April 5, 2019
Last week, the Civic Federation wrote about the Chicago City Council’s recent approval of a resolution to begin livestreaming committee meetings in September 2019. The Civic Federation continues to recommend that the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education follow suit on livestreaming their meetings.
As the largest school district in Illinois, Chicago Public Schools should be a leader in the openness and transparency of its board meetings. With enrollment of approximately 361,000 students, the District’s vast size, both in geography and population served, emphasizes the need to make meetings as accessible as possible to the District’s diverse group of stakeholders. Improving meeting accessibility includes making board meetings available for viewing remotely.
The Board of Education allows 60 people to sign up to testify at each meeting, and 100 people to sign up to observe each meeting. The speaker slots routinely fill up within minutes, and observer slots are often filled within an hour or two of registration opening. The overflow room regularly fills to capacity before the start of meetings. Current practice fails as an effective way to reach all those interested in CPS.
During the mayoral campaign, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot outlined an education agenda for Chicago Public Schools. One of the priorities included in the Plan to Transform Chicago Public Schools was a proposal to create an independent elected school board. As part of that initiative, the Mayor-elect called for making meetings more transparent by conducting business other than sensitive personnel matters in an open session, rather than in closed executive session. As current practice, the Board of Education conducts all substantive discussion of meeting agenda items behind closed doors, whereas other local government bodies in Chicago routinely discuss their decisions on agenda items before the public at open meetings. The Civic Federation agrees with Mayor-elect Lightfoot that the Board should discuss its decisions on agenda matters in an open, public session, and welcomes this and any improvements to make Board of Education meetings more open and transparent.
A past Civic Federation blog post found that many other school districts around Illinois livestream their board meetings. Chicago Public Schools has said in the past the District does not livestream meetings because of privacy concerns about students’ names, yet this does not seem to be a deterrent for the many school districts across the State that broadcast their meetings live. Chicago Public Schools already livestreams the board meetings to staff internally and then posts videos of the meetings on the Board of Education website after the fact.
The Civic Federation urges the new Mayor and the Board of Education to make Board of Education meetings more accessible and transparent to the public. One sensible solution should be livestreaming meetings online.