James Russell is associate executive director of communications for IASB.
It’s that time of year. No, not graduation time, not the end of the school year, and not the start of school building maintenance and cleaning. The timing we’re speaking of is the June 10 release of instructions and registration forms for the 2013 Joint Annual Conference.
Why is it important to consider this now? After all, conference is still five months away! Districts have just finished with school board elections, seating and orientating new members, and getting them signed up for mandatory training. In addition, financial uncertainties created by the General Assembly has put many districts on guard as they evaluate the potential impact of actual or threatened action.
In these days of tight budgets and increasing demand for accountability, the conference joint sponsors (IASB, IASA and Illinois ASBO) agree that school districts need to be pro-active in documenting professional development experiences and their associated expense. As school boards and administrators weigh the value of the conference, it might be appropriate to review the purpose, benefits and costs, and how to plan for and share the conference experience.
Purpose of the Association, professional development, Joint Annual Conference
The Illinois Association of School Boards is a voluntary organization of local boards of education dedicated to strengthening the Illinois public schools through local citizen control. Although not a part of state government, IASB is organized by member school boards as a private not-for-profit corporation under authority granted by Article 23 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/23-1). The mission of IASB is excellence in local school governance in support of quality public education.
Illinois law now requires school board members to receive mandatory training. 105 ILCS 5/10-16a requires “a minimum of four hours of professional development and leadership training.” 5 ILCS 120/1.05 requires school board members to receive training on the Open Meetings Act.
While there are numerous local or regional training opportunities offered throughout the year, the Joint Annual Conference is the only “one-stop-shopping” opportunity for professional development. The high quality, variety and quantity of training available at this event is unmatched by any other single professional development opportunity.
The Joint Annual Conference offers training specific to the following positions: board members, superintendents, secretaries, school attorneys, school business officials, and teachers. It is also where school board members hold their annual meeting, elect officers, decide the direction of the Association, and vote on legislative positions proposed by local districts.
The annual conference has been held continuously since 1915. For the first 32 years, conferences rotated among Urbana, Springfield and Peoria. The first time it was held in Chicago was Nov. 16-18, 1937, at the Congress Hotel. The lack of sufficient hotel space and convention facilities downstate is the reason the conference moved to and remains in Chicago.
Policy supporting professional development for board members
School boards are encouraged to adopt policies that permit and encourage professional development training. IASB has a sample to support this goal:
IASB sample policy 2:120 states, in part: “The school board desires that its individual members learn, understand and practice effective governance principles. The board is responsible for board member orientation and development. Board members have an equal opportunity to attend state and national meetings designed to familiarize members with public school issues, governance, and legislation.
The board president and/or superintendent shall provide all board members with information regarding pertinent education materials, publications, and notices of training or development.”
During the fall preceding the Joint Annual Conference, school boards are encouraged to draft and adopt a resolution confirming their desire to attend their conference and support of professional development for the board.
Financials put conference expenditures in perspective
What is the district’s entire cost for the Joint Annual Conference? This should include registrations, lodging, meals, transportation, workshop, tour or training options that required fees, books or materials purchased, and other reimbursed expenses. What is the line item in the district budget for board development and the amount appropriated for that expense?
An effective way of reporting this information is by calculating the cost as a percentage of the entire school district budget. Another way to report the cost is to count the number of people who attended at district expense and divide the total cost by this number to determine the per person expense.
Some districts do not take everyone that could attend. It may be helpful to list the persons by position who are eligible to attend. This may include board members, superintendent, central office administrators, building principals, board secretary, school attorney, and others. Some districts save expenses by “rotating” attendance or another method for determining who goes or who doesn’t in a given year. Explaining the savings incurred by this method may help to shift the focus away from a cost-only conversation.
Hotel rates for the Joint Annual Conference are negotiated years in advance in order to obtain maximum discounts. Rates for the participating hotel blocks are announced in June. Districts can ask hotels for their standard room rates and then use the price comparisons to cite the value of conference housing rates.
Some districts, particularly those in closer proximity to the city of Chicago, are used to explaining why hotels are used instead of commuting to the Joint Annual Conference. There are several approaches to justify this expense: comparing the cost of commuting (mileage, parking, trains, etc.) to hotel costs; comparing the time required commuting and events missed as a result of the commute.
Conference registration fees are approved by the IASB Board of Directors. The fee is automatically scheduled to increase by 4 percent annually, rounded off to the nearest $5. (This year’s registration is $390 when paid before the October deadline.) This method assures that inflationary costs can be met without creating year-to-year fluctuating price adjustments. This also enables districts to budget for the fee well in advance of registration.
It may be worth noting that many board members are accompanied by spouses and other family members who are given complimentary registrations, i.e., at no cost to the district.
Listing the individual expenses that are unreimbursed or not turned in may also help show how much of the cost is paid out of pocket. Any expenses that are shared among attendees, e.g., transportation or lodging, may show similar diligence in containing conference costs.
Reporting, sharing, learning with others
Reporting and sharing what each attendee learned or did at the Joint Annual Conference enables board colleagues, district staff, community, and media to understand the quality of the conference experience. With a pro-active strategy, this information can be developed into a comprehensive post-conference report or presentation. Information can be presented individually or as part of a collective conference experience.
Preparing such a report should start by asking each attendee to complete a brief survey of what conference events they attended. Each person should be as specific as possible when identifying the following activities:
• Panel sessions
• General sessions
• Paid workshops for board members
• Seminars for administrators, attorneys
• Secretaries training
• Exhibits visited
• Delegate Assembly
• Paid Chicago Schools tour
• Bookstore purchases
• Hospitality rooms, on or off-site
• Carousel of panels and other roundtables
• Presentations made by the district
• Exhibit of Educational Environments
• Individual or district awards received
These surveys are not intended to substitute for the district report; rather, they should be the starting point for the district report. Ultimately, the information, contacts and materials collected from the individual activities can be sorted to determine what to report, how to report it and with whom. The report may include some or all of the following topics:
• Board member orientation
• School board policies
• Student learning
• Monitoring district performance
• School finance and funding
• Community relations
• Legal compliance
• Best practices
• Governmental relations and legislative issues
• Board-superintendent relations
• Superintendent contract and evaluation
• Collective bargaining
• School environments
• Diversity, generational issues
The audiences for this report will vary, but should include board and staff, the community at large, and the media. How the information is shared depends on who is sharing it and the purpose for sharing it. Some districts dedicate a portion of a post-conference board meeting for a live discussion or presentation. Depending on the interest level or feedback, selected topics might even be developed for additional research or community engagement opportunities.
A brief summary can also be posted on the district website or distributed in the district newsletter. A similar report can be re-formed into a news release for media distribution.
Those districts with regular media contact or coverage may want to enlist one or more attendees to be interviewed. A note of caution: the subject matter should be reviewed thoroughly and facts or figures carefully prepared so that they are not misinterpreted. Handling the interview can be difficult, so it’s best to choose an experienced spokesperson, e.g., superintendent, board president or community relations professional.
Some districts also utilize various social media platforms. While these formats are excellent for delivering quick or timely information; they are highly-interactive and subject to uncontrolled responses. Even the best-intended blog or Facebook posting can invite unintended hostile reactions that can go viral in a hurry. Caution should be exercised when using social media when discussing the conference.
Preparing a timeline for conference attendance
While the timing of this article coincides with the release of conference instructions and registration forms, districts should be actively engaged throughout the year in preparing for it. That way, decisions about attending the conference or appropriating for its associated costs should not come as a surprise.
The following timeline lists the dates of conference announcements and deadlines for specific conference-related activities. The timeline may also be used to trigger open discussion about the available options and what the district plans to do at next year’s conference:
• Requests for proposals (Share the Success panels) are due
• Discuss budget for professional development (including conference expenses) for the next fiscal year
• Information and resolution forms for the Delegate Assembly are mailed
• Information and applications for the Holly Jack (board secretary) Award are posted
• Information and applications for the School Board Governance Recognition Award are mailed
• Registration and housing opens in early June
• Resolutions for the Delegate Assembly are due
• Application information about the Exhibit of Educational Environments (school design awards) is posted
• Application information about the Superintendent of the Year Award is posted
• Registration for pre-conference workshops opens
• Information about IASA and IASBO conference events is posted
• Entries for Exhibit of Educational Environments (school design awards) are due
• Resolutions committee meets, testimony is heard
• Applications for the School Board Governance Recognition Award are due
• Districts adopt conference resolutions
• Conference Preview (descriptions and schedule of all conference events) is posted
• Report to Membership (description of and rationale for all district resolutions) is posted
• Registration for Chicago Schools Tour opens
• Exhibit of Educational Environments (school design) entries are judged and winners announced
• Nominations for Holly Jack (board secretary) Outstanding Service Award are due
• Nominations for Thomas Lay Burroughs (board president) Award are due
• Nominations for Superintendent of the Year Award are due
• Links to online Conference Planner, commuter train schedules , ‑Magnificent Mile Lights Festival are posted
• Sample pre- and post-conference news releases are posted
• Conference opens
• Conference handouts are posted
• Link to conference photo gallery is posted
• Post-conference survey is posted, due
• Request for Proposals (Share the Success panels) application is posted
• Nominations for the Ronald E. Everett (Illinois ASBO) Distinguished Service Award are due (application is posted indefinitely)
News coverage, releases and memos
Sample news releases have been developed by IASB to assist districts that want to pro-actively share what they will do and/or did at the Joint Annual Conference. These links are posted on the Members-Only website, http://members.iasb.com. IASB has also prepared two memos: one that explains the purpose and use of pre- and post-conference news releases is included, and another on how to think about and prepare for optional media interviews.
One final note: The Joint Annual Conference also features a Sunday morning roundtable discussion – “Wrap it Up and Take it Home” – that encourages attendees to review what they did or learned and help them share their conference experience. Districts may want to consider sending a representative to this session.
Registration is now open for the 2013 Joint Annual Conference. For a complete list of links to this year’s event, please visit the IASB website at: https://www.iasb.com/jac13/. See you Nov. 22-24 in Chicago!