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Delegates display passion on issues involving schools, students

School board members are not afraid to speak their minds and can be very passionate about the issues that affect their districts as evidenced in this year's Delegate Assembly at the 77th Joint Annual Conference in Chicago.

A diverse group of 375 school board members ... new board members and veterans ... packed the Hyatt Regency Ballroom Saturday morning, Nov. 21, 2009, for nearly two hours of debate on seven of the 19 issues before the group. And on all but one of the votes, they followed the recommendation of the resolutions committee.

The lone area of dissention with the recommendations came on the issue of standardized tests, where delegates voted down a proposal that would have urged the Illinois State Board of Education to develop a state test based on the Illinois Learning Standards and only test those areas required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

While most seemed to agree that state tests should be aligned with state standards, the disagreement with the proposal centered on changes to the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), which includes the nationally norm-referenced ACT as well as a workplace readiness component, called Work Keys.

Those opposed argued that the ACT allows children who might not otherwise consider college see that they can compete and be successful in higher education. Those in favor argued that state standards need to be improved and that the only reason that many Illinois students appear to be doing well is because the state has lowered its cut scores.

In addition to the question of testing, those who attended the Delegate Assembly found themselves witness to spirited debate over issues such as school employees' ability to strike.

The lengthiest debate involved strengthening the Association's position on the ability of school employees to strike. The amended position changes the language from "support efforts to discourage the ability of public employees to strike" to "strongly seek and support legislation forbidding public school employees from striking."

More than 15 delegates rose to the microphone to join in the free-wheeling but respectful debate.

Those opposing the measure cited strides that have been made in improving relationships and collective bargaining agreements with local unions. They felt the change will be perceived as a slap in the face to teachers and support personnel.

Those in favor cited the inability of police and firefighter unions to strike because of the possible harm to the community, reasoning that keeping children out of school was also harmful for the community.

In other business, the assembly approved a change to IASB's constitution, which elevates the Association's Belief Statements from statements approved only by the resolutions committee to make them subject to a vote by the Delegate Assembly.

Roger Pfister, Carbondale ESD 95, argued that, as currently adopted, the belief statements do not carry the authority or the weight that they would if adopted by the entire membership. In opposition, Michael Kelly, Plainfield CUSD 202, said making the belief statements subject to a Delegate Assembly vote would elevate them to too high a level.

The amendment passed 260 to 106, or with 10 votes more than the needed two-thirds majority.

In other business, the Delegate Assembly made quick work of accepting Association reports, which were distributed in the delegates' packets, and electing new officers.

Joe Alesandrini, a 25-year veteran of the Pekin CHSD 303 board, was elected president of the IASB Board of Directors for 2009-10, and Carolyne D. Books, West Richland CUSD 2 in Noble, was elected vice-president.

Alesandrini thanked the delegation, as well as his board, his superintendent and his family for their support and said the excellent leadership, both from the board and the staff, in the 14 years that he has served on the board of directors makes him feel he is "ready to hit the ground running."

Brooks, who had been singled out by speaker Mark Scharenbroich during the second general session for riding a motorcycle, was greeted with a "wings on the Harley" ovation from one of the delegates as she took the podium to accept her new position.

Each district is allowed one representative to the assembly, which means approximately 44 percent of IASB member districts were represented.

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