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School board delegates to push for continuity in construction grant program, and constitutional revision on state share of school funding

School boards, administrators, business officials met Nov. 17-19 in Chicago for annual conference

The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) has resolved to demand stronger state support for school construction grants and to push for a constitutional amendment to make the state pay most of the cost of school funding. Delegates representing 406 local school boards unanimously adopted resolutions to pursue those aims at this year's largest statewide conference of school leaders on Nov. 18 in Chicago.

The resolution supporting the current school construction grant program insists that school districts that have applied for and qualified for a school construction grant entitlement should not be penalized, passed over or have their grant canceled if or when a new grant program is launched.

Sponsored by Triad C.U. District 2, Troy, the resolution demands that all school districts with an approved school construction grant entitlement shall be paid the amount of the entitlement in its entirety before any new school construction program is implemented.

"The current school construction grant program, in existence (but not always funded) since 1997, has been a very fair, efficient, and effective program for public school districts in Illinois. This program should have continued support by the Association," an IASB resolutions committee rationale states.

Another adopted resolution seeks improvements in constitutional language on school funding and calls for IASB to "support passage of an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would make education a fundamental right." Introduced by Danville CUSD 118, the resolution would "make it a paramount duty for the state to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education." It would also establish that the state has the "preponderant financial responsibility for financing the system of public education."

The Danville district's rationale notes that its aim is passage of an amendment mandating the state to fund education at least at a 50 percent level. The sponsors say the present language regarding education funding in the Illinois Constitution has either been misinterpreted or ignored. As a result, the state provides less than 40 percent of the funds used to pay for the state's system of public education.

Just last year IASB adopted a resolution to actively promote a constitutional convention when the option goes before voters in 2008, as required by the 1970 Illinois Constitution. The question of whether to convene a constitutional convention must go before Illinois voters at least every twenty years, according to terms of the 1970 Constitution. The last such vote was taken in 1988, and the next one will be in 2008 unless state lawmakers set an earlier date.

The decision this year was to push for another solution to the same problem, namely a constitutional amendment on school funding. This was one of the key actions taken by school board representatives at the policy-setting delegate assembly. The 2006 Delegate Assembly was part of the 74th Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. The conference also provides training to school board members through more than 110 expert-led panel presentations on school governance and education­covering labor contracts, finance, school improvement, and many other topics.

The school board delegates also voted to adopt other resolutions on school funding to:

  • Allow school districts that consolidate to use whatever school construction grant index offers the highest payment, thus offering more incentive for consolidation. The proposal aims to allow small communities to have a better chance to build a new high school at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers. The resolution was sponsored by Paris CUSD 4.
  • Change requirements for truth-in-taxation notices published in newspapers to better reflect the actual impact on taxpayers when tax levies are to be increased or decreased. The aim is to better reflect the natural economic appreciation effect of changes in property values when school districts are required to report the percentage of increase or decrease over the previous year's tax levy. The resolution was sponsored by Marion CUSD 2.
  • Encourage lawmakers to study the idea of allowing school districts access to additional methods of raising revenue from both state and local sources, including sales tax revenue. The sponsors said a way must be found to ease property taxes in the near future or schools with serious financial problems could be "turning over their keys" to the state. The resolution was sponsored by East Peoria CHSD 309.
  • Authorize local school boards, when awarding contracts through bids, to favor local contractors whose bids fall within 2 percent of the lowest responsible bidder. The aim is to recognize that local bidders offer many assets to local school districts by paying local taxes, employing local taxpayers, and generally supporting the school district and the community. Supporters said giving such bidders a slight benefit is fair, and it is not unprecedented for the state to make such exceptions, particularly in the preference granted to minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses in the bidding process. It was sponsored by Pekin CHSD 303.
  • Authorize local school boards to determine whether a teacher may exercise the Early Retirement Option (ERO) with the Teachers Retirement System. Supporters said giving the school district such authority is justified because when an employee takes the ERO there is a substantial and immediate cost to the school district. In addition, a district may be required to pay for ERO for a teacher in a shortage area of staffing whose retirement is not in the district's best interests. The resolution was sponsored by Jasper County CUSD 1.
  • Seeks federal help to correct for a key conflict between the federal No Child Left Behind laws and the law on special education. IASB delegates resolved to call on the federal education agency to clarify the assessment rules under NCLB to allow for out-of-grade level assessments to evaluate students whose Individualized Education Plan (IEP) calls for such testing. Sponsors said a student would not be in need of an IEP if he or she was meeting the usual grade-level goals for students of his or her chronological age. Yet NCLB typically expects IEP students to perform on the NCLB assessment targeted for the student's chronological age, all but guaranteeing failure. The resolution was sponsored by Indian Prairie CUSD 204.

School board delegates chose not to support a number of other ideas, including resolutions that would have pushed for legislation to:

  • Compensate school board members on a per-meeting rate to offset common expenses. An IASB committee raised concerns about what kind of message that would send, and whether it might even undermine the credibility of volunteer school board members. The resolution was sponsored by Genoa-Kingston CUSD 424.
  • Promote the consolidation of all Illinois school districts into unit districts. Concerns about forcing school consolidation against the wishes of local schools leaders and citizens apparently doomed the proposal. The resolution was sponsored by Barrington CUSD 220.
  • Allow non-resident students to be charged tuition when appropriate. There was concern about the flexibility in the proposal, and about uniformity of tuition charges from one district to the next. The resolution was sponsored by Freeburg CCSD 70.
  • Authorize school districts to include any part of a state exam as part of its graduation requirements. Concerns were raised about using just one high-stakes test to judge student growth. The resolution was sponsored by East Peoria CHSD 309.
  • Require Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts and enterprise zones to continue to pay school-related taxes. Some said it would be better to reaffirm IASB's existing positions opposing any erosion of the property tax base and supporting basic changes in the TIF law. This resolution was sponsored by East Peoria CHSD 309.

More than 400 Illinois school board members voted on these and other resolutions in setting policy direction for IASB for the coming year.

IASB is a voluntary association of school boards that trains, informs and advises its members on governing schools and represents their views before the legislature.

IASB officers elected
IASB Delegate Assembly voting also included re-election of the following IASB officers for the coming year.

Marie Slater was elected for a second one-year term as president of the Illinois Association of School Boards. She has served on the Wheaton Warrenville CUSD 200 Board of Education since 1986. She has been a member of the IASB Board of Directors since 1994, at various times serving on the Nominating, Audit, Ends, Ad Hoc, and Executive Director Search committees. She has also served as a co-chair of the Joint Annual Conference Committee. Slater was the resolutions committee chair for the 2004 and 2005 IASB Delegate Assembly. Before being elected president of IASB she served two terms as vice president.

Mark C. Metzger was elected as vice president of IASB for a one-year term. He has been a member of the Indian Prairie CUSD 204 Board of Education since 1991. He has served as President, Secretary and Committee Chair of every committee of his local board. Metzger previously served on the IASB Nominating Committee and as an Alternate Delegate to the 2004 NSBA Delegate Assembly. He also chaired the resolutions committee for IASB's 2006 Delegate Assembly. He is frequently an invited adjunct presenter at IASB workshops.

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