerless. A dedicated and concerned alderman can do a lot as an advocate for schools.
What do you know about the schools in your ward?
This question can measure how well a candidate or incumbent has engaged with and assessed the needs of area schools. You can’t expect someone to start cooking solutions for area schools if they lack the basic ingredient of familiarity.
How will you spend your aldermanic “menu” money?
Every year, the city gives each alderman a $1.32 budget for infrastructure improvements, known as aldermanic menu money. The ward bosses have discretion over what projects they use it for. Some have tapped the funds for school improvements.
How will you work to strengthen Local School Councils?
Without an elected school board, the councils are some of the only ways parents and community members can participate in decision-making about their schools. The councils drive school improvement plans, set budgets, and evaluate and hire (or fire) principals. But participation is notoriously low and uneven across the district.
How would you respond to a proposal for a new charter school in your ward?
Aldermen can’t force the school board’s hand on decisions about whether or not to approve charter proposals, but they can express their wishes to the mayor’s office and school board. They also can make it difficult for charters to open in their ward if the charter needs a zoning change to move into or build a new facility.
How will you help attract local families to neighborhood schools losing enrollment?
A district report released in December identifies 238 “underenrolled” schools in Chicago. Many of them are neighborhood schools that serve students living within their attendance boundaries.
How would you help make your ward a place where families with school-aged children want and can afford to live?
Housing costs are one of many reasons families have been leaving Chicago, and a lack of affordable housing in a community could pose a barrier to families with children moving there. Getting a sense of your alderman’s housing policies and approaches to affordability will help discern priorities and seriousness about helping families afford living in your community.