Speech to the Junior Association of Commerce and Industry

"The apparent contradiction between the widespread, popular interest in education and simultaneous boredom with the usual activities of Boards of Education deserves an explanation. And there is one. It lies, I believe, in the tendency of most boards of education to leave discussion of educational problems solely to the educators while contenting themselves with, even restricting themselves to, the fiscal and business affairs of our public schools."
Chicago, IL • February 28, 1956

It is a real pleasure to address the members of the Junior Association of Commerce and Industry. First, you are businessmen, and as such, you will be more interested than most groups in the budgetary problems and decisions of the Board of Education. Second, you are public-spirited citizens and you will be interested in our efforts to improve the educational program being offered in the public schools today. It is not often that one has the opportunity to speak to a group which has this dual interest in our public school system. Consequently, I was particularly happy when Bob Houston suggested that you would be good enough to give me a few moments of your valuable time.

First of all, I should like to direct your attention as businessmen to the unusual budget of the Board of Education for 1956. In the first place, it is the LARGEST budget in the history of the public school system of the City of Chicago. The total figure is $195,078.711 -- an amount which because of its size alone deserves the attention and scrutiny of every citizen of this great metropolis.

Public education is public business. There neither are, nor should be, any secrets in it. But, public schools are not only public business. They are BIG business, too. We members of the Board of Education, 11 in number, are trustees of an Illinois Municipal Corporation, whose assets exceed half a billion dollars, whose physical plant includes 425 schools at all educational levels, plus 53 regular branches and 5 hospital and home instruction branches. Our pupil population, ranging from kindergarten to junior college and teachers’ college, is well over 450,000.

It is a long span of years and efforts from our first public school, the Dearborn School, built at Madison Street near Dearborn, in 1845, at a cost of $8,000 -- to Dunbar Vocational High School, being erected on South Park Avenue near 31st Street -- at a cost of $7 million. The cost of Dunbar, however, is one induction of why our budget is so large. Tremendous amounts of money are needed to finance a school system in the City of Chicago today.

Despite such high costs, however, the Board of Education’s budget received unanimous approval not only from the Board members themselves, but, I am happy to say, from the City Council, where our budget passed by the record-breaking vote of 49 to 0. I hope you will be interested in some of the reasons why this budget received such unanimous approval, and I command the following facts to your serious consideration: --

FIRST: -- This budget contains the most ambitious building program in the history of the 20th Center Chicago. Every man in this room knows of the shortage of classrooms nationwide. Every person here knows that many commons are begging for state and federal help. But I believe that every Chicagoan can and should rejoice that your Board of Education has not waited for “someone else to do the job,” but has itself created a program calling for the expenditure of $36-million in 1956 alone. This (almost) equals the total of all new school construction in the ten-year period from 1930 to 1940. Upon the completion of this program, Chicago’s Board of Education will have added 114 new schools and auditions to schools in 5 years. Without even counting the millions of dollars spent on rehabilitation of school buildings, I think Chicago’s record in meeting the shortage of buildings and classrooms equals or surpasses any city in America. This is point number one.

POINT NUMBER TWO concerns the wages of our teachers. As a result of the unanimous action of our Board of Education, Chicago’s teachers are now paid as well or better than in all cites with a population of more than 500,000 in the United States. If Chicago is to claim credit for being the first city of our nation in any respect whatsoever, I can think of none better than being America’s number one city in terms of teachers’ salaries.

Today, according to a study made by the Civic Federation, Chicago along with Los Angeles, pays the highest salary for a starting teacher with an A.B. degree of any city in the United States. For those with a Master’s degree, Chicago pays the second highest salary of any city in the United States. For those with a PhD degree Chicago pays the highest anywhere.

Salaries such as these mean that all children in Chicago have a first-rate chance now to receive the best quality public school education. If you compare today’s excellent rates for teachers’ salaries in our city with those of five years ago, you will rejoice, I hope and trust, that Chicago has moved from 11th, 12th, or 14th position among America’s top 17 cities, to today’s position of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

POINT NUMBER THREE concerns the cost of building our schools. In 1952 and 1953, when we started our modernization program, we had to pay from $1.17 per cubic foot to $1.52 per cubic foot. In 1955, we paid from $.90 to $1.05. That constitutes a percentage cost reduction varying from a minimum of 22% to a maximum of 30% per building. For every taxpayer’s dollar today, therefore, we are getting 6 buildings for the 1952-1953 price of 5. And this achievement has been made despite inflation.

POINT NUMBER FOUR concerns our recreational program. From 1921 to 1947, the Board of Education mentioned 63 playgrounds. We could not expand the program. We didn’t have the money. Our 1.5 cent tax levy produced barely enough income to continue the existing playground facilities. For more than ten years, we had been stymied. There was no progress at all.

For 1956, however, the Board of Education proposed the biggest recreational program since 1921. The Board has budgeted the entire proceeds from the 2.5 cent tax -- the legal maximum. To this maximum of 1956 has been added everything appropriated but not expended in years past. Thus, in 1956, the Board of Education plans to expend almost $3-million ($2,924, 619.66) for recreational purposes -- the largest amount, I believe, in any single year in the Board’s history.

Specifically, in 1956, the Board has authorized improvements on 114 play areas adjacent to public schools in all parts of Chicago. These locations were chosen by our District Superintendents who annualized the recreational needs and opportunities city-wide. On all of these 114 playgrounds, there will be work accomplished in 1956 looking toward the grading, drainage, surfacing, and fencing of these areas. Thirty-two of these 114 play areas will be improved in accordance with our “high school plan” -- which includes additional equipment.

At 67 of these new lay areas, we plan to provide supervisors for the 4 summer months because our experience in the summer of 1955 indicated that such supervision was most popular with parents and children in all parts of the city. Thus, in summary, we plan to improve outdoor recreational facilities and services at approximately 1/2 of all the schools in Chicago.

There is ONE FINAL ASPECT of the 1956 budget which I should like to pinpoint for your attention. This year, for the first time, we have budgeted monies to bring some of the advantages of small select and private schools to our children in our public schools. This is an effort to improve the QUALITY of our educational program, rather than merely providing the same old program taught in the same old ways.

For example, we have budgeted $50,000 to commence the first, big-city effort to teach by television.

-- We have budgeted the $4,000 to initiate special clinics in reading where superior teachers can assist problem students.

-- We have budgeted $30,000 to employee additional psychologists to improve our guidance and counseling program.

-- We have budgeted $4,000 to enable district superintendents in difficult areas to transport the under-privileged children to our great cultural and civic institutions like the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, City Hall, etc.

-- We have planned a free summer school program to accommodate a 50% increase over 1955. Most important, we have planned a special program for gifted children in our summer schools -- teaching them advanced physics, advanced chemistry, advanced mathematics, and advanced foreign languages.

-- We have planned to open 25 swimming pools next summer, instead of 20 as in 1955. There were 46 days in 1955 when the temperature was 90 degrees or higher, and our swimming pools operated at capacity.

-- We plan to operate three continuation schools in the summer of 1956, rather than two as in years past.

SO MUCH FOR 1956. Analyzing the budget provides us with a good opportunity to explain some of the things we hope to achieve in the current year. Bayou, what, you may well ask, do we plan FOR THE FUTURE? We plan to accomplish a great deal; but before I tell you how we plan to do so, a bit of background will be helpful.

Most Chicagoans, like most Americans in other large cities, have probably never seen or talked with a member of the Board of Education. Most don’t know exactly what the Board of Education does. And, only on rare occasions do most citizens take an interest in the public proceedings where boards of education carry on the business of the public schools.

Yet, most Chicagoans, like most Americans, are intensely interested in education. Our Chicago newspapers give ample space to Board of Education activities; books on education frequently appear on best-sell lists; P_T_A activities attract more citizens every year.

The apparent contradiction between the widespread, popular interest in education and simultaneous boredom with the usual activities of Boards of Education deserves an explanation. And there is one. It lies, I believe, in the tendency of most boards of education to leave discussion of educational problems solely to the educators while contenting themselves with, even restricting themselves to, the fiscal and business affairs of our public schools.

Yet, it has long been an accepted principle throughout the United States that local school boards are responsible for formulating the policies which shall govern our schools and the education provided in them. In Illinois, for example, the State Association of School Boards says:

”...the (local) school board is the agency to which the state has delegated the responsibility of providing for the education of the pupils in any particular district. Hence, school board members must have the foresight and training necessary to enable them to: -

a) understand the objectives of the schools,

b) formulate policies which will aid in the attainment of the objectives,

c) select a competition superintendent of schools ...

d) evaluate the results obtained ...”

If the school board is an educational policy-making body, as indicated in this quotation, a large part of its time should be devoted to a discussion of educational policy matters. Policy, of course, is of fundamental importance, controlling decisions on dozens of lesser questions.

But how can any Board of Education fulfill its policy-making function by 90% of its time approving purchases and contracts, examining specifications for equipment, discussing salaries and budgets, inquiring into the costs of furniture, chalk, pencils, oil and blackboards? The correct answer is simple: -- it can’t.

True, these matters are of great importance, and they should not be glassed over or minimized. But isn’t education the essential business of any school board? Or, are all questions of educational policy to be left solely to the professional educators?

I, for one, believe that school board members are trustees representing the public’s desire to provide the highest quality education for all the sons and daughters of all the people. The board member cannot escape this responsibility by relying blindly on reports from a trusted staff. Nor can he accept both his facts and his advice on the same subject solely from one source.

These thoughts and considerations impressed me form the beginning of my service on the Board of Education. I said so publicly when I first became a member. Following my election as president of the school board, I suggested to our able general superintendent that we develop a two-pronged program to increase the amount of time and thought given to educational problems at the level of the Board of Education itself. The new approach has already produced some important results. I hope it will prove popular and successful in the future, because it tends to remedy the so-called divorce between the public and the professional educators.

Briefly, here is what we have started: - First, we have inaugurated a system whereby the staff at the Board of Education will preppie tentative “policy statements” or “position papers” for study and review by the Board of Education. The first of these has already been written and was devoted to “RECREATION.” Last month this report served as a basis for adoption by the Board of the first, large-scale improvement in our recreation program in more than 25 years. The second such report was devoted to the Chicago Parental School, and is now under consideration by the Board.

During 1956, our personnel, assisted when necessary by “outside experts,” will produce approximately ten more tentative “policy papers.” These will analyze subjects such as our Junior College Program, Vocational Education, Human Relations Activities, The Chicago Teachers College, etc. These reports will be discussed, accepted, amended, or rejected by our Board of Education. They will provide a year-long program calling for concentration on educational matters. They will provide an intelligent basis for budget making in 1957.

The second part of our program calls for participation by Board members in the committee work leading up to the submission of the “policy papers” described above under this plan, and in connection with each report, the President will select an appropriate Board member to work with the staff as a “representative of the Board.” Staff personnel would benefit from this “outside” lay opinion; Board member would become better informed about many difficult educational problems. A steady flow of educational material would be assured form the professional educators to the Board.

At the beginning of this talk, I emphasized the magnitude of the financial operations of the Board of Education. Subsequently I pointed out that most citizens, unlike you members of the Junior Association of Commerce and Industry, do not take a personal interest in the work of the Board of Education. Finally, I indicated how we hope to concentrate the Board of Education’s attention more on educational matters.

If we are successful in arousing citizen interest, and our program and finances are soundly conceived, explained, and executed, public education will be certain to improve in the years ahead.

It has been truly said that: - “The people of any generation are only the stewards of the public schools; they are not their owners. The schools have been passed down by previous generations; they will be passed on to future generations.”

Let us take sufficient interest in the affairs of our public schools today so that future generations will have good cause to thank us for the improvements we have been able to introduce in our time for the benefit of our children and children yet to be born.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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