ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
A parting view …
Affordability, accessibility key to Association services
by Michael D. Johnson
Editor’s note: In September 2000, Michael D. Johnson became just the fifth full-time executive director in the 98-year history of the Illinois Association of School Boards. He retired from that role in May 2007 but returned in July 2007 as executive director emeritus to focus on the transition to a new executive and to help with fundraising for the Association. He will relinquish that role and end 11-plus years of service with IASB in June 2012.
This is the third of five articles Johnson will write for The Journal, outlining what he and the Association have done and where he believes both are heading. In this issue, Johnson reviews the growth of Association services.
From the moment school board members are elected, they have to be prepared to do the job they were elected to do. There is virtually no lag time between the election and the first vote they take as duly sworn trustees of their school district.
Unless a new board member had previous experience in boardroom governance, protocol and procedure, not to mention a thorough grounding in school law, finance, policy, etc., they will have to learn — a lot and quickly — on the job.
Fortunately for the 1,200 or more new board members who join the ranks of nearly 6,000 elected board members every other year, help is available through a wide variety of resources and services through the Illinois Association of School Boards.
As the primary provider of professional development and materials in Illinois, the Association is constantly reviewing its existing services and deciding who gets what benefits for how much. Sound familiar? It’s the same question board members face as they attempt to clarify the district’s purpose.
Just as boards continually define, articulate and re-define their district ends, the Association staff is continually reviewing all products and services, looking to refine content and delivery and rolling out new initiatives. By anticipating member needs, IASB can reach the greatest number of school boards and school board members, sometimes well before our members even realize the need for the service.
This process takes a lot of time and resources. We must stay on top of the issues, research best practices, train staff on the subject matter, produce supporting materials, market the service, plan and stage events, and then help boards to document their participation and apply those practices in their home districts.
Many of IASB’s products, services and resources are well known. But there are just as many that are not, or that may be used less often or by fewer members. And that’s OK. Illinois is a diverse state, with 851 member districts, ranging in size from 47 to 380,000 students, with budgets ranging from $622,000 to $5.8 billion. We must be prepared to serve each of them.
Although I began this article by addressing new board members, IASB has an equal stake in serving veteran board members, board presidents, board secretaries and superintendents. The Association also works with and supports services provided to school attorneys, school business officials, school administrators, educational administration professors, ROEs, the state board of education, special ed districts, school vendors and others working outside of the central business office.
As you can see, the scope of our services is virtually unlimited. But we are also keenly aware of our limitations. There is just so much time, money and staff to do these things. We also have to deliver services on a cost-recovery basis, i.e., much of the cost is incurred up front, well in advance of delivery or payment.
Services are priced to be affordable for the district and individual board member because we know that many don’t or can’t budget significant dollars for professional development and supplemental services. That’s why it’s important that the Association’s revenues don’t rely entirely on member dues or fees charged for services (see the November-December article for IASB budget information).
So just how much do our members use IASB services and resources?
The Annual Report of Services for Fiscal Year 2011 showed that 3,058 board members attended at least one IASB event. The number who attended three or more was 711. The same report showed that 693 superintendents attended at least one event and 217 attended three or more. Attendance includes participation at workshops, the annual conference, division meetings and other events.
However, many of our services are literally delivered to the district’s doorstep.
Field service directors, for example, facilitated 204 in-district workshops last year, on topics such as team building, goal setting, roles and responsibilities, and superintendent evaluations. Executive searches worked with 38 districts last year facilitating their search for new superintendents. And our Targeting Achievement Through Governance (TAG) staff spent multiple days with 15 districts struggling with AYP targets.
Other Association services are delivered by mail or electronically.
For example, last year 840 districts subscribed to PRESS and/or PRESS Plus. These services to update and maintain board policies do not require staff visits, but are intended to help boards refresh their policies against new legal citations and compliance requirements. While policy subscriptions require additional fees, there are other publications made available as part of the district’s dues.
Every board member and superintendent gets a copy of this magazine, for example, but did you know that the IASB website averages 82,037 page views per month? Last year, IASB also mailed out 2,431 election packets before the election and 1,249 new school board member packets to candidates who were seated in April.
IASB services and resources also come in the form of representation, in the state capitol and at dozens of commissions, task forces and other agencies that regulate and legislate everything — or nearly everything — a district does or is prevented from doing. Last year, IASB lobbyists dispatched 42 timely reports to keep local districts on top of legislative and regulatory proposals. Our governmental relations staff not only attends every day the General Assembly is in session, but it also provides testimony and facts to key House and Senate committees and leadership.
Our general counsel and her staff maintain a vigil on court decisions and regulations that have significant implications for school administrators and policy makers. These reports come in the form of recent court decisions, special guides and publications, columns and response to hundreds of member queries.
This is an impressive array of services for any non-profit organization. I didn’t come close to listing them all, and if you stay in touch with the Association, there will be many more introduced in the coming months and years.
No district or board member can use all of the services IASB offers. We understand that. Our goal is to make members aware of them so that when and if we are needed, you will know where to look or call.
Next: The Board of Directors and Association governance
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Although the IASB Web site strives to provide accurate and authoritative information, the Illinois Association of School Boards does not guarantee or warrantee the accuracy or quality of information contained herein.