The race for the next mayor of Chicago just got complicated.

With front-runner Rahm Emanuel’s status on the mayoral ballot suddenly in question again, candidates formerly clamoring for attention on the sidelines have a new lease on their campaigns.

As this paper went to press Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court had agreed to determine if Emanuel will be allowed to run for mayor of Chicago and leave his name on the ballot in the meantime.

But if Emanuel isn’t on the ballot, or even if he is, the question remains: Who’s the best mayoral candidate on the issues that affect the city on a local level?

In a candidate forum last week, Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun addressed community issues. Emanuel spoke with Austin Weekly News the next day in a meeting with community publications at his campaign headquarters.

One thing that can make or break a neighborhood, the candidates said, is education. The school system can and should be improved, they said.

In the city’s efforts to create more elite schools with its magnet and charter programs, it has left neighborhood schools in the dust, del Valle said.

“In our efforts to make more academic options available to everybody – which are very, very necessary – we now have a system of public education that is a two-track parallel with magnet schools, selective enrollment schools and charter schools on one track and neighborhood schools on the other track,” del Valle said.

More attention needs to be paid to the neighborhood schools, he added.

“We need to strengthen our neighborhood schools and make them anchors of their communities,” del Valle said. “We need to provide options to our parents when they’re struggling with decisions when their 3-year-old is entering preschool because the school down their block isn’t good enough.”

When asked about the two-tier school system in the city, Emanuel said there’s no easy solution for equity. But he wants to make it more appealing for private charter schools to come in, and give parents more control in CPS’s neighborhood schools.

“I understand the split, and I’m not sure, to be honest, I have a total resolution,” Emanuel said in response to a question about different types of schools. “I don’t think it’s as much two-tiered as you say, but we’re going to have charters, we’re going to have magnets, we’re going to have gifted, and we’re going to have neighborhood schools where I’m going to give parents the parent trigger.”

With the parent trigger, he said, parents can vote to shut down a neighborhood school that’s been voted as failing three years in a row, and a new program can come in to replace it.

“You get 51 percent of parents to sign a petition, and I’ll shut the school down,” Emanuel said. “Then you can put in that charter program, or gifted, or a magnet school – a school of excellence.”

Moseley Braun, meanwhile, said Chicago needs to fight for a bigger slice of state money to help pay for its schools. With her experience in lawmaking both in the Illinois General Assembly and the U.S. Senate, she said, she’d be able to fight for more school funding.

“School funding formulas need to be addressed. That’s one of the reasons that Chicago gets shortchanged so much,” Moseley Braun said. “Someone made the point that in downstate Illinois, the school bus stops for them, while here in Chicago, kids have to find a spot on the CTA. We have to address that.”

Chico, on the other hand, differentiated himself from the pack with his actual experience at Chicago Public Schools, heading the board of trustees through the tumultuous mid-’90s.

“The schools at that time were in crisis, and in fact, at that time, the U.S. Secretary of Education called [the system] the worst in the nation,” Chico said. “I stepped up with a number of people and we turned that around. Two years later, President Bill Clinton held up Chicago as an urban reform model.

“When I walked in, [CPS] was $1.3 billion in red, and by the time I left, there was a $350 million surplus in the bank,” he said. “Test scores were up for six years, and there was unprecedented peace with the unions.”