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Panel Report of the 2011 Joint Annual Conference

As it has for the past several years, IASB has posted selected panel reports that make up the Panel Reports of the Joint Annual Conference. The aim is to make some of the most vital information presented at the conference available to a wider audience of school board members and administrators.

With more than 100 panel sessions scheduled at the conference each year, no individual can hope to attend all of them. In navigating this document, you will be able to click on any of the panel titles to read the contents of the report on that particular session or you can simply scroll down to read all of the reports.

Among the reporters who drafted these session summaries were conference "interns," comprised of education administration students from several Illinois university graduate programs. Each intern was assigned to cover a panel selected for its lasting value to school leaders. Other reports have been prepared by members of the IASB communications staff.

The panels chosen were among those presented as part of the Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. The annual conference is the state's largest annual meeting of public school leaders. It features speakers, panel presentations, exhibits and informal discussions about a wide array of school leadership topics. The 2011 conference was held Nov. 18-20 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Towers and Hotel, and the Swissotel, and attracted more than 10,000 school board members, administrators, exhibitors, school attorneys, and guests.

Aspiring Superintendents

The Basics of School District Finance

Charting the Path— A Community Brings the Future to Life

Collaborative Bargaining— An Effective Resource for Education Reform

Data Monitoring of Board-Approved Goals

A District's Journey—From Libraries to Media Centers

Executive Searches Process

Implications of Pension Reform

Legally Stumped

Legislative Hot Topics in Education

Maintaining a Healthy Board-Superintendent Marriage!

Media Relations—Working Through Our Problems

Portraits of Change in School District Reorganization

Sage Rules for a Spicy Subject: Schools and Social Media Use

Setting District Goals and Direction

Superintendent Employment Contract

Aspiring Superintendents

Donna Johnson, director, Executive Searches, IASB
Tom Leahy, consultant, Executive Searches, IASB
Rich Voltz, associate director, professional development and induction/mentoring, IASA

Michael Williams, assistant principal, Wredling Middle School, St Charles D303

Donna Johnson spoke at this Sunday morning roundtable about the role the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) plays in the superintendent search. First, IASB is hired by the individual board of education to match the candidate to the district. This is a mutual process by which the applicants are presented as candidates.

The board of education must clearly define what type of leader they are looking for in their search. IASB provides services such as community and staff surveys that try to match the desire of all stakeholders to the seven board members. Once a clear qualifications and characteristic vision is scripted, the superintendent position is posted for potential candidates to respond.

This is the opportunity, Johnson encouraged, for potential candidates to review carefully the qualifications and characteristics and attempt to read between the lines. The board of education crafts the qualifications and characteristics to appeal to certain candidates. For instance, if the district is struggling financially, the board will emphasize the need for candidates to have a strong financial background to provide leadership in collective bargaining, levy and possible referendum campaigns.

Tom Leahy discussed the online application process, which is the first impression candidates make to search executives and to board members. IASB is new to the online process, so they are still trying to work out the technical difficulties some candidate’s experience. He encouraged aspiring superintendents to personalize their application to each district they apply.

An introductory letter should address how the candidate’s background and experiences match the districts need. The letter of introduction should go into detail how the candidates can help lead the district in a particular area of focus. The letter should also be read by several different people to ensure proper grammar and spelling.

Leahy noted that IASB search consultants have received applications that have even spelled the word ‘superintendent’ incorrectly. That is one way to not even make it through the initial application screening, he said.

Leahy also encouraged all candidates to fill out the entire application. If a portion of the application is left blank, the candidate will be nullified in the screening process. Letters of recommendation and transcripts are uploaded to the system along with the application.

Rich Voltz talked about the mentorship of superintendents once they obtain a position. He indicated the knowledge level for superintendents is broadening as education progresses. It is assumed the candidate has a financial understanding, but should be more of a leader in building teacher capacity, instructional leadership and student accountability.

The age of accountability has placed a higher importance on learning leadership and the potential superintendent better be an actual leader and be able to show examples of that leadership through past experiences.

Voltz encouraged the aspiring leaders to soul search their career paths, because getting the second or third superintendent position is much more difficult than obtaining the first position.

The second or third superintendent position involves a metaphorical divorce in a sense from the previous district. It is a precarious position a superintendent is in because they have to say to the board, “I am going to look around for other jobs, but if nothing comes to fruition I will be back.” The trust and long term planning will be undermined as the relation is reinstituted.  

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The Basics of School District Finance

Dean Langdon , director Field Services, IASB
Tom Leahy , consultant, Executive Searches, IASB

Bob Klingborg, director, Western Area Career Systems 265, Western Illinois University Intern

The Basics of School Finance was an all-day workshop covering basic knowledge board members typically need for informed decision making in the area of school finance. Topics covered included:

  • Budgeting
  • Revenue
  • Expenditure
  • Borrowing and investing
  • Internal controls and district audits
  • Monitoring and communicating the districts’ fiscal health
  • Important finance policies
  • Fiscal responsibilities

The presenters provided printed copies of the PowerPoint and The Essentials of Illinois School Finance. This is a great nuts and bolts book by James Fritts. Also, a participant manual was provided. This manual had samples of budgets, levies, reports and salary schedules, as well as a glossary for financial terms.

The areas of special note during the day were:

  • Role of the school board
  • Board Policy
  • Budget Calendar
  • Property Tax Cycle
  • Financial Reports

Role of the School Board

The board’s role in finance is to:

  • Set clear expectations
  • Establish priorities
  • Establish policies
  • Hold superintendent accountable for budget

Board policy

  • Legal implications
  • Ethical implications
  • Guide finance decisions
  • Communication tool to administration and staff

It is essential to have a constructive and cooperative board/superintendent relationship.

Budget Calendar

  • Projected enrollments
  • Estimated revenue and expenditures
  • Staffing needs
  • Public hearing

The budget is a year-long process and is open to the public. Both panelists said that superintendents and board members need to be prepared to answer questions concerning neighbors’ property taxes.

Financial Reports

  • Functions and objects
  • Deficit vs. debt
  • Schools are not a profit driven business
  • Budget summary

Board members need enough knowledge to understand IPAM, how to read a summary and understand there are valid reasons for deficit spending.

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Charting the Path — A Community Brings the Future to Life

Steven Adams, board member, Des Plaines CCSD 62
Brenda Murphy, board president, Des Plaines CCSD 62
Jane Westerhold, superintendent, Des Plaines CCSD 62
Bradley Paulsen, vice president, PK-12 Education Practice Leader, Wight & Company

Jennifer Nelson, director, Information Services, IASB

Des Plaines CCSD 62 has 11 school buildings and one early-learning center with approximately 4,800 students. This session on Saturday afternoon focused on how the district transformed itself from program cuts and cost containment measures to a high-achieving financially solvent district.

In 2005, the district passed a 50-cent rate increase to help pay down the $1.1 million deficit for programs and to make the district more solvent. Because all the buildings in the district required some updating/modifications, the board decided to start exploring changes through a feasibility study. It recommended a complete learning analysis of all the buildings, which includes both examining the physical spaces as well as how each building supported programs.  

The board also decided that they wanted to involve the community in whatever decisions were made. A steering committee of the community and administrators was created to make recommendations to the board about aligning educational program goals and school facility needs.

This steering committee then further created three sub-committees to focus on the public engagement process and get feedback, the physical problems with the building, and programs and services that are needed.

Each sub-committee recommended its top priorities and all the recommendations were blended to create a list of education priorities to be addressed by a district-wide facilities plan.

Major hurdles included turnout at community meetings, the time involved, and the trust involved between the district leadership and the community.

Lessons learned through the process included learning to design a process that fits the community, making sure to involve the board of education in all steps and, most importantly, to be flexible enough to adjust plans according to community wishes.  

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Collaborative Bargaining: An Effective Resource for Education Reform

Thomas K. Jeffery, commissioner
Chuck Evans, commissioner of Mediation, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

Ryan McWilliams, principal, Manhattan School District 114

The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service was formed based on the written language and results of the Taft-Harley Act of 1947. Its basic mission is to assist both parties to come to a resolution with negotiations, according to the Hinsdale-based commissioners who presented at this Saturday afternoon panel. FMCS is the only neutral agency of the federal government and has 165 mediators and 68 offices nationwide.

In Illinois, 11 mediators and three offices assist with both the public and private sectors. FMCS is supported by local taxes dollars and its services typically have no fees. The tax dollars generated to support this service are spent to manage (40%) and carry out the labor (60%) operations of mediation.

The FMCS has three primary services with collective bargaining being the most popular and main means of service. Other services include relationship development training and grievance mediation.

Concerning school boards and the collective bargaining units, the request for service is by mutual agreement after a recognized impasse is reached where neither side is willing to budge. What makes this service attractive, they said, is that “we don’t know any specifics on the issues both sides can’t come to a resolution on.”

The service is neutral and knows little about the history of the district and its negotiating past. Typical areas to mediate are curriculum changes, length of day, benefits and salary to name.  

Traditional bargaining has its advantages and disadvantages during the negotiation process. Interest-Based Modified Traditional Bargaining (IBB) uses a collaborative approach to gain trust and honesty in the negotiation process. This form of bargaining allows for transparency, provides flexibility to use multiple modes of negotiation, tries to identify mutual interests as well as separate interests, and in the end develops options that hopefully both parties can agree upon.

Thomas Jeffery said transparency is key to determine whether IBB is right for a district. “If you can’t be transparent, you aren’t ready for IBB,” he said.

This could be the first question asked of both sides to determine the road to reach agreement. This process opens the door for transparency down the road and becomes a part of the culture.

An interesting detail to the IBB process was the brainstorming where all parties gather and generate new, creative ideas and more options, which in the end develops better relationships. The process calls for effective communication and open discussion to build consensus on what is best for both parties.

For school districts interested in this process, the agency offers 1½ days of training to groups to focus on issues, share interests in a transparent manner, generate options, discuss maturely and reach decisions.

The drawback to IBB is that it involves more time, encourages transparency, reduces the number of exchanges or volleys with a particular issue, and reduces destructive tactics by one side or the other.

It is expected if parties engage in this type of bargaining that they cooperate, give 100% effort, and be open to enhancing a relationship with the people on the other side of the table. Drawbacks may include damaged relationships should the IBB process fail and failure to continue transparency down the road resulting in trust issues.

To conclude, the presenters emphasized as with any negotiation strategy that economics are sometimes the most difficult and sensitive to resolve.

Because there may be more than one economic issue, there could be multiple ways to address them. It’s difficult to create best scenarios that both sides can live with and won’t be hurt by the outcome.

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Data Monitoring of Board-Approved Goals

Amy Kerber, board vice president
Tony Sanders, chief of staff, communications & public accountability
Jose Torres, superintendent, SD U-46, Elgin

Michael Williams, assistant principal, Wredling Middle School, St Charles D303

Jose Torres came to the board of education in 2009 to propose a unifying standard around which all stakeholders can rally. That resulted in “Destination 2015,” a plan to make the superintendent’s goals broad and all-inclusive to the U-46 community.

Destination 2015, as reported in this Saturday afternoon panel session, has 13 targets that contain five overarching categories:

  • Student readiness
  • Advanced Placement classes
  • Attendance and dropout rates
  • Employee/family engagement ratings
  • Monitoring district fund balances

Student readiness category begins with first graders. The district wants 98% of all first graders ready at grade level by 2015. This benchmark takes into account the performance of all first graders.

The assessment the district uses to measure the readiness is Fountas and Pinnel. The readiness benchmark the district wants to measure includes the 3 rd, 6 th, 8 th and 12 th graders. The 3 rd and 6 th graders are measured through the Measured of Academic Progress assessment. The assessment is given to students multiple times throughout the year to provide sequential growth.

The 8 th and 12 th graders are measured through the College Board assessment system of EXPLORE and ACT. The results are provided to the district and the parents to allow the students to be measure on the readiness scale.

The board and superintendent looked at the Advanced Placement classes to determine a way to measure participation. They decided to measure the number of students taking AP courses and to measure how many students score a “3” or better on the exam. The mark of a “3” allows most students to receive credit at most colleges throughout the United States. The projection is the attempt to maintain the percentage of students scoring a “3” or higher while increasing the number of students taking AP classes.

District U-46 is also attempting to close the achievement gap between students of color with all other students. The gap on the ACT exam in 2008 was 4.2 with a target gap of 2.1 by 2015. The district provides the high school with professional development to assist teachers in ways to help all students reach their potentials.

Attendance and dropout rates are also important for the community to monitor. The district has set a 98% attendance and a 1% dropout rate by 2015. The district encourages all parents to have their child attend all classes. They say to the parents that even skipping one class occasionally can drastically lower grades. They also encourage parents to not go on vacation or extended family visits during the school year.

To help with the dropout rate, the district provides assistance with various social-emotional needs students have as they progress through the system.

The two last categories review how teachers, families and financial departments are engaged in the education of all students. Satisfaction and the level of the fund balance are indicators used in Destination 2015.

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A District’s Journey: From Libraries to Media Centers

Gary Peck, Superintendent, Will County District 92 ( Lockport)
Debbie Cosgrove, Assistant Superintendent, Will County District 92 ( Lockport)

Lynn Jankowski, library media specialist, Oak Prairie Junior High School
Mary Creek, library media specialist, Ludwig School
Amy Rusick, library media specialist, Reed School
Emily Wedewer, library media specialist, Walsh School, Will County District 92 ( Lockport)

Jennifer Nelson, director, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

Will County District 92 in Lockport consists of four buildings (K-1, 2-3, 4-5 and 6-8) with approximately 1,700 students. Each building had a library staffed by paraprofessionals.  

The board, in conjunction with each building’s administrative team and the librarians, laid out a four-step plan to move to media centers from libraries:

  • Envisioning
  • Research and preparation
  • Transformation
  • Implementation

In the envisioning stage, the administrative team asked the question: How can we engage 21 st century students in teaching and learning?

In the research and preparation stage, they learned what current research says about the development of library media centers. Was it possible to “grow their own” library media specialist? What were the budgetary constraints for each project?

In the transformation stage, decisions were made about what the space should look like physically and what technology and print needs existed.

During implementation, the role of the library media specialist in the school-centered staff development team of each building was examined as well as the actual construction.

Each building library media specialist then walked the attendees through this four step plan for their own building.They all stressed that it takes time to create a library media center. It doesn’t occur overnight but with the board and administration’s cooperation, it can create a wonderful new learning environment for the students.

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Executive Searches Process

Dawn Miller, Consultant
Donna Johnson, Director
Dave Love, Consultant
Tom Leahy, Consultant, Executive Searches, llinois Association of School Boards

Bob Klingborg , Director, Western Area Career Systems #265, Western Illinois University Intern

This presentation Saturday morning offered basic knowledge to board members who may be searching for a superintendent in the near future. Topics covered included:

  • District purpose
  • Community involvement
  • It is the board’s search
  • Steps in the hiring process

IASB’s Executive Searches will assist boards in many levels. The first step is to determine what qualities the board seeks in its superintendent. Executive Searches will offer a bank of questions or let the board design their own.

It was stressed to make the hiring process open. Get staff involved. Prepare surveys for the community, with possible assistance from Executive Searches. Ultimately the responsibility of selecting the superintendent that fits the district lies with the board.

The presenters let participants decide for themselves if they want to use a search firm or go on their own. Board members were given the potential pitfalls.

Two board members described their experiences in hiring a new superintendent. One talked about the inability of the board being able to work together. The other talked about acclimating the superintendent’s family to the community as well as the importance of hiring early. The latter allows the district that the candidate is leaving enough time to hire a quality replacement.

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Implications of Pension Reform

Thomas Bertrand, superintendent, Rochester C.U. District 3A

Brent Clark, executive director, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Eric Madiar, chief legal counsel, Office of the Senate President, Springfield
Elaine Nekritz, state representative, District 57, Des Plaines
Nick Yelverton, legislative director, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Springfield

Michele Lindenmeyer, assistant regional superintendent, ROE 11, Charleston

Pension reform legislation must be constitutional, sustainable and fair. Four panelists with differing stakes in pension reform, as well as distinctive perspectives on this controversial issue, discussed at length challenges and goals of this legislation. David Vaught, Governor Quinn’s budget chief also was present.

Brent Clark led opening comments at the Saturday afternoon panel session focusing on three key concerns for pension reform. He said whatever is decided on needs to be sustainable, the reform must be constitutional, and that SB 512 says that the TRS contribution is going to go from 9.4% to 13.77% and then raise another 2% for a total contribution of 15.77%.

Nick Yelverton, who worked at TRS for three years, stated we should all be concerned with “What does proposed pension reform do to and for you?” Prior legislation stated that funding of pensions must be at the 90% level by 2045. This goal has become unrealistic, 90% because of returns on investments, and 10% due to benefits that were promised.

He said $84 billion is the value of unfunded liability in the five state pension systems. Estimates state the $34 billion would be the cost of the second amendment to SB 512 to the TRS system itself.

Eric Madiar brought to light a 76-page legal analysis on findings through his office’s study of SB 512. Madiar’s findings said Illinois has the largest unfunded pension obligations of any state in the nation. These unfunded liabilities are not the fault of public employees, but are a result of Illinois’ decades-long failure to make its required contributions to the five pension systems. A debate hinges on whether the General Assembly can cut the pension benefits promised to current employees without violating the 1970 Illinois Constitution’s Pension Clause.

Madiar also said any solution seeking to shrink the state’s existing pension liabilities must derive from either paying the outstanding liabilities or reducing benefits to current employees. Welching is not a legal option available, he said. Illinois cannot rely on law for a known problem that they created.

The Honorable Elaine Nekritz is the House chair of the personnel and pension committee.   She said the state is in a fiscal crisis in which the only way to get out of it is budget cuts, tax increases and reforms. Next year an additional $1 billion is going to be needed for pension payments.

In her opinion, education is going to have to take another cut if the state is going to move forward in making it’s payments to the pension systems. Nekritz said the state is going to have to find a mechanism to make this happen.

Yelverton said the problem is not benefits, it is funding. Blaming benefits or reducing them is not fair to contributors. Madiar’s response was that SB 512 is grossly flawed from a constitutional standpoint and employees cannot legally be asked to pay more for the same benefits.

“You can’t promise to do something you were already required to do,” he said.

When panelists were asked what sustainable and fair would look like, their responses were varied.

Nekritz said it may be demanded that the state makes that payment once it is decided what a sustainable payment is. Yelverton added that SB 512 should include language describing a consequence for the state not making its mandated payments. Clark added that cutting people’s benefits does not help the overall state economy and that reform shouldn’t shift the burden of increased contributions to employers.

Technical and specific questions asked by audience members were hypothetical scenarios that no panel member had definite answers to. This panel served as an opportunity to state the facts of the controversy, explore challenges in its implementation, and discuss scenarios or consequences that perhaps had not been considered when this legislation was drafted.

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Legally Stumped

Heather Brickman
Stanley Eisenhammer
Stephanie Jones
Robert Swain , attorneys, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP, Members, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

Jennifer Nelson , director, Information Services, IASB

Attorneys from the law firm of Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn took hypothetical questions from school board members and administrators at this informal coffee and conversation session on Sunday morning.

It was noted that answers were given for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.   Districts are advised to consult their own attorney for further clarification.

Question: The board policy says the district’s attorney can only be contacted by the board president and the superintendent. What should other board members do if they want to consult the attorney?

Answer: Other board members who want to consult the district’s attorney should go through the superintendent. If that individual is not getting answers to questions, members should find out why the question isn’t getting passed along. Just because members are in the minority doesn’t meet they shouldn’t get answers to their questions.  

Question: Is it legal for school board members to serve on other elected boards?

Answer: It depends. School board members are restricted from serving on two or more boards if the offices are incompatible. Offices are incompatible for one of two reasons: one, if Illinois state statute specifically says the offices are incompatible or two, if the two boards need to do business/have financial interaction with each other.   The Illinois Council of School Attorneys created an FAQ on this subject on the IASB website at:

Question: The board has lost confidence in the current board president. Can they re-elect the position?

Answer: There is nothing in the Illinois School Code to prohibit this. A board should hold a no-confidence vote if the majority of the board wants to change the structure.

Question: Is it legal to vote by e-mail?

Answer: No. It violates the Open Meetings Act to conduct business by e-mail.

Question: Explain the new Reduction in Force rules now that it has been expanded to four rankings.

Answer: As of September 1, 2012, teacher evaluations need to fall into one of four categories: Excellent, Proficient, Needs Improvement and Unsatisfactory. Reduction in Force (RIF) will be based on those rankings. Teachers ranking “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” would be the first to be laid off and will not have recall rights.

Question: Should those new teacher evaluations be incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement?

Answer: No. The procedures for those evaluations (how many, timelines, etc.) can be in the CBA but the actual evaluation should not be in the contract. It should be developed in conjunction with the teachers but not bargain-able.

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Legislative Hot Topics in Education

Ben Schwarm, associate executive director, Governmental Relations, IASB

Sen.Susan Garrett, Illinois State Senate, District 29, Lake Forest
Sen. David Luechtefeld, Illinois State Senate, District 58, Okawville
Rep. Roger Eddy , Illinois House of Representatives, District 109, Hutsonville
Sheila Simon, Illinois lieutenant governor, Springfield

Gary Adkins, director of editorial services, IASB

Panelists at this Friday afternoon panel provided behind-the-scenes information about the 2011 Illinois legislative sessions and their expectations for 2012. They all agreed that the General Assembly had just tackled, to various degrees, a number of major issues that have been looming over the state for years, such as education reform, pension reform, district consolidation and budgetary concerns. The experts explained how these huge issues were dealt with and how much still remains to be done in each area.

Sen. Garrett discussed the challenging times facing schools and lawmakers, particularly with regard to budget issues and pension funding challenges. On the latter issue, Garrett admitted, “we can’t really get agreement; we haven’t struck the right chord with everyone.”  

Sen. Garrett also discussed the school consolidation issue, which lawmakers were asked by the governor to consider in 2011.

“Since I’ve been I office, we’ve never been able to get agreement,” on this, she said, particularly how to make major changes to improve consolidation laws without costing the state more money. But she did point to one new bill on a related subject that asks school districts to share costs where possible. For instance, in the hiring of accountants, purchasing school supplies, and so forth. “We’ll see if that will bring about some savings,” she said.

Sen. Luechtefeld discussed his background as an educator, noting that he had worked for 38 years at the high school in Okawville, both as a teacher and coach. “The number one thing I say to other legislators, especially in our [party] caucus, is that education is not really broken. Number two, schools have enough to do. There is only so much time in the day.”

So he said he always urges that lawmakers should avoid burdening the schools further. He also noted that the percentage of students who come to school with a bad attitude is getting higher and higher: “We really have to deal with what we have,” Luechtefeld said, and thus the burden on educators is rising.

Sen. Luechtefeld encouraged school leaders to get involved in grassroots efforts to improve laws concerning schools as key issues arise. He mentioned the example of the 2011 education reform legislation contained in SB 7. He said the new law represents progress, “but all groups need to realize ‘there are going to be changes [made to it] and I had better be at the table or I won’t get done what is needed.’”

On getting involved, he also gave the example of reforming the state pension system for teachers. He said the present system “is in real trouble” and noted that “it could go bankrupt if changes aren’t made.” But he predicted that the pension system will be reformed very soon and “everybody will be involved.” He added, “ It’s gonna happen, so you’d better get on board.”

Rep. Eddy,who is also the district superintendent in Hutsonville CUSD 1, warnedthe audience that the state’s budget shortfall “will get much worse before it gets better.” He said that using the same approach to budgeting as was used last year will mean a $200 million cut to education funding for the fiscal year ahead. And he said lawmakers had just learned that the cost of state pension payments for next year is going to be $1 billion higher than had been anticipated. He said he expects even deeper cuts will be necessary as a result of this new pension expenditure.

Rep. Eddy also discussed the sweeping school reform legislation adopted during 2011 in SB 7, noting that it attempts “to use our product — student performance — to impact compensation for teachers … . If we can train people correctly to do evaluations, we can impact student performance in a positive way,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Simon talked about the legislative commission she heads on school consolidation, noting that she volunteered to help shape the conversation on that important topic. She noted that the plan is to conduct a statewide survey to gather ideas and then divided the commission into study groups to set an agenda.

The aim, she said, is to make certain that students have opportunity to get a good education everywhere, but to spend money wisely and efficiently. “Where there are efficiencies to be gained, we want to look into that, but make sure the state does not get in the way.”

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Maintaining a Healthy Board-Superintendent Marriage!

Jeffery Cohn, director, Field Services, IASB

Kathryn Robbins, superintendent
Greg Ignoffo, president
Jack Tobin, board member, Leyden CSHD 212
Art Fessler, superintendent
Joe Sorrentino, board member
Richard Mason, board member, Oak Lawn-Hometown SD 123

Ryan McWilliams, principal, Manhattan School District 114

Leyden High School District 212 and Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123 take great pride in the relationships established between their superintendent and board of education. They cited in this Saturday afternoon panel session several key elements to establishing and maintaining a healthy marriage of these two offices:

  • clarity of expectations
  • trust
  • information sharing
  • teamwork
  • dialogue
  • practicing continuous improvement
  • respect

Combinations of these characteristics, without the absence of any one of them, are the building blocks for the success of a long-term relationship.

It is especially important to recognize the role trust and communication play in the development of a strong, positive relationship between the board and the superintendent. While the characteristics mentioned above are important in any day and age, they are exceptionally important in today’s elements with economic recession, education reforms, low public support and perception of public education, and the seismic demographic shifts in communities taking place.

The bond between these eight people is one relationship that must be supportive and trusted if positive progress is going to be made over time. Ground rules must be established for both parties and neither should be surprised with events that take place within the district.

The superintendent must keep the board informed and vice versa. Behavior must be proactive and the level of communication must be inclusive as well as transparent. If one board member is supplied an answer to a question from the superintendent, they all should be supplied the answer to the question.

Operating with transparency leaves little to question. One approach to create and develop transparency with the public is to establish “Committee of the Whole” working sessions. This level of work involves conversation and dialogue on issues without action taking place. This approach allows the community to partake in conversation with the board of education, superintendent and other administration present. It is a less formal approach than during “Visitors to be Heard” at the monthly/bi-monthly board meeting.

As a follow up to the conversation, as well as the formal board meeting, e-mail blasts and newsletters to the public can be implemented to keep the community informed.  

The board of education serves a vital role for the school community. It is responsible for creating the vision and mission for the district, employing the superintendent, and delegating its authority to that superintendent. Their active role is from the balcony, so to speak, while the administrative team carries out the mission on the dance floor.

The board of education, in conjunction with the administrative team, should establish long-term and short-term goals, communicate with the public, evaluate the follow through of the goals, and self-evaluate its own performance.   The approach to school business should be respectful, professional and as a team. Disrespect is destructive, thus it is imperative the board work as a united front.  

In short, the board is the “what” where the administration is the “how.” The average term a person serves on the board of education is 5.1 years while the average number of years of service for a superintendent is 3.6 years in Illinois and only 2.5 years nationally.

These numbers suggest that a board member may be around longer than a superintendent. However the school district itself will ultimately outlast both. Because divorce is imminent, the establishment of the “what,” the mission, is important. This drives everything regardless of who is carrying out the “how.”

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Media Relations: Working through our Problems

Mindy Ward, director, Community Relations, Des Plains CCSD 62
Jay Wojcik, director of communications, Lombard SD 44
Linda Dawson, director, Editorial Services, IASB

Linda Dawson, director, Editorial Services, IASB

Many of those who attended this Sunday morning roundtable were from smaller districts that get little or no media coverage of their schools or their meetings. Another area of interest was how to handle negative publicity and get out the positive messages.

The days are past when school districts had to depend on tradition media to reach their parents and community members. Districts can post stories on their websites, use social media or even their automated call systems to reach people with their message. Using a call system lets people get the message directly from the district and it will say exactly what you want said.

Whoever handles such communication should remember to keep sound bites short. Don’t make the message so long that people don’t want to listen, or so often that they don’t believe what they’re hearing is important.

Local cable channels in some communities may offer a way to get video messages out. Or the district can e-mail teachers to ask them to help get the message out. That also served to make them feel that they’re at the top of the information chain.

For local radio stations, send out a small snippet of audio file. Many small-market stations will use them as they arrive.

One question: “How can the district control when the information is used?” A superintendent had given an interview to a reporter regarding consolidation with another district and said, “We have other things and are not considering it at this time.” The reporter waited weeks before publishing any about the interview, and by that time it didn’t make sense because circumstances had changed.

Unfortunately, that was bad form on the part of the reporter who should have called to update the information. Once the district sees the bad information, it needs to contact that reporter and offer an update. If this doesn’t get used, then it’s time to contact her editor, or the next higher up person at the media outlet.

Discussion also followed regarding anonymous comments to newspaper stories and anonymous bloggers. While some newspapers now require that people register their name to comment on stories, others do not. If misinformation is posted, contact the newspaper to see if it can be removed.

One alternative is to use a “hot line” number so that people can call in with questions. They can leave their questions on an answering machine and the calls can be returned later.

Those attending were split as to whether board members should have their own e-mail addresses and receive such correspondence from constituents.

Some reported blast e-mails to board members. One suggestion was to have a “contact the board” link on the district website so that all e-mail correspondence funnels through a communications director or designated person in the district who would handle the responses.

Another problem was a reporter who never seems to get the story straight or pick up on the important parts of the board meeting. Suggestions included scheduling a pre-meeting with the reporter to point out the meeting highlights and/or a follow-up meeting or call to ask the reporter what she had heard and if she had any questions.

Additional discussion focused on bloggers, especially those who seem to have a vendetta against the district or specific board members. A Facebook page or Twitter feeds with accurate information might help so that the district can craft the message. FB accounts can be set up so that they don’t allow comments.

It’s probably best not to stage a counter attack on the blogger. Just make certain there are other avenues to get the correct message out. The biggest problem, however, is that blogs are out there, searchable and hang around forever in cyberspace.

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Portraits of Change in School District Reorganization

William Phillips, associate professor, University of Illinois at Springfield

Leonard Bogle, associate professor
Scott Day, associate professor, University of Illinois at Springfield
Dave Kuntz, board president, Pana CUSD 8
Travis Wilson, superintendent
Scott Daily, board president, Arthur CUSD 305

Michele Lindenmeyer, assistant regional superintendent, ROE 11, Charleston

Consultants William Phillips, Scott Day and Leonard Bogle on Saturday morning explained professional services to available to school districts when presented with the task of reorganizing their districts.

The first step is completing a feasibility study where recommendations are made as to staffing needs, facility placement, and predicting tax rates. They help determine if districts could generate the same tax dollars together as they did separately and the extent of financial benefits that could be realized, if any.

The next step is to make curricular comparisons between the districts. Test scores are important as are current electives, and what could be possible with teachers available through the restructure. Grading scales also are considered for potential problems. Graduation requirements are compared and the consultants make final curricular recommendations based on their research and findings.

The facilities, transportation and projections of enrollment are explored. A thorough analysis of all facilities are conducted focusing on number of buildings, grades housed, age of building, accessibility, health/life safety issues, and general upkeep and conditions. Five-year projections of enrollment are made using existing class enrollments, U.S. Census Bureau data, and the business climate to make accurate predictions of future building and curricular needs.

Extensive financial analysis takes place using a four-year period for General State Aid. The tax rate is complicated, and it is very important to determine if the districts can generate the same tax revenue together as they did separately.

Incentives are available for restructuring districts in the form of a debt difference payment and a $4,000 payment for certified employees. Total reorganization incentives could be in the millions for some districts.

The group presents the results of the feasibility study to the participating districts considering all factors. Many of these studies are conducted, but few are actually reorganized.

Communication is the key throughout the process. Parties must campaign to assist the reorganization and each community has to come out with something positive in the merger. A Committee of Ten is organized that will run a campaign and spend most of its time with fence sitters and people in opposition.

Barriers to restructuring were identified as extensive textbook money needed, killing the mascot, transportation, moving grades around in buildings, and rehiring staff and coaches.

Teacher tenure is important and collective bargaining agreements must be abolished and redone together. It also can be complicated to merge teacher and educational support personnel seniority lists. Panel members suggested a driving force to restructuring should be to ensure programs would be saved.

The year preparing for the annexation referendum between Arthur and Lovington School Districts was challenging. The two school boards cooperated and each had something to gain from the merger. The positives were accentuated and each side focused on keeping an open mind. The Committee of Ten had equal representation from each community, and both districts were equal in making recommendations to each school board.

Suggestions from the Pana and Tower Hill merger included the importance of getting the right people for the right reasons on the Committee of Ten, to involve teachers in the conversations, and to follow proper protocol involving the Regional Office of Education.

The four districts represented expressed the positive impact the mergers will have for their students and programs. Proper communication and having an open mind are necessary for success and, coupled with the data collection presented from the professional feasibility study, can bring together communities acting in the best interest of education.

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Sage Rules for a Spicy Subject: Schools and Social Media Use

Kimberly A. Small, assistant general counsel and editor, Policy Reference Education Subscription Service (PRESS), IASB; member, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

Philip H. Gerner III
Heidi A. Katz
Catherine R. Locallo
Susan E. Nicholas
Robert E. Riley
Caroline A. Roselli, attorneys, Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Ltd., Chicago; members, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

Brent Ashbaugh, principal, Rochester Junior High, Rochester CUSD 3A

These Saturday morning panelists talked about three different scenarios that could and are happening in schools around the country. Schools and social media have become a hot topic with employees posting information, photos, and other data on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

These employees are allowed to communicate through social media with other employees but they need to understand the access that these sites allow to all. This increase of social media has caught the attention of school districts and how they can control and police the posting of their employees.

The first scenario involved a staff member who created a web page that included inappropriate items and was accessible by the staff member’s students. A school district can discipline an employee if postings are offensive, if they compromise student privacy rights, violate the district’s acceptable use policy, or adversely affect the academic or work environment.

A connection can be established between the postings and the district by a variety of ways including parent or student complaints. If there is a connection between the social media and the district operations, this could allow the district to discipline the staff member for what they posted. This can lead to discipline even if the employee did not use district computers or do it during work hours.            

When considering the First Amendment rights of the staff, the district must look to see if the employee spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern and the interest as a citizen in commenting on matters of public concern. One of the most important items would be to have a quality and specific school district social networking policy for not only the staff but also for students.           

In the second scenario a student made a web page that was degrading and derogatory toward other students at school and made this Web page available to other students at school.

To understand if the speech is protected under the First Amendment you must answer if it is intended to convey an intelligible message, is obscene, defamatory, or amounts to fighting words, or is a true threat. In any of these cases then it is not protected under the constitution.

Some speech that is protected can still be disciplined by the school if it materially disrupts school or interferes with the rights of others; is vulgar, lewd, or indecent; is school sponsored; or can be reasonably understood as promoting illegal drug use.  

School districts do have the power to suspend or expel if the student would make an explicit threat on a website toward a school employee, a student, or school personnel and if the website is accessible with the school at the time the threat was made. This threat can be construed to be threatening the safety of the employee or the student because of their status of being in the school.  

Administrators need to be knowledgeable about the district’s code of conduct and discipline policy along with including provisions describing bullying and harassment. The code and policy should include that not only can you be disciplined for actions at school but also for actions that occur outside of school if they affect the school environment. Most of all, they need to make sure that students are informed about these policies.

When policies are broken, it is very important that the administration investigates very carefully and documents all information. Important questions to answer are who, when, where, how, were school resources used, and is there evidence that disruption exists or will occur in the future. When dealing with students it is very important to be specific and be sure to involve legal counsel in confusing cases.

Administrators should make sure they address the needs of the victims and evaluate whether or not authorities should be contacted. Lastly, it is imperative to make the punishment proportionate to the seriousness of the action.

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Setting District Goals and Direction

Larry Dirks, field services director
Patrick Rice, field services director, IASB
Bill Alexander, board member
Chris Gordon, board president
Valerie Carr, superintendent, New Berlin CUSD 16
Chris Gore, board president
Carroll Kelly, Vice president
Donald Robbins, board member, Sesser-Valier CUSD 196

Linda Dawson, director, Editorial Services, IASB

Setting goals allows school districts to gain more clarity about the relationships among board members, the superintendent and the community the district serves. Goal setting is best when it is seen and realized as an ongoing process, not just a one-time event, according to the panelists at this Saturday morning session.

This process, while touching on all of IASB’s Foundational Principles of Effective Governance, begins with Principle #1: The Board Clarifies the District Purpose.

Sesser-Valier started its goal setting process in June 2010 with a board self-evaluation. Chris Gore cautioned not to get caught up in the terminology regarding goal setting but to continually look at it as a process. Over the course of the next seven months, the district worked toward convening a group of 40 people to actually conduct a goal setting event.

Donald Robbins said they were careful that the seven board members and three administrators were not grouped together for the event itself. That way, board members could focus more on listening, letting the IASB facilitator do his job and keeping participants informed of next steps.

Carroll Kelly said the district received its written report from IASB about two weeks later. They thanked all participants in writing and used the report as a way to keep everyone informed of next steps. As of September, six groups have begun meeting to refine the goals and develop indicators that the district will be able to use to monitor progress.

The experience in New Berlin has been different because they did not limit then number of people who could participate in their goal setting process. While Sesser-Valier had one goal setting meeting and then broke into sub-groups, New Berlin is conducting its process over multiple sessions, according to Chris Gordon.

Bill Alexander said there has been some movement in and out of the five sub-groups that have now been established for Facilities, Communication, Curriculum, Finance and School/Community Relations. People who call the district with a gripe are invited to the meetings. Even if someone moves out of the group, they still get the information.

Valerie Carr said the district had a clear direction when they were involved in a building project a few years ago, but once it was done, everyone was left wondering, “ what now?” Now that the district’s goals are part of a dashboard, she feels they will remain in the forefront even after she retires in 2012.

She said she also believes it has moved the community from a “consumer” mindset to a group of community “owners.”

Other take-aways included:

  • Boards live in an ends world; administrators live in a means world.
  • Consumer concerns are best handled by the administration.
  • Identifying a district’s core values and beliefs is not unlike creating the Declaration of Independence; a district’s mission statement is like the Preamble to the Constitution.

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Superintendent Employment Contract

Kelley Kalinich , superintendent, Kenilworth SD 38

Sara Boucek, associate director/legal counsel, IASA, Springfield
Stanley B. Eisenhammer, attorney, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, Arlington Heights; Member, Illinois Counsel of School Attorneys

Bob Klingborg, director, Western Area Career Systems 265, Western Illinois University Intern

The two presenters shared experiences and their perspective from opposite sides of the negotiating table.


One or multiple years


  • Fixed for a year of life of contract?
  • Administrative cost cap legislation
  • Stay within 6% raises to avoid TRS penalty


  • Valid certificate
  • Pass medical exam

A great deal of time was spent on the accumulation of vacation time. Most administrators are reluctant to miss work. Consider this as severance pay and move forward. The bottom is to consultant your board attorney or tax professional.

Power and Duties

This area the panelists disagreed. Boucek suggested laying everything out and getting it in the contract. Eisenhammer believed in an ideal situation: everything written down would be great but does not believe it is possible.

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