In a surprise move, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot replaced a school board member with a longtime City Hall ally.
Lightfoot announced Friday that former North Lawndale alderman Michael Scott Jr. would replace Dwayne Truss, whose term ended last month.
Truss said he had initially been asked to continue to serve on the board, then was notified last Thursday that he would not be reappointed. He questioned the timing of the move, noting that it comes after he called for more transparency around the construction of a new high school.
“I’m disappointed,” Truss said. “Students and families that we serve deserve real engagement and transparency.”
Lightfoot also appointed two other new members Friday to replace Luisiana Meléndez and Lucino Sotelo, who announced last month they would be stepping away from the board. The newly appointed members are Sulema Medrano Novak, a trial lawyer, and Paige Ponder, a former CPS employee and former CEO of One Million Degrees, an education organization.
Truss said the opposition to the high school and the mayor’s decision not to reappoint him to the board seem connected.
Along with other board members, Truss expressed concerns during budget hearings and last month’s board meeting about a lack of community engagement and transparency for a proposed $120 million high school on the Near South Side, which was supported by the mayor. The opposition led district CEO Pedro Martinez to pull the plan ahead of a vote during June’s board meeting.
Truss said the district was “gaslighting” board members and trying to “shoehorn engagement” around the proposed high school into a short time frame before a potential vote.
Instead of organizing true community engagement, Truss said, CPS was “organizing supporters to support the school. CPS shouldn’t be doing that.”
Asked about the timing of the replacement, a spokesperson for the mayor in an email said Truss’s term had expired “and we wish him well.”
The appointments come after Lightfoot dragged her feet for 10 months on a previous school board vacancy, appointing South Side community leader Joyce Chapman. It also marks what could be the mayor’s last round of appointments under a fully-appointed school board.
In 2024, Chicago will begin a shift toward an elected school board, which will have 10 elected members and 11 appointed by the mayor. The board will transition to a fully elected school board by 2027, with elections held in 2026.
Other board members said they were shocked by the news that Truss would not be returning to the board.
In a brief phone call, Scott Jr. told Chalkbeat he was unavailable to speak Friday afternoon.
Scott Jr.’s father, Michael Scott Sr., was president of the Chicago Board of Education under Mayor Richard M. Daley from 2001 until his death in 2009. During Scott Sr.’s time on the board, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan served as CEO.
Scott Jr. resigned as alderman in May to take a position with the film studio, Cinespace. Lightfoot appointed Scott Jr.’s sister, Monique, to succeed him in representing the North Lawndale community on the West Side. Lightfoot defended the move citing Monique Scott’s roots in the North Lawndale community and said it’s “lazy” of critics to call the appointment nepotism.
In a prepared statement, Scott Jr. said he was “honored and humbled to take on this new role with the Board of Education and serve students, families and staff of Chicago Public Schools.”
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to build on my father’s legacy with CPS and the continued drive to improve and expand student opportunities, experiences and outcomes,” Scott said.
Ponder previously served as an Officer of Student and Support and Engagement at CPS. During her tenure at CPS, she led initiatives to drive up the number of freshman students on track to graduate. Ponder serves on the Illinois Community College Board. Her term expires in June 2023.
“Becoming a member of such a historic board is not just an honor but a privilege,” Ponder said. “For years, I have had the pleasure of working with institutions that have prepared me for this role and I’m excited to support and find new strategies to represent our school communities.”
Novak, a trial lawyer with Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, will step down from the City’s Human Resource Board to serve on the school board.
Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at firstname.lastname@example.org.