Make democracy work for Chicago schools

Paul T. Hill, Ashley E. Jochim

People on the right and the left can readily agree with Mark Twain: “God first made idiots, but that was just for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner is right, Chicago Public Schools is bureaucratic and patronage-ridden. Tack on ineffective at its core mission, educating Chicago’s children. And wasteful and programmed to go ever deeper into debt.

The failures are real, but what can be done? One reflex is to lay blame on the school board.

Twain’s comment is great snark, but the implication — to put different people in charge — isn’t the answer. There is a problem with school board performance, but the real problem is more the job than the people.

The school district and, therefore, the school board and superintendent, are in charge of everything from textbooks, buses and massive contracts for staff training, like the one that recently forced CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to take a leave of absence. She is under federal investigation in connection with a $20.5 million no-bid contract that CPS awarded to her former employer, SUPES Academy, an executive training organization. Byrd-Bennett hasn’t been charged with anything.

District leaders know they will be blamed for teacher work stoppages so they will do anything, even plunge the system into hopeless debt, to maintain labor peace.