By Hannah Leone, Juan Perez Jr. and Gregory Pratt
Newly inaugurated Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who endorsed an elected school board on the campaign trail, announced Wednesday she will overhaul the seven-member board of education.
The announcement came less than an hour after Board President Frank Clark told fellow board members at their regular monthly meeting that he is stepping down.
Lightfoot's office said the names of the new school board members will be announced in the coming days and that they will be sworn in June 26. The mayor said in a statement she wants to ensure that "decisions made on behalf of our children are led by those with different perspectives throughout the district" as she prepares to "deliver bold reforms to our public school system."
At the same time, she has announced she will retain Janice Jackson as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, one of several leaders carried over from former Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration.
CPS and city leaders will face ongoing enrollment declines and financial challenges, as well as upcoming contract negotiations with a Chicago Teachers Union, which staged a rally outside the Thompson Center Wednesday evening to push members' plea for equity in schools and what they consider a fair contract.
At the City Hall news conference earlier Wednesday, Lightfoot said her administration "wanted to make sure we were doing what we could to really bring diversity into the process and place the emphasis on existing CPS parents, people who've been through the (local school council) process or otherwise were viewed in the field as education experts. You will see with the names we will announce shortly that that's been the priority we've placed on looking at a new school board."
She noted there are "a lot of important issues" the board will face.
"From day one, I have promised to deliver bold reforms to our public school system that will provide high-quality education for every child in every community," the mayor's statement said, citing equity, an expansion of early childhood education and support for teachers and staff.
Lightfoot said during her campaign that she supports the move from an appointed to an elected school board for Chicago.
Yet she has signaled she opposes the current version of a bill pending in Springfield that would create a 21-member elected school board -- a measure that was approved in the Illinois House two days after she won the mayor's office.
Lightfoot has called the bill -- sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Robert Martwick of Chicago -- "unwieldy."
The House bill is on hold in the Senate to allow the new mayor to look into the issue, said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton.
Clark, the outgoing board president and retired ComEd chairman and CEO, was appointed by Emanuel in 2015.
In announcing his departure, Clark said he was "very, very proud of the work of this board. The reduction of a $1 billion deficit to virtually zero, the constant and continued academic achievement under Dr. Jackson's leadership and ultimately dealing with the very sensitive issue around sexual abuse. I would say without any hesitation the structure, the process, the systems that are in place will be able to address those issues much more rigorously than we have in the past."
Clark received a standing ovation and thanked colleagues, the city and the district's 360,000 students.
Jackson thanked the board members for their service, noting it was the last meeting of the board in its current form.
"I can say that I have felt challenged and supported in this role and you all have served with integrity and you pushed us all to be better," Jackson said. "Just know that you are leaving CPS in a better place than you found it."
Besides Clark, the outgoing board includes Vice President Jaime Guzman and members Mark Furlong, Alejandra Garza, Austan Goolsbee, Mahalia Hines and Gail Ward.
"I know it isn't an easy road and despite what people may have said, you didn't have to do this," Jackson told board members, "and I just thank God that you did. So congratulations."
Lightfoot deflected when asked about the Chicago Teachers Union having supported her opponent, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
"The campaign's over. All's not forgotten. ... The thing we have to do is focus on making sure we're delivering for our kids," Lightfoot said.
Chicago Tribune's Dan Petrella contributed.
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