THE BLOG

There's Trouble Brewing in Bedford Falls

04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reverend Senator James Meeks is at it again. This time he has Chicago's local school councils in his crosshairs. He's hoping to strip duly-elected LSCs of the little bit of power they currently possess and hand that power back to Mayor Daley's Board of Education - yes, folks, the same financially strapped board that can't seem to manage its own credit-card usage or auto-leasing programs without creating front-page news.

I learned about Meeks's proposal yesterday afternoon, just before heading out the door to attend a monthly LSC meeting at my youngest daughter's school, where I happen to serve on the council.

One of the topics we discussed at last night's council meeting was our principal's upcoming performance review. If Meeks gets his way, that task will be turned over to Mayor Daley's folks. Having participated in the principal review process last year, I can say with absolute certainty that my colleagues and I will conduct a far more thorough and meaningful review of our principal than any "data-driven, deep-dive, performance-management assessment" conducted by the traveling band of laptop-toting consultants that follows Ron Huberman from job to job.

How do I know? For starters, last spring, when our principal's contract was up for renewal, the teachers and parents who serve with me on our LSC spent scores of man-hours to ensure that our principal got a fair shake. As just one small part of that process, we prepared hundreds of anonymous surveys and questionnaires, which we mailed to parents and teachers. We had a remarkably high return rate on those materials. After we received the responses, we spent many nights side-by-side in meeting rooms at public libraries compiling and discussing the survey results and detailed narrative answers. From time to time, we disagreed with each other, but we always did so without being disagreeable. In sum, our LSC members can tell you far more about what's going on inside of our school than anyone down at 125 South Clark Street can.

We're a school that's lucky to have a great principal (whose contract we renewed, by the way), dedicated teachers, and involved parents. I'm confident our principal didn't agree with every issue or concern raised in our review, but I do know she respected the amount of effort we put into the process. We don't want to cede that responsibility to folks who are not as vested in our school's day-to-day operations as we are.

There's nothing glamorous about serving on a school council. It's a two-year hitch. We don't get paid. We don't get summers off. And the job has no perks. In fact, my colleagues and I even got to spend several Saturdays away from our families attending LSC training sessions. But we ran for our posts because we care about our school. And our parents turn out to vote in LSC elections in numbers that would strike fear into the hearts of Meeks and his incumbent friends in Springfield.

I'm confident Meeks cares a lot about education. In fact, the Reverend and I sing from the same hymnal when it comes to the fundamental unfairness of relying upon local property tax revenues for so much of our school funding. I even applaud his occasional dabbling in street theater. I thought, for example, that his attempt to register city kids for classes at New Trier High School helped shine some much-needed light on the inequities of our system. Unfortunately, Meeks's street theater won't change our state's school-funding formula. Meeks needs to figure out a way to get the ear of Speaker Madigan in the other chamber if he hopes to do that.

If Chicago students and parents are lucky, Madigan will wisely turn a deaf ear to Meeks's current pitch to gut LSCs. Giving Mayor Daley more power over our schools is a bad idea. I'm reminded of something George Bailey said in It's A Wonderful Life about why Bedford Falls needed the Bailey Building & Loan. He said, "This town needs this measly one-horse institution, if only to have some place where people can come without crawling to Potter."

We need LSCs, if only to serve as a small check on our own Mr. Potter.