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IASB JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE


2008 JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Panel Report of the 2008 Joint Annual Conference

As it has for the past several years, IASB has posted selected panel reports that make up the Panel Report of the Joint Annual Conference. The aim is to make some of the most vital information presented at the conference available to a wider audience of school board members and administrators.

With more than 100 panel sessions scheduled at the conference each year, no individual can hope to attend all of them. In navigating this document, you will be able to click on any of the panel titles to read the contents of the report on that particular session or you can simply scroll down to read all of the reports.

Among the reporters who drafted these session summaries were conference "interns," comprised of education administration students from several Illinois university graduate programs. Each intern was assigned to cover a panel selected for its lasting value to school leaders. Other reports have been prepared by members of the IASB communications staff.

The panels chosen were among those presented as part of the Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. The annual conference is the state's largest annual meeting of public school leaders. It features speakers, panel presentations, exhibits and informal discussions about a wide array of school leadership topics. The 2008 conference was held Nov. 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Towers and Hotel, and the Swissotel, and attracted more than 12,000 school board members, administrators, exhibitors, school attorneys, and guests.

Discussion of New Superintendent Issues with the IASA Leadership Team/Parent

Superintendent Evaluation

The School Board's Role in Approving School Improvement Plans

Superintendent Search Process

Fast Growth, Suburbia and More

What is all this talk about geothermal: are my buildings and systems "green"?

Protecting Student Activity Funds and Other School District Cash

21st Century Technology Skills for Board Members and Administrators

Board Member/Parent: Which Hat to Wear When

School Funding and Reforms: Hand in Hand or At Odds?

Involving Your Community in Major Decisions

School Construction Projects on Time and Under Budget

The Leadership Crisis Ahead - Advanced Learners Left Behind

Recent Developments and Current Trends in Special Education Law

The Superintendent Contract-Highlights of a Superintendent's Contract Good, Bad and Ugly of Buyout Clauses

Discussion of New Superintendent Issues with the IASA Leadership Team

Real Estate Tax Base Protection


Discussion of New Superintendent Issues with the IASA Leadership Team

Moderator:
Robert E. Gillum, President, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield; Superintendent, Ball-Chatham C.U. District 5, Chatham

Panelists:
Sara G. Boucek, Associate Director/Legal Counsel, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield;
Brent Clark, Executive Director, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield;
Diane L. Hendren, Director of Governmental Relations, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield;
Richard J. Voltz, Associate Director of Professional Development, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield;
Thomas Leahy, Consultant, IASB Executive Searches, Springfield

Reporter:
Dan Cox, Principal, East Richland Elementary School, Olney

The first months for a new superintendent can be trying times. The purpose of this panel was to gather new superintendents who have just experienced their first months on the job. Panelists discussed resources to help new superintendents through their first year as well as opening the panel up to questions from the audience.

Dr. Voltz opened the session explaining resources available to new superintendents through the Illinois Association of School Administrators web site. Participants were directed to the New Superintendents link to "New Superintendent Updates" published by Voltz in addition to the professional development tab listing all professional development activities available to superintendents.

One prominent feature on the IASA site are podcasts offered on a variety of superintendent issues. These podcasts are free and an easy-to-use professional development tool for superintendents. Audience members also shared their successes, pitfalls and fears with using blogs and podcasts as forms of communication.

The panelists opened the discussion to questions from the audience and superintendents in the room asked questions on the following topics: the state of funding in Illinois, the IASA new superintendent mentoring program, the 1% sales tax initiative, school board elections, superintendent evaluation and contracts, school board communication procedures, and public relations crisis management.

Several key points that stood out. Panelists urged new superintendents to ask questions when they are unsure. They were encouraged to ask fellow superintendents in addition to utilizing the staff at IASA.

Ms. Boucek advised that she spends most of her time helping superintendents with adverse action items because they did not ask questions when they were unsure how to handle an issue. She also gave helpful advise on superintendent contracts as well as advising new superintendents that all contracts must be posted to the district web site that are in agreements over $25,000 including administrative staff, teacher, and service provider contracts.

Panelists also provided advise in regards to the superintendent evaluation and school board communications. Audience members were reminded that while it is necessary to maintain a positive relationship with their school board attorney, he or she is still employed by the board. Thus in the matter of employment issues such as superintendent evaluation and contracts participants were reminded to utilize Boucek's services.

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Superintendent Evaluation

Moderator:
Thomas Leahy, Consultant, Executive Searches, Illinois Association of School Boards, Springfield

Panelists:
Mimi Anderson, Vice President, Fenton Community High School District 100 Board of Education, Bensenville
Rich Grochowski, President, Mannheim District 83 Board of Education, Franklin Park
Bruce Lane, Superintendent, Mannheim District 83, Franklin Park
Kathie Pierce, Superintendent, Fenton Community High School district 100, Bensenville
Dave Sbertoli, Member, Fenton Community High School District 100 Board of Education, Bensenville
Nancy Tobin, Member, Mannheim District 83 Board of Education, Franklin Park

Reporter:
Dan Cox, Principal, East Richland Elementary School, Olney

This session focused on the fact that school boards of education hire one person, the superintendent, who is responsible for the fiscal health of the school district, oversight of district personnel, student achievement and the overall successful operation of the school district. Panelists discussed collaborative strategies to develop a superintendent evaluation process that opens up communication for both parties and makes expectations clear, measurable and attainable for the superintendent.

A common question for new school board members after they are elected is "now what?" Mr. Sbertoli explained that new board member training offered by IASB was key to his success as a school board member. Also, all panelists advised that the IASB must be utilized on training a school board in regards to evaluating the superintendent.

In these first steps the IASB takes the school board through the process of school board self-evaluation and revisiting the school district mission and vision goals. Ms. Pierce stated during this process it was essential that each board member was able to discuss his or her goals for the district and superintendent before narrowing it down to the four most important goals with alignment to professional standards and indicators. This was described as a collaborative process involving both the board members and superintendent. Pierce advised this process increases communication and trust for both parties.

The timing of the evaluation is also critical. Mr. Leahy advised that the superintendent should be evaluated prior to all other employees so that the superintendent may be secure in making the remaining employment recommendations. Ms. Tobin also reiterated that trust and communication must be present between board members and the superintendent with all putting trust in the tool they choose to use.

Once the evaluation tool is set this allows the superintendent to align principal evaluations with his or her goals to give the administrative evaluation process vertical articulation.

In summary, the panelists stressed that the board must be trained in how to evaluate the superintendent and recommend that school boards enter into school board self-evaluation moderated by IASB. This entire process helps build trust and communication between all parties and allows for a superintendent evaluation to be developed that is aligned to professional standards, is measurable and attainable containing input from all board members and the superintendent.

The key to success lies in the trust and communication, and if these ingredients are not present, potential disaster lies on the horizon for the system the district is using.

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The School Board's Role in Approving School Improvement Plans

Presenters:
Deb Larson, Consultant, Targeting Achievement through Governance, IASB
Barbara Toney, Director of Field Services, IASB

Reporter:
Elaine Hemker, Principal, Opdyke-Belle Rive Grade School District #5

School boards play an important role in reviewing and approving School and District Improvement Plans. IASB seeks to assist board members in understanding their role by providing a step-by-step checklist that can be used throughout the review and approval process.

Presenters Deb Larson and Barbara Toney both agreed that the board should stay in the "balcony" and allow the staff to stay on the "dance floor." In other words, the board has one level of responsibility while the staff has another. It is board's responsibility to be knowledgeable regarding the following key factors:

  • Understand state and federal "status" designations and the requirements for those designations. Federal and state laws specify Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as an accountability measure for Illinois public schools in reading and math as well as attendance and graduation rates.
  • Be knowledgeable about the planning process. ISBE maintains strict requirements and timelines for plan submission.
  • Work with the superintendent and staff to develop a process that ensures the plans are appropriately written, reviewed and approved. The board should request periodic progress reports especially if additional district resources are needed.
  • Be able to monitor the school and/or district plan(s) implementation and results. School boards should ask questions such as: What is and is not working? What barriers have been encountered and how are they being dealt with? Are there any policy-level implications that need to be addressed? Is our district obtaining the results that were expected? If not, why not? Do adjustments in the plan need to be made? If so, what are they?

School board members may obtain additional information regarding School and District Improvement Plans from IASB, ISBE and NSBA. Updated information is also accessible from the following website: http://isbe.net/sos/htmls/improvement_process.htm.

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Superintendent Search Process

Presenters:
Donna Johnson, Director; IASB Executive Searches
Douglas Blair, Senior Director; IASB Executive Searches
Thomas Leahy, Consultant, IASB Executive Searches
Dawn Miller, Consultant, IASB Executive Searches

Reporter:
Elaine Hemker, Principal, Opdyke-Belle Rive Grade School District #5

For over 50 years IASB has been assisting school district boards with executive searches, which include superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals and business managers. The primary emphasis, however, during this presentation focused on the selection of superintendents.

According to Doug Blair, "The demand for superintendents has increased during the past several years while the supply has declined. The majority of individuals seeking superintendent positions are those looking for a four to five-year contract prior to retirement."

IASB customizes the search to meet individual school district and board needs. Tom Leahy stated, "It is the goal of IASB to help districts hire a quality match." The search and selection process includes a step-by-step process that begins with a needs assessment. The needs assessment helps IASB develop a profile of what the school district wants, specific goals and objectives, geography of the position and salary and benefits.

Once this is accomplished the following steps are taken:

  1. IASB markets the position by developing a brochure that describes the community, district and position. The position is advertised and applicants are solicited.
  2. The IASB selection committee screens applicants and selects finalists to be presented to the Board.
  3. The board reviews credentials and interviews finalists.
  4. The board narrows the candidates and conducts a second interview with the strongest candidates.
  5. Once a finalist is selected, the board completes an on-site visit.
  6. The board negotiates a contract and hires the new superintendent.
  7. IASB offers a workshop for the new board-superintendent team during the first year of employment.

Panelists also shared that IASB is willing to help boards in making a decision about hiring internal candidates. The final decision, though, lies with the school district board of education. Additional information regarding executive searches may be obtained from the following website: http://www.iasb.com/executive.

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Fast Growth, Suburbia and More

Moderator:
James Russell, Director of Communications, IASB

Presenters:
Mary Fasbender, Superintendent, Prairie Grove CCSD 46, Crystal Lake
Joanne Schaeffer, Board Member, Lyons Elementary District 103 Board of Education
Nancy Tobin, Board Member, Mannheim District 83 Board of Education, Franklin Park

Reporter:
Gary Adkins, Director of Editorial Services, IASB

Residency fraud was the hot item on the agenda at this Sunday morning panel session, as board members and a district superintendent shared their concerns and discussed options. The core of the discussion dealt with the pain of balancing school leaders' concern for all students with the rising costs associated with residency fraud.

Some panel members expressed frustration arising from what they alleged is a lack of state verification of enrollment documents. "Can't there be an interagency checkup to make sure documents are correct," asked one panelist. Another presenter agreed: "I think dealing with the state is ridiculous."

Superintendent Fasbender noted that school officials need to be firm in following district residency policies. She shared the fact that her district also retains an investigator who will check up on questionable residency claims. She shared some tips, as well, about clues to help identify questionable residency claims:

  • License plate numbers should be copied down because the police are typically "more than willing to run that for you" to show the residence of the vehicle's owner
  • If a report card mailing or other district mailing "kicks back" as undeliverable, it is definitely a red flag
  • If a school is located on a commuter line, it generally seems to get more residency questions
  • School district must be proactive in dealing with residency fraud because the costs are high – it boils down to money, as the cost is thousands of dollars per student in local funds and at referendum time, people complain: "You've got many kids who don't even live in our district.

Fasbender also mentioned that regional superintendents need to be consulted by the schools because they can provide helpful information on residency concerns, including recommendations on procedures and practices to follow.

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What is all this talk about geothermal: are my buildings and systems "green"?

Presenters:
Brian M. Berg, Jr., Partner, Berg Engineering Consultants, Ltd., Schaumburg
Alan T. Sraga, attorney, Sraga Houser LLC, Oak Brook, Illinois

Reporter:
Gary Adkins, Director of Editorial Services, IASB

Although there is much talk today of "green," too few of us has a genuine understanding of what it means and what is actually green. Presenter Brian M. Berg, Jr. shared details about the real meaning of green, including a slideshow of some buildings and systems now in use in Illinois school districts that are essentially "green," even though many of them were installed years ago by far-sighted designers. Attorney Alan T. Sraga helped Berg answer questions after the presentation.

Berg began by defining green as sustainable, adding: "sustainable means using resources in such a way that none are used up or lost." He said a "net zero" building should be the goal, where nothing is wasted. But he also admitted that while this goal may never be reached, it is a worthwhile ideal.

Noting that "90 percent of future school buildings are already built," Berg said there is much that school facility experts and school officials can do right now with existing buildings to make sure schools are the proper shade of green.

For example, he pointed toward retrofitting existing school buildings with lots of energy-efficient windows to follow the "daylighting trend" toward the maximum use of natural light in illuminating classrooms and hallways.

The benefits of green can include saving energy, saving money, boosting community pride, creating healthier students, and teaching future generations, he said, but "it's all right to be greedy," as well, Berg said. After all, the benefits are not primarily esoteric; most benefits of going green are as practical as can be.

Berg pointed to the book Greening of America's Schools, by Gregory Katz, as a good source for information about making greener schools.

He said school leaders essentially need to "look for ways of cutting back" in these tough economic times. And he said one tool, long neglected, is the energy audit. Many schools had energy audits performed on their buildings in the 1970s, when harsh economic realities required everyone to be careful with money and energy use. But in most districts "nobody wanted to go back and do those again," he said.

Not surprisingly, he suggested, now is clearly the time to perform a careful new energy audit.

Berg showed slides to illustrate green site design and selection, geothermal applications, how to maximize green space to save money, and storm water control designs that can help prevent pollution and provide low-cost landscaping irrigation.

Berg also discussed how the principles of good design can include the use of insulated skylights over heat-collecting tiles in atrium areas, and the development of earth berms on the North side of buildings to prevent heat loss in the winter time. He suggested using sustainable and durable materials, such as locally obtained natural materials, and installing simple controls for electric lighting to cut off waste. And he suggested using green roofs, either with sunlight-reflecting materials, or with vegetation that requires little watering.

He even discussed the whole area of building systems, offering some advice about saving money on central heating. He suggested that "when you centralize systems, the equipment is better and longer-lived."

Finally, Berg said schools cannot keep doing what they've been doing. Quoting the late scientist Albert Einstein, he said "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting different results."

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Protecting Student Activity Funds and Other School District Cash

Presenters:
Tim Custis, CPA, Gorenz & Associates, Ltd., Peoria; President, Washington Community High School District 308, Peoria
James Dunnan, Superintendent, Washington Community High School District 308, Peoria

Reporter:
Gary Adkins, Director of Editorial Services, IASB

School boards and school administrators have a fiduciary responsibility in handling the funds of others, including student activity funds and convenience account funds. Few things are worse than being accused of breaching such a responsibility.

So before school board members and school administrators encounter an ongoing problem with student activity funds they need to look at their internal controls to ensure that such funds are well protected. School leaders need to launch a general discussion of the district's internal controls, and in particular administrators need to look at procedures to provide good methods of cash collection and of accounting for all cash on hand. So said District 308 board member and Tim Custis, a Certified Public Accountant with the firm of Gorenz & Associates, Ltd., Peoria.

The internal control structure, he said, must include a top-down management philosophy for implementing a control environment. School leaders should monitor the control structure to see that adequate safeguards are maintained, including a sound accounting system and tight control procedures. A school district's control environment should include:

  • Management philosophy
  • District organizational structure
  • Personnel policies and practices
  • Assigning authority and responsibility
  • Management's monitoring
  • Follow up on performance
  • External influences (such as any directives or rules from ISBE)

As for the accounting system being used, it is important to ask how the district identifies and records valid transactions. The system in use should properly classify transactions, measure and record the value of each, record them promptly within a proper time period, and present the amounts of transactions in regular financial statements.

Control procedures also must be in place to guarantee the prior authorization of large transactions. The segregation of various fiduciary duties is important, as well, to make sure, for example, that the same individual is not charged with recording transactions and depositing funds. Everything needs to be properly and adequately documented, and adequate safeguards are needed to make sure that unauthorized individuals do not have access to and use of assets and records.

School leaders must also see to it that there are independent checks upon performance and validation of recorded amounts. This is intended "just to keep honest people honest," Custis said.

Equally important is establishing protection from loss through purchase of a treasurer's bond, which, by law, must be in an amount equal to at least 25% of the highest available funds balance. In addition, fidelity bonds are required on anyone who handles cash or funds. School leaders need to check the amount of this "employee dishonesty coverage," as it is called, because the minimum coverage required is $5,000. Some districts may want the amount raised to $10,000, depending on the sums being handled in student activity funds.

Control procedures for cash must include a record of when cash is received. That is, the creation of the record should be simultaneous with the collection of the cash. What is more, the person who handles petty cash should not be the same one who handles or records transactions. Cash also needs to be deposited in a bank on a regular basis, and responsible parties must not wait more than a week to make these deposits. There should also be an effort to minimize balances on hand.

Custis detailed a number of other internal control procedures, as well, for student activity funds. He said a guide to help school districts get started in developing appropriate procedures is available in electronic form by e-mailing him at tcustis@gorenzcpa.com.

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21st Century Technology Skills for Board Members and Administrators

Moderator:
Thomas Leonard, Superintendent, Barrington CUSD 220

Presenters:
Meg Ormiston, School Technology Presenter, Burr Ridge
Richard Voltz, Associate Director, Professional Development, IASA, Springfield

Reporter:
Jennifer Nelson, Manager, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

The objectives of this panel were to familiarize the attendees with various Web 2.0 tools and explain why schools should be using these tools. The presenters first defined what Web 2.0 is. Web 2.0 is the next generation of the Internet. It allows users to contribute, not just 'takedown' information. Students can benefit from Web 2.0 technologies because it allows them to engage with their communities.

Because so many of the Web 2.0 tools are interactive, it is important for those individuals making the decisions about access to the Internet and particular websites to be informed. To that end, the presenters advocate teachers and instructional technology departments be involved in the conversation about any board policies relating to Internet access.

Web 2.0 discussions tend to show the generational gaps in today's society. Students in today's schools are different than those 20 or 50 years ago. Use the example of cell phones in classrooms. Many districts ban the use of cell phones in class. What about using cell phones to enhance instructional technology? It allows students to interactive in ways they are comfortable doing. It puts a computer in the students' pockets.

Web 2.0 shows the future of where we are preparing children to go—Web 2.0 encourages collaboration between many different groups. It encourages networking with your peers as well as with other groups. It encourages engaged learning, not static learning. And it is about active participation in your community.

Instead of always downloading information from the Internet, Web 2.0 technologies allow the use to interact with the information. It allows for board learning communities. For administrators and board members, it allows them to interact with communities of their peers. They can use Web 2.0 tools to communicate with their districts and communities through blogs, podcasts and "wikis." These tools allow information to flow both ways in a district.

The presenters used an example to demonstrate how Web 2.0 technologies are useful in a district. The example was of a high school calculus teacher's different ways of communicating with his students. He created a wiki of frequently asked questions about each section and also blogs about questions he has received from students through e-mail or text messaging. This helps the students to better understand their courses and homework.

Another Web 2.0 technology the presenters focused on was blogging. There are many administrative uses for blogging including communicating with teachers and district staff, allowing for feedback from the community and any particularly pressing topic facing the district can be discussed.

Before deciding to blog, administrators need to be aware that this tools (as with all Web 2.0 tools) can be used for both good and evil. Many of these technologies allow the user to be anonymous. Someone from your district should be assigned to monitor all mentions of the district to be sure nothing misleading is said.

Board members need to be aware that these technologies are going to be used in their schools whether they allow it or not, so they should have policies in place that allow students to mass collaborate safely and securely. Schools that make their boundaries open to external ideas and new engagement opportunities will out perform those schools that rely on internal resources and capabilities. Board members and administrators should reach out to those districts around them and share the learning.

Note: board members have to exercise extreme caution when using interactive features that could trigger a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

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Board Member/Parent: Which Hat to Wear When

Moderators:
Anna Lovern, Director, Policy Services, IASB, Springfield
Larry Dirks, Director, Field Services, IASB, Springfield

Reporter:
Jennifer Nelson, Manager, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

This session started with introductions of those in attendance to show how each person identifies himself. Most fell into the category of both board member and parent. A large percentage of those in attendance served either rural districts or those districts with small to medium student populations. There were also a few select individuals that also wore the additional difficult "hat" of 'spouse of employee' so there was added perspective from those individuals.

A lot of boards have not had the conversation among themselves about the parental role of board members. This conversation is important so that all the members of a board can attempt to behave the same. This conversation can include what the expectations of the parents on the board can reasonably be.

Remember that as a parent, you aren't hearing both sides of any conflict and you shouldn't use your power as a board member to influence a teacher or administrator. As a board, you need to maintain a "balcony" perspective. One attendee suggested that the board as a whole try to address the proper chain of command for those parent/board members. That way, all parents on the board (hypothetically) use the same chain of command.

Many boards also utilize their superintendent as a 'go-between' when dealing with a teacher. Some attendees offered the suggestion that if it a newer teacher that you or your child has a conflict with, the superintendent should go and clear the way by explaining to the teacher that the board member is there as a parent and not as a board member.

There are also times that as a parent, you have to take the initiative to have the conversation with the teacher before a conflict arises that you are there as "Child X's parent first and foremost".

The attendees all agreed that your job as a board member is to represent all children of the district, not just your child or children. There are situations and issues before a board sometimes that will necessitate you excusing yourself from a decision or discussion.

This session ended with discussion of four 'real-world' scenarios:

Scenario: You've just been elected to the board. Your son plays basketball on the high school team, but the coach seldom puts him in the game. You would like to see him play more. How do you approach the coach? Discussion: As a board member, you don't say anything. If the board feels that there is a pattern of this behavior from the coach, address it with the superintendent. As a parent, you may address the situation with the coach, after acknowledging to him/her that you are there as a parent.

Scenario: You have two special needs children that attend the district's schools. Over the years, you have become an advocate for special needs children and their parents to the point that you are often asked by parents to attend IEP meetings. You have recently been elected to the board. Should you continue to attend the IEP meetings? Discussion: First, is there a board policy dis-allowing board members to serve as advocates? As a board member, you are there to represent all the children of the district, not just one group. If a conflict arises with the board and superintendent over this issue, the board member should decide which is more important-being a board member or being an advocate.

Scenario: Your 3rd grade son presents you with his mid-term report card. The grades are far below what he has done in the past. According to him, the reason his grades are poor is because "his teacher doesn't like him". What do you do, as a parent and a board member, to get your son's performance back to the level where it should be? Discussion: This is a situation where the board member should use the chain of command set up in advance by the board. Speak to the teacher and then if the conflict isn't resolved, move onto the next level or department head or principal. As a board member, you shouldn't address the situation unless there have been other complaints about this specific teacher.

Scenario: Your 6th grader arrives home from school. His clothes are torn and his nose is bloody. He tells you that "Johnny Smith", the class bully, beat him up and that the playground monitor stood by and did nothing. As a parent and board member, how do you proceed? Discussion: You can go to the principal as a parent, but remember that there are two sides to every story. Because there is injury involved, you should take it to a higher level if nothing is resolved. If the bullying still occurs, it might be necessary to take it to the board for further evaluation of the district's policies regarding this subject.

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School Funding and Reforms: Hand in Hand or At Odds?

Moderator:
Deanna Sullivan, Director, Governmental Relations, IASB, Springfield

Presenters:
Brian Gaines, Associate Professor, Department of Politic Science, UIUC
Tom Johnson, President, Taxpayer Federation of Illinois, Springfield
Honorable Bradley Burzynski, Illinois State Senator, District 35, Sycamore
Honorable David Miller, Illinois State Representative, District 29, Dolton

Reporter:
Jennifer Nelson, Manager, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

The goals of this panel presentation were to gauge the public sentiment about school funding issues in Illinois, what taxpayers think about the options for reforming school funding and what the General Assembly thinks about school funding issues.

The first presenter focused on polling data in the state of Illinois. Polls were recently conducting including questions about public opinion on schools and funding in Illinois. The easy summary of his research is that there are no easy solutions to the funding problems. Most of the solutions suggested (including raising income taxes, raising sales taxes, selling the lottery, merging existing districts, a City of Chicago casino or allowing the state to re-distribute the funds) were overwhelming unpopular.

The public is already concerned about the inequality in school funding, but there is no clear-cut solution. There is also deep skepticism over the General Assembly's problem solving ability.

The second presenter focused on the projected incomes for the state of Illinois. Because of the economic downturn and the growth of the tax structure in Illinois, there will have to be a reduction in funds for the next few fiscal years. But where will those reductions occur? Funding schools from property taxes is most liked as a funding source because it is predictable and dependable, unlike many other options suggested.

Both Senator Burzynski and Representative Miller spoke about the funding reform options that have recently been before the General Assembly.

As structural deficits in Illinois' budgets are growing (mostly due to Medicaid/Medicare and pensions), any funding reform has to take those into consideration. The General Assembly is aware of the funding reforms and is also concerned about addressing school reforms in another area. There is new optimism in Springfield since the Senate president and minority leader are both stepping down from their positions.

The general outcome of this panel presentation is that there are no easy solutions and no easy answers when it comes to school funding reform in Illinois. Board members and legislators need to have a shared vision of what funding reform looks like and need to understand that this is a statewide problem, not just one occurring in certain districts.

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Involving Your Community in Major Decisions

Panelists:
Steve Larson,
Senior Financial Advisor, Ehlers, & Associates
Dr. Rod Wright, President, UNICOM ARC
Dr. Alan Leis, Superintendent, Naperville CUSD No. 203

Reporter:
Kyle Ransom, Principal, Tuscola Community High School District #301

Steven Larson discussed the various methods for involving the community and use of Citizen Advisory Committees. The common elements of any major decision made by a board of education and such committees include six major components; a unified board of education, public awareness, public consensus, no major unresolved issues, public involvement, and decision making that considers educational, financial, and political factors.

General rules and guidelines are recommended. A Citizen Advisory Committee usually lasts 4-12 months, depending on the project at hand. The committee must be well organized and have a delineated statement. Size will be set by the district and can range from 10 to 100, depending on the size of the district and the community input sought. Furthermore, Citizens Advisory Committees must communicate with the board on a regular basis. It is imperative that these committees are comprised similarly to the make up of the local town.

Dr. Rod Wright spoke on the use of an outside agency for research, communications, and engagement. Dr. Wright and his agency have been involved with hundreds of school districts and community colleges throughout the country. He leads a veteran staff of school communicators.

He talks about the four key questions to success: Do we have a fighting chance? Do we have a bullet-proof plan? Do we have internal unity? Do we have the ability to conduct an effective campaign? Dr. Wright reiterated how important language is when it comes to passing a referendum. Solid research has demonstrated how language can impact outcomes. He continued by discussing community engagement and how valuable it is for the success or failure of any initiative. He also talked about eight key factors: internal acceptance/support, clear charge, citizen leadership, more than the "usual suspects", totally open process, true dialogue/two-way communication, comprehensive timeline/syllabus, and data driven decisions.

Naperville School District 203 has a long history of growth and development that has spawned a continual need for facility expansion; this growth has resulted in a systemic approach to gaining community support and involvement throughout the building process, from starting with an analytical critical view of existing facilities, researching funding alternatives, design, and building process.

Dr. Alan Leis recommends taking the process slowly. The entire process takes between eighteen and twenty-four months. Utilizing data is a key component to obtaining community support for future development. This data can be used to develop support for any planned addition or renovation. Looking at the age and square footage of the existing structures can demonstrate a need for development.

Involving key people throughout the community is vital. Educating a steering committee about the current condition that the facilities are in is vital to the success or failure of the project. Often this committee will determine the success or failure of the entire project. As the leaders in the community, this task force will convince the rest of the community on the merits of the proposal. Naperville's task force was composed of 75 community and staff members. The task force focused on the most acute problems that faced the district and established priorities. The task force compiles recommendations that formed the basis of a Master Facility Plan. The number one question answered by Naperville's task force; how much should we invest in maintaining old buildings versus significantly renovating or building new ones?

Communication is another key component in this entire process. After the Master Facility Plan was developed, Naperville launched the "One Thousand Touches Campaign." District employees as well as Task Force members developed email campaigns, met with the entire faculty, held open houses, developed a video campaign, and held over 50 "engagement meetings." These communication tools were used to gain support, but were also used to gain feedback on the work that had been conducted.

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School Construction Projects on Time and Under Budget

Panelists:
Kenneth M. Florey, Eugene J. Hanses, Jr., Howard A. Metz, Lorence H. Slutzky Attorneys at Law, Robbins Schwartz Nicholas Lifton & Taylor, LTD.

Reporter:
Kyle Ransom, Principal, Tuscola Community High School District #301

Lorence H. Slutzky opened the panel session by discussing the historical aspect of construction projects and the evolution of the delivery system. Historically, one person or entity, the master builder, was charged with the responsibility of aesthetic and structural design, through completion of the project. Today the traditional construction delivery system design, bid, award, and build has brought about a plethora of construction administration services that are now available to organizations looking to construct a quality building. Owners may choose from a wide range of specialists devoted to various areas of expertise.

Mr. Slutzky went on to talk about the various roles of the specialists and approaches to contracting the build process. Under the traditional approach, the general contractor is responsible for the management, coordination, scheduling, sequencing, and discipline of its workforce and the workforce of its subcontractors. A Construction Management Team provides an independent representative that oversees the entire project.

A Construction Manager Advisor (CMA) and the Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) are different. A CMA does not undertake the risk of construction; they merely act in an advisement capacity, while the CMR take on the liability of the actual project. They enforce the schedule and carry out discipline on any subcontractor. The Owner's Representative/Program Manager is a systematic approach that few schools have the luxury to employ. Superintendents and business managers have full time jobs and often do not have the time necessary to preserve and protect the owner's interest during the project.

Howard Metz and Eugene Hanses spoke about the actual bidding and contracting of a project. All contracts over $25,000 must be published on the district website. They went on to talk about all of the legal requirements of public notification and contracts. For more information refer to the Illinois School Code sections, 105 ILCS 5/10-20.40. Report on Contract, 105 ILCS 5/10-20.21. Contracts, and Article 28 A- Education Purchasing Program.

The bidding process must be sealed, to protect from the possibility of fraud. These bids should not be received via fax. School boards can establish the timeframe for the submission of bids and should adhere to these time frames. The bid instructions may include modification, withdrawal or resubmittal criteria before the bids are opened. The planning process and the communication piece to any project are vital.

The bidding process must be clearly spelled out and then must be followed to prevent any allegations of improprieties. Once the bids have been submitted and opened in a public forum, they are then awarded. Once again, caution must be utilized when awarding the bid to the individual that did not submit the lowest proposal.

Kenneth Florey spoke about the dispute resolution process. As the owner of the project, your motivation is completing the project on time, while maintaining quality standards and meeting the needs of your institution. Inevitably, construction projects will result in some type of dispute. You will often see the construction manager blame the architect. The architect will, in turn, point the finger at the subcontractors and the battle lines have been drawn.

Mr. Florey recommends addressing most of your potential project disputes through the contract process. A well written contract can prevent or minimize most of the disputes that arise. Mr. Florey also discussed the duty of the contractor and the necessity to follow the project documents, with emphasis placed on the contractor's warranty for non-defective work. A key provision to any conflict resolution is the period of limitation. Most situations have a four-year limitation from time of knowledge.

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The Leadership Crisis Ahead — Advanced Learners Left Behind

Presenters:
Bridget Sheng, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University, Macomb

Sandra Watkins, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University, Macomb

Marla Langenhorst, president, Board of Education, Germantown SD 60

Larry Weber, superintendent, Germantown SD 60

Reporter:
Linda Dawson, Director of Editorial Services, IASB

A study of students taking the ISAT over a six-year period reveals that the highest achieving students in many districts are losing ground instead of improving and working up to their potential. The study, by Sandra Watkins and Bridget Sheng of Western Illinois University in Macomb, looked at test results from 754 districts in the state, following the same group of third graders and their test scores through eighth grade.

No matter whether the data was disaggregated by family income level, per pupil expenditures or district type (elementary or unit) or enrollment size, it shows that the percentage of students who exceed standards drops precipitously in most instances through eighth grade. Schools may be happy because higher percentages of students may be "meeting" standards, Watkins said, but they really need to look at the "exceeds" category carefully to see if they are losing the potential in these advanced learners.

The school board's role is to ask questions of administration and staff and request local test data to see if they are indeed losing the potential of their advanced learners. Questions might include:

  • What does the trend data tell us?
  • What evidence do we have that our programs for advanced learners are making a difference in their academic achievement?
  • Does the district use acceleration by subject, grade level or early entrance to capitalize on the abilities and needs of advanced learners?
  • What program evaluation has been conducted in the past three years on advanced learners in our district?
  • Are teachers and administrators well-trained in meeting the needs of advanced learners?

Germantown SD 60 has implemented an Advanced Learner Taskforce to address issues of advanced learner criteria, professional development for those who teach advanced learners and how to determine whether subject matter or grad level acceleration is the best option. While teachers can often identify advanced students just by impressions, the district realized that it needed data to back up these impressions.

Data is being collected using a variety of methods and tests: ITBS, ISAT, Cog AT (which tests abilities and reasoning), AIMS Web (which uses three sweeps to monitor progress) and teacher recommendation.

The Advanced Learner Taskforce is working concurrently with the district's Response to Intervention (RtI) program to help accelerate their "exceeds" students as well address the needs of struggling students. The district currently uses performance groupings in the junior high for math and literature and reading interventions (Study Island and a reading specialist), as well as enrichment pullouts. They use the Iowa Acceleration Scale to determine whether a student needs grad level acceleration or just subject level acceleration.

The key players in all of these decisions are the teachers (classroom, reading specialist and advanced learning specialist), parents, volunteers, the school psychologist and the administrators in the buildings.

The district also learned from a focus group conducted this fall that it should have spent more time explaining what they were doing with the community, even though people are supportive once they understand the programs.

Hiring additional personnel, such as a reading specialist or advanced learning specialist can be expensive, but a number of options are available for working with advanced learners that require no additional money:

  • Within classroom groupings
  • Cluster grouping
  • Cross-grade level grouping
  • Differentiation of instruction
  • Compacting-telescoping
  • Subject level acceleration
  • Grade level acceleration
  • Early entrance into kindergarten
  • Guidance and counseling
  • Library enrichment through research
  • Technology tools/technology integration
  • Mentoring

What it all boils down to, according to Watkins, is the question of if we don't take advanced learners and accelerate them, who is going to lead us?

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Recent Developments and Current Trends in Special Education Law

Moderator:
Andrea Dolgin, policy consultant, Illinois Association of School Boards

Presenters:
Teri E. Engler, Alan T. Sraga, attorneys, Sraga Houser LLC, Oak Brook, Illinois

Judith Hackett, superintendent, Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization, Mt. Prospect, Illinois

Reporter:
Linda Dawson, Director of Editorial Services, IASB

Changes in special education law will have profound repercussions for school districts in Illinois as they move into the requirements for Response to Intervention, although in at least one instance the Illinois State Board of Education is trying to simplify some reporting processes.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for a long time has required that local and state policies be in alignment with the federal regulations. When districts last had to update their policies in 2001, the state board required that they be submitted to ISBE. However, with the new round of updates, districts will just need to sign and submit a letter of assurance that the changes have been made, according to Teri Engler. IDEA 2004 is more geared to making certain students are not over identified as eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Engler also went over new state and federal legislation, some that have passed and others that are just proposed.

Illinois legislative highlights:

  • Public Act 95-844 and Public Act 95-938, effective Aug. 15 and Aug. 29, 2009, respectively, amend School Code provisions on who pays when a residential placement of students is made by Illinois courts or public agencies, overruling previous court cases that held the districts were not responsible. If there is no IEP, the district will be required to pay for residential education. If the student has an IEP, the district will be required to pay just for the education portion of the placement AFTER it receives written notice the placement has been made.
  • SB 1953 would amend the school Code to add several requirements with respect to implementing the RtI process for students suspected of having a specific learning disability.

Federal legislative highlights/rulemaking:

  • ADA Amendments Act of 2008 provides a broader scope of protection for individuals with disabilities. Districts should look at their 504 policies and practices.
  • HR 5129/S 2554, if adopted as proposed, would apply to a broad range of civil rights laws, including IDEA and reverse a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Buckhannon case regarding determination of prevailing party status and entitlement to recovery of attorney fees.
  • HR 4188 is proposed legislation that would allow parents who are prevailing parties in an IDEA dispute to be reimbursed for expert witness fees and also allow recovery of reasonable costs for tests and evaluations necessary to prepare their case.
  • S 1159 would provide full federal funding for IDEA but the chances of its passage "may be when pigs fly," according to Engler.
  • Revisions to IDEA regulations may be passed before a new administration takes office and would allow parents to unilaterally revoke their consent and withdraw their student from special education after the student has begun to receive services and the district could not override the decision through mediation or due process.

Judith Hackett went over the current status of Response to Intervention (RtI) in Illinois. This is not a new term or approach to education, but it has gathered momentum in the past few years. Illinois is a pioneer in RtI, she said.

Districts had to complete a self-assessment as a foundation for their RtI plans that will be due Jan. 1, 2009. Eventually, ISBE will have just one plan that will incorporate school improvement planning and RtI planning.

Hackett cautioned districts about purchasing a kit that promises RtI implementation in two weeks or less. "It's much more than that," she said.

Districts with high rates of identification may initially see a reduction in IEP placements, according to Hackett. If their rates are already low, they may not see a marked difference using RtI. "Response to Intervention can't be implemented in isolation," she said. "A plan must be designed for each school, but it depends on the goals and the data. It may take a long time to get to one system (using RtI for student placement) not just general ed and special ed."

According to a national RtI survey conducted in March 2008 by Spectrum/CASE, 75 percent of the 424 school districts that participated reported no change in the number of full time equivalent staff with RtI and 71 percent of the districts reported that they use the criteria for all students. The most significant increases reported in Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) occurred after RtI was fully implemented.

Alan Sraga then turned to the implications that RtI will have on class size, teacher workloads and collective bargaining.

Beginning with the 2009-10 school year, the provisions for general education classrooms still will be that students with IEPs can be no more than 30 percent of the class. But new provisions for classes will go into effect for rooms where only students with IEPs are served.

  • Classes where students receive special ed services 20 percent of the day or less must have at least one teacher present for every 15 students.
  • Classes where students receive special ed services more than 20 percent but less than 60 percent must have at least one qualified teacher for every 10 students in attendance during that class, but class size may increase by five if a paraprofessional is provided for the entire class.
  • Classes in which any student receives special education for more than 60 percent of the day need to have at least one qualified teacher for every eight students, but class size may increase by five here, too, if a para is provided for the whole class.
  • Classes serving children ages 3-5 must have at least one qualified teacher for every five students and also can increase by five when a para is present serving the entire class.

Sraga said districts may need to find more class space and that numbers in a class may change rapidly if one student trips a percentage to require an aide or drop a class size.

Districts also must adopt a plan that specify limits on the workload of their special education teachers so that all services required under the students' IEPs, as well as any additional support services, can be provided at the necessary level of intensity. These plans may have implications for collective bargaining agreements because they must be developed in cooperation with the local union and must be based on an analysis of activities that include individualized instruction, consultative services and attendance at IEP meetings, in addition to paperwork and reporting.

"The goal should be to keep the discussion about the plan as far away from negotiations as possible," Sraga said, which may mean meeting with different groups of employees at different times. "The more divorced these discussions are from negotiations, the less likely you'll see a demand for bargaining."

Sraga said districts should try not to get drawn into a time analysis of individual teacher's workdays. He suggested to those present that they deal with these issues before their next contract comes up for bargaining and that they get all the terms and agreements in writing. While both sides have the right to have it signed, unless there's a statement to the contrary, signing the document will make it grievable.

The "Trojan Horse" that Sraga sees in all of this is that general education teachers may ask for workload plans of their own, which could link workload to class size reductions as well as limit some activities and services in which teacher participate.

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The Superintendent Contract-Highlights of a Superintendent's Contract Good, Bad and Ugly of Buyout Clauses

Moderator:
Jean Harezlak, Superintendent, Rockton District 140

Panelists:
Sara G. Boucek, Associate Director/Legal Counsel, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Springfield
Stanley B. Eisenhammer, Attorney, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, Arlington Heights; Member, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

Reporter:
Meg File, Educational Administration Intern, Technology/Curriculum Director, Bond County CUSD #2

General contract information was given by Ms. Boucek, with her stating that there is a 5-year maximum length to the contract. The average tenure for a superintendent in a district is 6-7 years and the average pay increase has been 6% for the last four years. Most contracts provide insurance for the individual up to the age of 65 with a small rise in districts providing family insurance. It is recommended to not negotiate the superintendent contract in the same year as the teacher contract and not to give a lower percent increase than the teacher negotiated contracted increase or CPI. Eight-five percent of districts are paying 100% TRS contributions as part of a total compensation package.

The panel discussed retirement and whether the contract provide any type of payment upon superintendent's retirement? Districts were cautioned to closely examine how superintendents are compensated for unused vacation days at the end of the contract as districts have to pay for them and could incur TRS penalty.

Mr. Eisenhammer stressed the importance of using a checklist when reviewing a contract such as the handout used in the session: Checklist for reviewing an Illinois superintendent's contract copyright, November 2008. Eisenhammer expressed his personal view that districts need to do what they feel is right by their superintendents regardless of what other surrounding districts are doing. The board and superintendent need to have a relationship built on trust that they will retire when projected to avoid TRS penalty. He also felt there was a need for a "use it or lose it" clause for unused vacation time in the contract because it ensures district will not incur penalty and unexpected end of contract expenses plus provide the superintendent with needed breaks.

The panel also discussed evaluation clauses and the importance of districts performing annual evaluations. Key points:

  • Done annually in summer to provide a look back at the whole year. (Exception: Do in January if a district is going to terminate. In first year of a new superintendent, do in the middle of the year as well as at the end of the school year)
  • Provides superintendent with time to rectify a situation and avoid adverse actions. It improves communication and is an opportunity to open dialogue. The superintendent, in fact, may not know there is an issue.
  • Gives superintendent time to find a new job and provided district with an alternative to firing.
  • It is very difficult to terminate the contract if the district has never done an evaluation.

Other performance contraction information:

  • When setting Supt. contact goals, make sure all the goals are easily obtainable. A district would not want to get into a situation when a good superintendent, for reasons beyond their control, did not meet all the goals and the board be forced to not extend their contract. If a board wishes to give harder to attain goals, make them part of the evaluation, not the contract. The goals should be attainable within one year.

Buyout Clauses

It was the opinion of both Ms. Boucek and Mr. Eisenhammer that buyout clauses are to be avoided; neither side wins nor are they really necessary. Rarely does a buyout clause go smoothly or work out as expected. The panel compared a buyout clause to a "pre-nup" and a termination of contract to a "divorce." It was their opinion that they are often abused and prevent districts from getting the best candidates for the position.

When at the point of termination, let the experts handle it. Allow the attorneys to handle things because they are most familiar with the process. The attorney for the board and the attorney for the superintendent will be able to negotiate through the process without the emotional baggage.

The superintendent's lawyer will try to provide the superintendent with an opportunity to find other employment by getting:

  • A letter of recommendation
  • A point of contact
  • Severance package including health insurance benefits to get them through until able to draw benefits or other employment
  • Confidentiality clause

Liquidated damage clauses were also strongly discouraged by the panel.

Other points:

  • Know what the contact says and make sure both sides comply.
  • Good communication between the superintendent and the board is key to success. Ask questions and know expectations.
  • Work on evaluation tool together and make it part of the contract. Use ISBE tools as base then pick what works best for your district. Make sure to include not only district goals but personal ones as well. Use evaluation process as an opportunity to capitalize on superintendent's strengths. Don't get hung up on the weaknesses.
  • 95% of boards have a contract prepared before the search/interview processes. Most contracts are very similar throughout the state.
  • The district attorney works for the board. The superintendent has an attorney provided through his/her association.

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Discussion of New Superintendent Issues with the IASA Leadership Team

Moderator:
Robert E. Gillum, President, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Superintendent,Ball-Chatham CUSD #5

Presenters:
Sara G. Boucek, Associate Director/Legal Counsel, IASA
Brent Clark, Executive Director, IASA
Diane L. Hendren, Director of Governmental Relations, IASA
Richard J. Voltz. Associate Director of Professional Development, IASA
Tom Leahy, Consultant for Executive Searches, IASB

Reporter:
Rick Johnston, Superintendent, El Paso-Gridley Unit #11

The moderator, Mr. Gillum, began the session with a quick overview of IASA goals and services. He then turned the attention to Mr. Voltz who reviewed the IASA website. He pointed out the "New Superintendent" link off the main page. This link offers resources that include his column posts, podcasting, blogging and even "Gcast"- a free audio broadcasting tool for superintendents. This site is http://www.iasaedu.org/ and then click on "New Superintendents" on the left column.

Discussion revolved around the examples of these tools already in use by superintendents in Illinois. There was some disagreement between IASA officials on the potential negative use by the public who post to blogs. School officials, if they do use this tool, must monitor closely to remove negative posts.

The panel then moved to a various topics of discussion:

1) State Funding- Based on the current environment in Springfield, it was the consensus of the group that we are heading for a year that may rival 1992, the last time that the 23rd and 24th payment was withheld. Superintendents were told that categoricals will probably be cut and the "Hold Harmless" dollars are in jeopardy. (Brent Clark/Diane Hendren)

2) Posting contracts over $25,000 on websites- The law is not clear in this area. It is recommended that a simple statement concerning a) personal services and b) teacher contracts be posted on the district website. Copies of these can be requested through the IASA. (Sara Boucek)

3) Mentoring Superintendents- The mentoring program is a huge success according to the new superintendents in attendance. (Tom Leahy/Richard Voltz/Richard Gillum)

4) 1% Sales Tax- This referendum can be passed for two purposes: a) to eradicate debt and b) build a school. Thus far, only 1 out of every 9-10 districts has passed the referendum. (Brent Clark)

5) Attendance at New Superintendent Meeting's w/IASA- These meetings are vital to the success of the new superintendent. Acquiring knowledge and building a network of resources are two major reasons for attendance. (Richard Voltz)

6) Board Elections- Much discussion revolved around this topic. Suggestions included that the superintendent not be involved politically before the filing date has passed, create a board member candidate orientation program, and when there are not enough candidates the superintendent cannot be the recruiter for the board. This is a board issue. Tom Leahy shared his thoughts on the subject: a) meet individually with all candidates answering their questions honestly, b) provide solid district information to all candidates, and c) investigate the motivation for the candidate to run. (Tom Leahy/Richard Gillum/Sara Boucek)

7) Superintendent Evaluation- These should be completed as early as possible and certainly before any other employee. A suggested guideline would be: January-Superintendent, February-central office and administrators, March-certified staff (Sara Boucek/Brent Clark)

8) Weekly Communication with Board- The superintendent should provide more information to the board than they need. A newsletter was offered as a possible medium. When emailing board members, they should be reminded that this is a one way communication. They should not respond. Board members should never "reply all". The disclaimer for the district should also be placed on the board member's account. A question that must be answered in the new superintendent/board relationship is how do you want me to communicate? How, when, who! Does all communication go through the board president and then filter to the board? It was pointed out by the panel that it is dangerous to communicate to just the board president. (Sara Boucek/Brent Clark/Richard Gillum)

9) Board Attorney's Role- It is important to remember that the school attorney, even though you might develop a good relationship, is the board's attorney. It is essential to determine who in the district can talk to the attorney. Also, it was recommended that the district place their attorney on "retainer". (Sara Boucek)

10) Open Meetings Act- When asked how to handle this delicate situation, especially in small rural districts, the panel shared that there may be times when the superintendent should say "this isn't appropriate" and end the discussion between board members. Due to the "majority of a quorum" rule, it was noted that the Noah's Ark Principle should be applied. Remember that if you get a gut feeling that the situation is wrong—it probably is. (Brent Clark)

11) Public Relations Tool Kit- Through the passworded login on the IASA website, superintendents can download appropriate media responses for the following scenarios: a labor issue, missing money, a death in the school family, board or superintendent has done something inappropriate, and a campus threat. (Brent Clark)

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Real Estate Tax Base Protection

Presenters:
Attorney Walter J Zukowski, James S. Peters, Zukowski Law Offices
Craig Carter, Superintendent, LaSalle-Peru Township High School

Reporter:
Rick Johnston, Superintendent, El Paso-Gridley Unit #11

Mr. Peters began the presentation discussing the assaults on a district's real estate tax base from tax protests to the local Court Board of Review, challenges before the Property Tax Appeal Board, and tax objections brought in Circuit Court. In addition, developers often seek to divert tax revenue through Enterprise Zones and TIF districts. He then shared their strategies to counter these attacks.

His firm belief is that most tax complaints generally come through the assessment component. In order to respond to these situations, it is important to cost out proposals, use effective data collection, build appropriate coalitions, and develop respect for sequencing and timelines. Many times the school district representative can thwart these type of attacks at the initial appeal.

While direct assaults on property valuation must be resisted, many districts find that working in a cooperative rather than oppositional manner with municipalities and private developers with regard to TIF and Enterprise Zones may be most effective. Contrary to the commonly held notion that these funding mechanisms always harm schools, districts may be better off financially, under certain circumstances, by supporting these economic development opportunities. Properly negotiated Intergovernmental Agreements and private agreements may work well for all sides. School districts can also use Impact Fees, Transition Fees and/or Capital Fees to help offset loses with these agreements.

School districts receive notification of property tax objection when a party is seeking to reduce the assessed valuation by an amount exceeding $100,000. How many times does this happen in your district for less than this amount? Superintendents need to be aware of this situation. As districts receive substantial funding from property taxes, it is important to review such complaints and evaluate quickly what action the district should take in opposition.

The process for tax assessment complaints from a school district prospective is:

1) Filing by complainant-Notice by Assessor to District and scheduling of Review Board Hearing

2) Pre-Hearing Investigation-

a. Evaluate complaint using supporting appraisal, income statements, and comparable properties

b. Review property including tax history, Assessment/valuation issues and the position of the County Assessor

c. Communicate with other taxing bodies to share costs of objection and board members

3) Joint Review Board Hearing

a. District must be at the hearing to object

b. The burden of proof is on the complainant on incorrect market value or comparable properties in area

4) Joint Review Board Decision

5) Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB)

a. Party must file within 30 days Notice of JRB decision

b. There must be mutual appeal with county participation and taxing district participation

c. School boards must pass a recommendation in an open meeting to move to PTAB

d. Obtain appraisal

e. At the actual PTAB Hearing, review the owner evidence, present witnesses (appraiser), and cross examine owner witnesses

Superintendent Carter emphasized the importance of remaining focused throughout this process on the mission of the school district: "Quality education for all students". With the uncertainty of state funding and the economy, every dollar matters--so protecting revenue streams is vital. Communication and building relationships with city government and community leaders is so important. Belonging to local service groups including but not limited to the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Lions, etc. allows the district to have a voice in civic matters in general. These groups should "see" you not just when there is a problem. This personalizes the school system.

The district should develop a reputation of action in regard to maintaining revenue streams. This may cost dollars but they are well spent regarding TIF, Enterprise Zones and tax protests.

We all reside in the community and real estate agents traditionally use the school as a reflection of the community. Remember that we all serve the same constituency and we should respect each other's roles. Always work for the best of the community to maintain and establish an attractive/progressive community.

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