Chicago's Elected Board Members Should be Paid

The Illinois Senate's Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board met yesterday and on October 3rd for subject matter hearings on the upcoming elected board. Illinois Families for Public Schools submitted written testimony urging the General Assembly to make the elected board members a compensated position. Read our full testimony below.

For Consideration By: The Illinois Senate Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board, in hearing, October 12, 2023, at 5:00PM. 

On behalf of Illinois Families for Public Schools, and the families, voters and taxpayers of the city of Chicago, I  urge the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation that will make the elected Chicago Board of Education members a paid position. 

These elected board members will be responsible for levying and spending billions of dollars of revenue; for educating hundreds of thousands of Chicago children; and for representing about 130,000 constituents, including students, families, teachers, taxpayers, and voters. 

Of the ten largest school districts in the US in 2020, seven compensated board members. California also pays some board members at smaller districts. Florida compensates all school board members relative to the size of the district. And, overall, according to the National Association of School Board’s 2018 survey data, nationally, 4 out of 10 school board members report being compensated with an annual salary. 

In addition, 40% of those board members also report spending more than 25 hours/week on board duties. 

Making the elected Chicago Board of Education member an unpaid position limits who can serve to the small set of Chicagoans who can devote uncompensated labor to what will be, at the very minimum, the equivalent of a year-round, 20-hour/week part-time job. 

In addition, parents of school-aged children need to cover costs for childcare for these hours too. The financial burden of serving will be compounded by the financial burden of running. Board member positions will be unrealistic for most Chicagoans and the vast majority of public school parents and caregivers.

The legislation that created the elected representative school board for Chicago was the work of essentially a generation of community organizing against those—mostly exceedingly wealthy individuals in the business community—who oppose self-determination and self-governance for the public schools of our city. 

An elected representative school board was extremely popular with Chicago voters when it was on the ballot in referenda in 2012 and 2015. A strong well-resourced public school system benefits all Chicagoans, whether we have school-aged children or not, because public schools are a foundational element in a thriving pluralistic democracy.

A board of education where parents and community members who are directly impacted by the board’s decisions have the meaningful, realistic ability to run and serve will make fulfilling the goals and intent of those who organized to win the fight for an elected board and the General Assembly in legislating the board’s creation a reality.

If legislators’ objection to paying Chicago board members is simply that we do not pay board members in the rest of the state, I further urge the General Assembly to consider compensating board members elsewhere as well, relative to the size and budget of the district they serve in. The stress and time commitment of serving as a elected school board member is significant, especially in recent years, and compensating people for their labor is an acknowledgement of the burden and societal value that this work has. 

Some relevant comparisons with other elected positions’ constituents and salaries:

  • Other school boards in Illinois almost all have seven members. But 90% of those boards’ districts are very small with fewer than 4500 students, i.e. less than just the largest single CPS high school.  Nationwide, the average school district is 11,000 students. 
  • Elgin U-46 is the second largest district in the state. There are 160,000 registered voters in the district and 35,000 students, about 1/10th the size of Chicago. It has a 7-member elected board.
  • About half of our property taxes in Chicago are controlled by the Chicago Board of Education. We have 50 aldermen and a mayor to levy and allocate the portion that goes to the city. The lowest city council salary is about $115,000.
  • Cook County Board has 17 members and a president with an operating budget roughly similar to that of CPS. Board members are paid $93,000/year.
  • Illinois state representatives have about 106,000 constituents and a base pay of $85,000.

Finally, given the debates about board size, it is important to note that in a district of more than 40,000 employees, the difference between paying fewer than 21 board members vs 21 is minimal and a spurious argument for decreasing the board size, a reduction that our organization does not support.

Respectfully submitted,

Cassie Creswell, PhD

director and president

Illinois Families for Public Schools

332 S Michigan Ave

Lower Level Suite i252

Chicago IL 60604