What’s Next?

Leadership Letter by Thomas E. Bertrand

The IASB Digest of Bills and the massive fall issue of PRESS sample policies serve as a reminder of how the work of the 2019 Spring Session General Assembly impacted Illinois’ public schools. This issue of the Journal includes an article by Tony Sanders that illustrates the complexity school officials face when implementing new laws — in this case related to the use of recreational marijuana.

So what lies ahead for schools as we prepare for the 2020 Spring Session of the 101st General Assembly?

In November 2020, voters will decide on the fate of a constitutional amendment to impose a graduated state income tax. One can expect a rigorous campaign by opponents and proponents of this issue. This issue is also intertwined with the work of the Property Tax Relief Task Force. The Task Force is charged with making a recommendation to the General Assembly by December 31, 2019. It is plausible that proponents of the graduated income tax will want to provide property tax relief to voters before November, particularly since many members of the General Assembly will also be campaigning for office.

School consolidation will continue to be a front-burner issue for the General Assembly. While there is no evidence that school district consolidation saves money, the issue continues to surface, often under the guise of reducing administrative costs. IASB maintains the position that decisions about school consolidation must be made locally, because the consequences of merging districts are far-reaching for the students and the entire community.

Also looming large is the state’s long-standing issue of a pension system that is inadequately funded to fulfill long term obligations. Each legislative session brings with it the possibility of a pension “cost shift” to local school districts.

The 2019 session produced a number of new mandates for school districts. With an election in November, expect the 2020 Spring Session to produce more bills with mandates.

While the Spring 2019 General Assembly produced a high volume of laws that impact school districts, large issues remain. It will be important that school board members stay connected and get involved. Make sure that your voices are heard. IASB staff will represent you, but it is critical that you tell your story. Your school board represents the local tax-payers and is accountable for the decisions it makes on behalf of the students of the community.

On behalf of the two million children in Illinois’ public schools, thank you for answering the call to board service.

Thomas E. Bertrand, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.