With an elected school board coming to Chicago’s public schools, a proposed electoral district map from a state legislative committee would not split up Austin and North Lawndale – but the same can’t be said for Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park.

Meanwhile critics, many West Side based, argue for a map based on existing city wards.

The map released by the Illinois General Assembly’s House and Senate Special Committees on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board on May 5 splits the City of Chicago into 20 districts, 7 of which are majority-Black, 5 of which are majority-white, 5 of which are majority-Hispanic and three of which are minority-majority – districts where no demographic group accounts for at least 50% of the population and where minority groups collectively make up a majority. The committee touted the maps as reflecting the diversity of city’s population, which is 33% white, 29% Black, and 29% Latino. But the public school district’s student body is 46.5% Hispanic, 36% Black, 11% white, and 4% Asian American.  

Several groups, including the Illinois African Americans For Equitable Redistricting (IAAFER), an ad hoc group that includes a number of West Side community activists, argues the map needs better minority representation. There is also the fact that, for the 2024 election, the General Assembly is supposed to come up with 10 districts, with the 20 districts only kicking in during the 2026 midterm election. Whatever the case may be, the clock is ticking. The General Assembly already extended the remapping deadline once, to July 1, 2023, but they don’t have much time to extend it again – the current General Assembly session ends on May 19. 

Since 1995, Chicago mayors appointed members of the Chicago Board of Education, the school board in charge of the city’s public schools. House Bill 2908, which was signed into law in July 2021, sets up a transition to a fully elected board. During the 2024 presidential election, the city was to be divided into 10 districts and Chicagoans were to elect 10 board members for four-year terms. Mayor Brandon Johnson will then appoint 10 board members – one per reach district — and a city-wide board president for 2-year terms. During the November 2026 midterm election, the city will be divided into 20 districts, and Chicagoans are to elect 10 more board members to replace the ones Johnson appoints, who will serve for four-year terms. This would create staggered terms.  

The board members must be registered voters who have lived within their district for at least a year, and don’t work for CPS or any entity that does business with CPS. 

The original deadline for establishing the districts was Feb. 11, 2022, but the General Assembly subsequently moved it to July 1, 2023. 

While the law clearly calls for the creation of 10 districts for the 2024 election, the committee map creates 20. The Austin Weekly News coverage area would be split between three districts. District G – which, according to the committee data, would be 55% Black, 21.27% Hispanic,19.67% white, and 1.59% Asian – would include the entire Austin community area, including Galewood, and a few sections of West and East Garfield Parks, with the rest falling within portions of Montclare, Humboldt Park and Ukrainian Village. District H – which would be 57.18% Black, 25.04% white, 11.81% Hispanic and 2.79% Asian – would include all but a few small slithers of North Lawndale, most of East and West Garfield Park, the Near West Side, the remnants of Cabrini-Green and sections of West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park and Old Town. District E, which would be 59.46% Hispanic, 24.81% white, 10.28% Black and 2.69% Asian, would include West Humboldt Park, portions of Humboldt Park and significant sections of Hermosa, Logan Square and Irving Park. 

Austin Weekly News reached out to State Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s office about the apparent contradiction between the number of districts in the proposal and the legal requirements but didn’t receive a response by deadline. 

IAAFER was originally created when the General Assembly was setting the new congressional and General Assembly district boundaries in 2021 to lobby the legislators for larger Black representation. The group was founded by Valerie Leonard, one of the co-founders of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, and its members include long-time Austin education activist and former CPS board member Dwayne Truss and Westside NAACP President Karl Brinson. 

Their school board map proposal combines the existing 50 wards into 10 districts. The goal was to create four “majority/plurality” Black districts, three majority/plurality Hispanic districts and three majority/plurality white districts. It combines all West Side wards except the 27th Ward and the 25th Ward into District 6, while putting the 27th Ward and 1st, 26th 32nd and 36th wards into District 4. Most of the wards in District 4 are either majority-Hispanic or majority-white, while the 27th Ward is a plurality ward. In District 6, all but the 25th Ward are majority-Black.

The committees held five public hearings before releasing a map and allowed residents and community groups to submit their own maps. After they released the map, the committees held an in-person hearing on May 6 at Curie High School, 4959 S. Archer Ave. and a virtual hearing on May 9. 

In a press release issued on May 5, Lightford (4th) emphasized that the state legislature’s proposal wasn’t set in stone.

“We thank the dedicated and passionate students, parents and educators who took time to share their perspectives on the best way to ensure the leadership of our state’s largest school district reflects the diversity of our neighborhoods,” she stated. “This draft map is intended to continue those conversations as the legislature works toward adopting boundaries that will help empower families and uplift children.”

When reached for comment, Leonard referred Austin Weekly News to a letter IAAFER submitted to the Illinois House Executive Committee. It argued that ignoring the ward boundaries was a mistake.

“One of the results is the map presents several instances in which little pockets of voters are pulled away from the center of gravity of their wards, into a school district where they couldn’t begin to make an impact on the outcome of the election because their area is too small,” the group wrote. “The chances of being heard by their elected officials on educational issues is significantly reduced. “

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...