Three schools elect new local councils

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Education reporter
  • November 18, 2008 @ 12:30 PM

Local school councils at three public schools are welcoming new members after balloting to settle disputed elections that occurred in April.

A hearings officer recommended that King College Preparatory High School Juarez Community Academy and Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy hold new elections.

At King, Robin Price and Aldophus Kindle won community representative seats during the special elections last week.

At Juarez, Luz Velazco, Raymundo Mora, Vicenta Santana, Ana Arrerondo, Antonia Salinas and Alfonsa Ramirez-Salazar snagged council seats as parent representatives.

Voters elected Cuahutemoc Morfin and Alvaro Obregon as community representatives to the council at Juarez.

Dorothy Matusik won the community representative seat at Gunsaulus. The races for six parent representative seats there were much closer, though. John White, Crystal Wright, Maria Sudeikis, Reid Fanelli and Gabriela Suarez won five of the seats outright. Renee Costanza and Preston Medrano tied for the sixth seat with 73 votes each.

Many of the candidates could not be reached for comment.

At King and Juarez, the winners gained their seats by wide margins. But at Gunsaulus, a K-8 magnet school in Brighton Park, just 170 people voted and the races for the six community representative seats were much closer.

To settle the tie in one of those races, a schools officials asked a Northwestern University journalism student covering the race for her class and for the Daily News to randomly draw a name out of a box. That’s an unusual role for a journalist, but one that Chicago Public Schools officials argue was the most impartial way to resolve the election.

The reporter pulled Costanza’s name from the hat to break the tie.

The election story was immediately assigned to another journalist, a paid freelance reporter, after the Daily News learned about the problem.

Mindy Trossman, a journalist and former professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, says it was the reporter’s job to turn to her editors for help in that situation or simply leave the room.

“I do have sympathy for young and inexperienced reporters who feel pressured by people they’re covering to do things, but that’s part of being a reporter, is being able to resist those pressures,” Trossman says.

The incident also raised just as many questions for Trossman about CPS’ policies.

“It’s really surprising and to a certain extent shocking that they did not know what to do in this scenario,” Trossman says.

Jose Alvarez, the Chicago Public Schools official who coordines the local school councils, says what happened at Gunsaulus followed CPS’s procedures.

“We chose the reporter because out of everybody, she was probably the more neutral individual of everybody who was left and she agreed to do it. It could have been anyone else” other than the candidates, Alvarez says.

“When you have a tie for the last spot or the last available seat, then usually when it is during a regular election, you wait until the organizational meeting, the certification meeting, and then somebody from the LSC pulls the name out of a hat,” he says. “Because it was a re-election, we have someone break the tie right then and there.”

Daily News editor Geoff Dougherty says the volunteer reporter violated the news organization's ethics policy.

"Unfortunately, the reporter became part of the story in a way that compromised the impartiality of our coverage," says Dougherty.

"The Daily News works with dozens of volunteer journalists from across the city, and many of them don’t have a lot of experience,” Dougherty says. "Although we put a lot of emphasis on ethics training, we expect situations like this will arise. From our point of view, the important thing is to deal with them as openly and honestly as possible."

Usually, Local School Council elections happen in April, but the voting seven months ago at Gunsaulus was called into question because the polls opened late, officials say. And unexpectedly, none of the incumbents retained their seats in that election.

Local School Councils were created 20 years ago as part of Chicago’s citywide school reforms. The councils deal with matters like hiring principals and approving annual budgets. Members of the councils can be teachers, parents or community members.

Alvarez added that voters have until the end of this week to challenge the results of any of last week’s elections.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist. He covers higher education for the Daily News.