August 11, 2017
Last fall, the Civic Federation released an issue brief that examined Chicago Public Schools’ transparency and recommended a number of improvements, including live streaming Board of Education meetings. In this blog, we follow up by comparing the board meeting procedures of other school districts around the State.
As the largest school district in Illinois, Chicago Public Schools should be a leader in the openness and transparency of its board meetings. According to enrollment data from the Illinois State Board of Education for the 2016-17 school year, CPS had about 381,700 students and the second largest enrollment district, School District U-46 in Elgin, had about 39,600 students. The District’s vast size only further emphasizes the need to make meetings more accessible to the hundreds of thousands of parents and stakeholders in the District.
School Distict U-46, along with six of the other 15 largest school districts in the State by enrollment, provide ways for the public to view board meetings live. One district, Springfield, offers live viewing via broadcast on a local television channel. The remainder offer live streaming online. In addition to those that live stream their meetings, 10 out of the 15 school districts including Chicago Public Schools offer a video archive for viewing past meetings online. Additionally, every other district holds their board meetings during evening hours – a time that is more accessible to parents, students, teachers, school administrators and other working members of the community. See the table below.
The Chicago Board of Education does provide an online archive of past meetings that includes proceeding summaries and videos, and it is important to note that the Board fulfills all requirements set by the Open Meetings Act. The Board also offers monthly office hours for stakeholders to meet individually with board members. However, CPS should go a step further by enabling live streaming of its board meetings. CPS’ Board of Education meetings are held at the CPS central office building in downtown Chicago. The Board meeting room fills up quickly, and spillover is directed to an overflow room. The overflow room also often fills to capacity, which results in people being denied entry to the meeting until others leave. Because the District has so many people to accommodate, it would be practical that meetings be streamed live to ensure that those who cannot attend in person still remain aware of the meeting’s proceedings.
Chicago Public Schools has said the District does not live stream meetings online because of privacy concerns about students’ names, according to a Chicago Sun-Times article. Yet many school districts across the State do not appear to see this as a deterrent from live streaming meetings.
In addition to the seven districts discussed above that live stream their board of education meetings, the Civic Federation identified another 12 other school districts from around the State with varying enrollment sizes that offer ways to watch live board meetings remotely, listed below. This is not an exhaustive list, as there maybe other districts that offer live viewing options.
- Champaign Community Unit School District 4 – Enrollment 10,101
- Huntley Community School District 158 – Enrollment 9,607
- Barrington Community Unit School District 220 – Enrollment 8,781
- Evanston Community Consolidated School District 65 – Enrollment 7,988
- DeKalb Community Unit School District 428 – Enrollment 6,585
- Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 – Enrollment 5,690
- Urbana School District 116 – Enrollment 4,424
- Hinsdale Township High School District 86 – Enrollment 4,286
- Community Consolidated School District 181 (Hinsdale) – Enrollment 3,817
- Wilmette School District 39 – Enrollment 3,672
- Glen Ellyn School District 41 – Enrollment 3,577
- Riverside Brookfield High School District 208 – Enrollment 1,634
The majority of these school districts stream their board meetings live online, while the districts in Champaign and Wilmette broadcast the meetings live on a local television channel, and District 181 provides live streaming of audio only. Once again, all of these school districts hold their board meetings during evening hours, making CPS an outlier by holding its Board of Education meetings during the daytime. Holding daytime meetings requires teachers, principals, students and parents to miss school and work in order attend board meetings.
Outside of Illinois, large public school districts in Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Minneapolis also live stream their board meetings.
The Civic Federation urges Chicago Public Schools to take two steps to make its Board of Education meetings more accessible to the public: 1) live stream board meetings online and 2) hold board meetings when working parents, teachers and other stakeholders can attend outside of normal work and school hours.
For more on the Civic Federation’s recommendations to Chicago Public Schools, see our issue brief on CPS transparency.