Chicago school board candidates gather virtually for first debate

A yellow school bus is parked outside of a large stone building with a large sidewalk in the foreground and blue sky in the background.
A parent group organized around restoring bus service for general education students at magnet and selective schools held the first candidate forum with Chicago school board hopefuls Sunday night. Pictured: A bus parked outside the front entrance to Lindblom Math and Science Academy, a selective enrollment high school in Chicago, Illinois. (Becky Vevea / Chalkbeat)

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Thirteen people running in Chicago’s first school board elections participated in a virtual debate late Sunday night and answered questions about equity, community voice, and bus transportation for students.

The Zoom session — organized by the group CPS Parents for Buses — marked the first time candidates fielded questions as a group in a public forum for the city’s historic upcoming school board elections.

Chicago voters will elect 10 school board members for the first time this November to govern Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s fourth largest school district, alongside 11 members appointed by the mayor. In 2026, all 21 members will be elected, ending 30 years of mayoral control.

Chicago has been divided into 10 districts for the 2024 election (You can find what district you live in here.) In order to get on the ballot, candidates have until June 24 to collect 1,000 signatures from voters in their districts.

While the ballot is not yet set, those who attended the forum Sunday night were:

  • Jennifer Custer and Michelle Pierre, who are both running in District 1 covering the city’s northwest side out to O’Hare.
  • Kate Doyle, Daniel Steven Kleinman, and Maggie Cullerton Hooper, all running in District 2, which covers the far north lakefront, including Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Lincoln Square.
  • Jason Dones, who is running in District 3, which spans across Humboldt Park, Irving Park, and Belmont Cragin.
  • Kimberly Brown and Thomas Day, both running in District 4, which covers Lakeview and Lincoln Park, as well as Angel Alvarez, who said he is considering a run in District 4.
  • Jesus Ayala Jr., running in District 7 which stretches from the University of Illinois Chicago campus to Gage Park.
  • Lanetta Thomas, who is running in District 9 to represent the far south side from Englewood to Beverly.
  • Adam Parrott-Sheffer and Che “Rhymefest” Smith, who are both running in District 10 to represent the south lakefront to the Indiana border.

The group that organized the candidate forum has been advocating since the start of the school year around restoring busing for roughly 5,500 general education students who lost transportation service at the start of this school year. Most of those students travel to magnet and selective enrollment schools.

CPS stopped busing general education students as it worked to ensure students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Programs require transportation were getting it and that their ride times were not longer than an hour.

All 13 candidates answered yes when asked if CPS should be responsible for busing general education students to magnet and selective enrollment schools.

Most of the questions candidates fielded went beyond bus transportation and covered the topics of equity, transparency, budgeting, and parent voice. Unlike many political debates, candidates often agreed with each other’s answers and ideas and traded compliments.

J.B. Mantz, with CPS Parents for Buses, said the group invited the current seven appointed school board members and the board’s chief of staff, but did not hear back.

Five possible Chicago school board candidates did not attend, but filed paperwork with the Illinois State Board of Elections to raise campaign cash to run for Chicago school board. They include: Ebony DeBerry, District 2; Carlos Rivas, District 3; Andy Davis, District 4; Danielle Wallace, District 6; and Katie Marciniak, District 7.

Another candidate from District 7 — Yesenia López — did not attend the virtual forum and has not filed campaign finance paperwork, but got an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia earlier this year.

Becky Vevea is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Becky at bvevea@chalkbeat.org.

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