The new mayor has at least temporarily slammed the brakes on moves toward an elected school board. Credit: Erno Hannink/Flickr

Now that Mayor Lightfoot has named her school board appointees, the time has come for me to evaluate the previous mayor’s appointees.

Ugh, what’s lower than one star?

In contrast, Lightfoot’s appointees seem better, and they seem to come with some backbone that the previous board rubber-stampers clearly lacked.

There’s a community activist who spoke out against Mayor Rahm’s school closings, a former CPS teacher, a specialist in child development, and Miguel del Valle, the reform-minded former state senator from Humboldt Park. He’ll be the board’s chair.

I’ve known del Valle for decades. I happened to be there the night in 1986 when del Valle, then a community organizer, upset state senator Edward Nedza, a key cog in former alderman Tom Keane’s legendary 31st Ward Democratic machine.

Let me tell you something, kiddies—beating Keane’s machine was no joke. Keane was Ed Burke before Ed Burke—a tough old coot who chaired the council’s Finance Committee and wound up serving time for corruption. We’ll see if Burke avoids that fate.

I still remember del Valle’s election-night smile as he giddily proclaimed to his cheering supporters: “We beat Nedza!” Obviously, he was as surprised as the rest of us.

Anyway, Lightfoot and del Valle said all the right things at their press conference. She said she wanted a collaborative relationship with the board, “not a dictatorship.”

And he said that neither he nor the mayor wanted a “rubber-stamp” board.

So that’s all good, except . . .

Mayor Lightfoot’s at least temporarily slammed the brakes on the movement toward an elected school board, just as it seemed that long-awaited progressive pipe dream might become a reality.

The most recent bill, sponsored by state rep Robert Martwick, had passed the house. It seemed poised to pass the senate when Lightfoot, like the great Mutombo, rose from nowhere to swat it away.

For what it’s worth, Martwick supported Toni Preckwinkle in last month’s election. More egregiously, he made the suberbad decision to show up uninvited to a Lightfoot campaign press conference and, essentially, heckle her.

Thus, there are three theories as to why Lightfoot opposed the elected school board bill: (1) She really did think it was unwieldy having so many districts; (2) It was her way of letting Martwick know just what she thought of him; (3) A little of both.

I’m going with (3). Apparently, I’m not the only person in town who has a hard time getting over grudges.

In any event, Lightfoot got senate president John Cullerton to put the bill on hold and, just like that, we’re back to square one, still the only municipality in the state that doesn’t elect its school board, still relying on the kindness of mayors to pick the right appointees.

As for the previous appointees—the ones put there by Mayors Rahm and Daley—the best you can say is they didn’t make things too much worse than they already were.

In my opinion, not a whole lot has changed with Chicago Public Schools since I moved here in 1981.

It’s still largely a top-down, overly bureaucratic, almost-always-broke system in which teachers by and large do the best they can under difficult circumstances frequently made worse by the boneheaded decisions of the people in charge.

In Chicago—as anywhere—the single greatest predictor of academic performance is, more often than not, income. That is, the more money a student’s family has, the better those students tend to do in school. I mean, duh, people—we all know this.

If the Chicago mayors and their board appointees truly wanted to bridge the gap between the lowest and highest achievers, they’d move heaven and earth to find the money to make it happen.

That means hiring tutors, counselors, nurses, therapists, and art, music, and drama teachers, as well as expanding pre- and afterschool activities and vocational education. Whatever it takes to help keep kids focused, motivated, and learning.

But this costs money. And there never seems to be enough of that around, at least when it comes to educating the poorest of the poor.

Making things even worse, the last few boards didn’t exactly have the best track records when it came to managing the money they had. Especially during the Daley years, when they signed on to risky loans that wound up costing taxpayers millions in financing costs.

This is particularly frustrating, given that the appointees included university presidents, corporate lawyers, bankers, retired CEOs, and even an economics professor.

Moreover, board members have seemed incapable of standing up to the mayor who had appointed them, even as the mayor diverted hundreds of millions of dollars away from CPS and into the TIF slush funds.

In its final act of subservience to Mayor Rahm, the last board silently watched as the mayor and City Council tag teamed to dedicate $2.4 billion in property tax dollars for the Lincoln Yards and 78 deals. At best, these will reap more property tax dollars for CPS when the TIF districts end in 23 years. But that won’t help today’s, or tomorrow’s, students. So much for putting kids first.

Presumably the new board, with del Valle at the helm, will be more likely to protest if this mayor proposes new mega-TIF deals.

Of course, presumably, Mayor Lightfoot, who ran against such boondoggles, will have enough sense not to propose one in the first place. We shall see.

In the meantime, here’s hoping Lightfoot finds a way to forgive Martwick for his transgressions and sign on to his bill—once it’s been modified so everyone saves face.

I realize there are pros and cons to electing a school board. Lord knows, Chicago’s voters don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to elections.

But as a general principle, I’ll take democracy over autocracy anytime. After all, if del Valle can beat Nedza, anything’s possible. v