State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) is proposing a way to improve student performance at Chicago elementary and high schools that doesn’t involve spending taxpayer money.
looking to offer merit pay to elected Local School Council
(LSC) members whose schools show marked academic improvement. If the
proposal passes, Ford says the money used for the compensation would
come from the Illinois State Lottery rather than a new tax. Merit pay is
needed to show the LSC members support for the responsibilities they
shoulder, Ford said.
“Right now, they’re responsible for the school improvement plan, the school budget and principal selection,” he said. “This is huge. We need to figure out a way to support the councils any way we can, so we can get the best results.” Ford said elected city, county, and state officials are paid, and LSC members should be no different. He’s hoping Illinois legislators can vote on his proposal before May.
A recent lawsuit filed by ten LSC members seeking to stop the
Chicago Board of Education from closing or turning around their schools
played no role in the proposal, Ford said. (According to LSC attorney
Tom Geoghegan, the case will be heard in Cook County Circuit Court on
March 12 and March 13.)
As for the merit pay proposal, Ford said he’s aware of the initial shock when citizens read news about new spending ideas, especially in light of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s Wednesday budget address. But Ford’s merit pay proposal, known as House Bill 1370, would take lottery money he previously wanted to use as private school vouchers and use it as a reward for achieving LSCs. A school’s achievement would be measured by students meeting and exceeding state standards, the number of students reading above grade level and the number of students graduating. Ford said if school performance doesn’t improve in three years under the proposed legislation, the General Assembly would be able to vote on whether to keep the bill active.
As for how much the merit pay would be, Ford said he isn’t sure yet. But he did make it clear the money would only go to parent and community representatives on each council board, and not representatives already taking in a salary from the schools. As it stands now, every elementary school LSC has 12 members (six parent representatives, two community representatives, two teacher representatives, and the principal), with each serving a two-year term. Each high school gets an extra student representative to bring their total to 13 members.
No new standardized tests would be needed to measure achievement, Ford
cautioned, and council members whose schools aren’t up to par wouldn’t
be eligible for pay. The possibility for compensation would breed a
competitive environment among the schools, he said, and would bring out
more qualified candidates to seek election onto the councils.
The councils are having a difficult time attracting candidates, period. At a Westside LSC Convention February 18, Ford learned that only 300 applicants have registered to run for a possible 6,800 LSC board seats. In these tough economic times, Ford said it’s hard to get people to volunteer their time. According to Ford, LSC board members sacrifice gas money and family time to attend meetings.
“We have to do something to make this attractive to people,” he said.
The deadline to turn in an LSC candidate nomination is March 1 at 3 p.m. at the Office of LSC Relations, 125 S. Clark St, and March 8 at 3 p.m. at the school where a candidate wishes to serve.