The Lowdown on Local School Councils
What you need to know about the upcoming school elections and our spring reporting project.
By Emmanuel Camarillo
This spring at City Bureau, one of our reporting teams is looking into Chicago’s unique Local School Council structure and how it affects school communities. Follow along here as Manny Camarillo, Hannah Hayes and Amanda Tugade report over the next 10 weeks. Here’s our first story — a basic explainer on LSCs — and a reminder to vote in the upcoming elections on April 18–19.
In Chicago Public Schools, Local School Councils (consisting of elected school staff, community members and parents) create a link between the school’s administration and the community that it serves. While their power may have dwindled over the last few years, the ability to hire and fire a school principal is still one of the most influential responsibilities of an LSC.
Elementary and high school LSCs consist of one principal, six parent representatives, two teacher representatives, one school non-teaching representative and two community representatives. High School LSCs also have one student member.
LSCs at schools under Academy for Urban School Leadership management serve only in an advisory capacity, as they do at small schools and schools on probation. Charter schools and private schools do not have LSCs.
Parent and community LSC members are elected by the people in their district and serve two-year terms. You do not need to have a child at the school in order to vote; look up your local school’s upcoming election information here. The teacher representatives are selected by teachers and staff based on polls conducted within the schools. The student rep is elected based on a student body poll.
Since the purpose of these councils is to create more dialogue between schools and parents, LSC meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Act and can be attended by anyone. LSCs set their own meeting schedule and must provide the public with meeting details before and after they occur. Minutes are usually available online and any voting that takes place must be done in public.
There are also some voting restrictions created to minimize conflict. For example, a principal cannot vote on matters related to his or her retention, high school student LSC members cannot vote on school personnel issues and any LSC member with relatives employed at the school may have to abstain from some votes.
LSCs meet to discuss various issues within a school, but they have three primary responsibilities: evaluate and hire a school principal, vote on the school improvement plan and establish how to most effectively allocate budget resources.
Principals’ performance reviews are done every year by the LSC using a form that is approved by the Board of Education. This includes evaluation under the State of Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) to determine progress.
Principals are evaluated and hired based on this system and their contracts are usually four-year commitments. As such, the performance of each principal is usually evaluated in four-year terms. In the event that a principal’s contract is not renewed, the LSC must provide written reasons for non-renewal at the request of the principal.
The other essential functions of Local School Councils are to prepare a school improvement plan and school budget in conjunction with their principal.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s website, it “expects all districts and schools to implement and sustain an improvement process designed to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.” At CPS, the improvement process is known as the Continuous Improvement Work Planand it is required of all CPS schools.
The CIWP includes a summary of allocation of resources for things like funds that are designated for bilingual programs, staff development, social centers, textbooks and school supplies, and it includes details of money accumulated by fundraisers.
Although creation of the CIWP is largely the responsibility of a school’s principal, he or she must present its details to parents, teachers and the LSC before voting and implementation.
The Office of Local School Council Relations at CPS oversees these groups and works with LSCs to provide training for new members. Its website affirms its commitment to broadening participation within communities as well as increasing interest in election cycles.
More specifically though, the department is there to make sure that LSCs follow open meetings laws to remain transparent. In an EdWeek article from 2014, Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the office, says that his staff of nine members is too small to provide full support for the 516 school councils in Chicago.
He says, “the only way we can make sure they are effective is by providing support, in different ways.”