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Select Panel Reports

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 110 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.

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 2013 conference was held Nov. 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Towers and Hotel, and the Swissotel, and attracted nearly 10,000 school board members, administrators, exhibitors, school attorneys, and guests.

Online/Blended Learning: What Boards Should Know

Recruiting School Board Candidates Panel Presentation

Rural Issues

Sandy Hook Tragedy: Is Your School Safe

Special Education Population - Legal Issues to Know

Current Trends in Collective Bargaining and Contract Management

Successful Alternative Education Ideas

Declining EAV: How to Explain the Impact to the Community, Effect on Revenues, and Levy Strategies

Superintendent Evaluations: One Key to Student Achievement

Online/Blended Learning: What Boards Should Know

Cindy Hamblin, director, Illinois Virtual Schools
Jeffrey Hunt, assistant professor, Concordia University Chicago, River Forest
Phillip Lacey, instructional technology director, Niles Township High School District 219, Skokie

Emma Campbell-Cornelius , principal, Lalumier Elementary School, CUSD 187

Online learning is becoming a new trend of teaching and learning throughout Illinois and the nation. As superintendent, before your district strongly considers implementing online learning, you will need to present a plan to the school board members and the community on how you can provide leadership and oversight for online learning. There are several questions that arise as a district considers how to implement this new trend and remain competitive in teaching and learning for the 21 st century (what is digital learning, how do you plan, how do you address student’s needs, how are you preparing teachers to teach, etc…).

The panelists noted that digital learning is based on: (1) student learning, (2) assessment, (3) teaching and learning and (4) hardware and software. All these components must be in place and accessible by the district’s bandwidth to hold the capacity to operate efficiently.

How do districts start a plan? Start planning 18-24 months in advance. Define success and what it will look like when accomplished. Determine the students who will be served (remediation, extended learning or extra credit). Be prepared for the “why” question.   Prepare your elevator speech (i.e., what are you trying to do and why are you trying to do it). Panelists urged that school leaders must remember that purpose drives design. Effectively convey your goal and build consensus.

How do you address student’s needs? It was discussed that 30 states have multi-district, fully implemented online schools, mostly charter schools. Online learning is teacher-led education that takes place over the Internet with teacher and student engagement. It allows students to work at their own pace. This learning is moving from the old style of brick and mortar (where students sit in rows) to competency based.   It is a true differentiation customized for every student which allows teacher-student communication as well as student-student. Personalized learning also provides immediate feedback, customized learning and pandemic content (video, and audio).   The teachers role has been redefined and gives back the time teachers need to meet the individual needs of every child, and allows small group teaching rather than whole group learning.

How will teachers be prepared to teach for online classes? The panelists suggested that the district will need to provide early and on-going professional development.   Teachers will need time to collaborate. They said to recruit teachers who are self-starters. Utilize the Illinois model for keeping teachers who are highly qualified. This isn’t a program for teachers who are on the remediation plan, it was warned. Encourage the best teachers to become better and most importantly offer incentives for those who choose to participate.

Before a district begins the process, it is important to do some research. There may be some financial issues in the beginning, but as time moves forward the cost will balance out with the costs of trying to purchase new textbooks. The online learning offers students an opportunity to take courses that may not be offered in their district. The panelists encouraged school leaders to explore the opportunities-the resources are endless. There are lots of free online schools and tools, such as the Illinois Virtual Schools. A lot of content is out there. Use it!

Recruiting School Board Candidates Panel Presentation

Jeffery Cohn, director of field services, IASB, Lombard
James Russell, associate executive director, IASB, Springfield

James Gay, superintendent, Community High School District 230, Orland Park
Rick Nogal, president, Community High School District 230 Board of Education, Orland Park
Tony Serratore, member, Community High School District 230 Board of Education, Orland Park

Hattie Doyle, principal, New Berlin High School, New Berlin CUSD 16

The panel presentation “Recruiting School Board Candidates” gave superintendents and school board members practical recruiting tools and tips on how to find and approach qualified candidates. These tools and tips have been developed by IASB in an effort to provide sustainability to districts and board members through the election process. The panelists presented information on current turnover rates for board members (21.7%), new board members in 2011 (1,288), and mid-term resignations (230 in 2010).

The presentation provided information on training and materials for the on-going board election process. Board elections are cyclical in nature (four-year, staggered terms, two-year election cycle), therefore, recruiting needs to be systematic. IASB has developed a guide to recruiting school board candidates that is available online at

The packet contains the following pamphlets:

  • Introduction
  • School Board Member Job Description
  • Why School Board Members Serve
  • Characteristics of an Effective School Board Member
  • How and Where to Find Qualified Candidates
  • Talking Points with Potential Candidates
  • School Board Election Timetable
  • Additional Resources

There was an overview given of each pamphlet, then detailed discussions, ideas, and tips on how and where to find qualified candidates were presented to the group. Many of the suggestions that were presented included: think broadly, create opportunities for involvement, seek out people in your district that are in key leadership positions – PTO president, Booster’s president – parents that are vested in your schools, encourage prospective candidates to attend board meetings, and identify the gaps that exist in your current board and seek out candidates that would meet that need.

During the discussion regarding “Talking Points with Potential Candidates,” the panelists from Orland Park emphasized that it is up to the board to “Educate! Educate! Educate!” That means reinforcing to the community the district vision, mission, strategic plan, and what the district is about. When talking with potential candidates, one of the most important tips was to avoid people who have a single-agenda, oppositional and/or represent a special interest.

Regarding the election timetable, Mr. Russell noted that “Ten months from now, members will begin to file – recruiting should start now!” Mr. Cohn agreed. “Our system deserves to be stable… corporate board members serve ten-plus years,” he said.

The session ended reiterating the importance of selecting and recruiting qualified candidates that support the role of the local school board member. “Public education is the only institution that can educate and serve this nation’s children,” Mr. Cohn concluded.

Rural Issues

Steve Webb, superintendent, Goreville CUD 1; president AIRSS; associate professor in educational administration and leadership, McKendree University

Patrick Rice, field services director,IASB, Springfield

Hattie Doyle, principal, New Berlin High School, New Berlin CUSD 16

The Sunday morning Coffee and Conversations session on Rural Issues focused on topics that were relevant to hardships that many small districts face: funding, busing, cuts to programs, pensions, non-funded mandates, outdated facilities, and staffing, to name a few.

The presenters allowed for discussion and feedback from participants, providing an opportunity to share concerns and solutions to these issues as they applied to school districts across the state.

Funding issues/solutions included working TIF to your advantage – it is not considered local revenue. It was suggested that districts should educate their taxpayers on what the district can use the .01 sales tax for. It is helpful to explain it cannot be used for salaries, but that the district can shift the property burden from taxpayers.

Busing issues/solutions included discussions on discipline issues on the bus, such as, when will we have to provide aides to ride as a disciplinarian?

AIRSS (Association for Illinois Rural and Small Schools) is the voice for small rural schools. Information was presented on how to join, including board members and superintendents. It was strongly suggested that they should get involved with contacting legislators and getting them data about how legislation affects local districts.

This session provided critical information to board members in rural schools and provided resources on how to advocate for funding. The opportunity for participants to share their concerns as well as provide solutions to things that are working within their own districts was beneficial to everyone.

Sandy Hook Tragedy: Is Your School Safe

David Henebry,
architect, Dewberry Architects, Inc., Peoria District 150
Tim Custis,
CPA, Gorenz and Associates Ltd., Peoria District 150
Stuart R. Erlenbush,
owner, Critical Incident Management LLP, Mt. Pulaski

Crystal Riddick, principal, Thomas Jefferson School, PSD150

Although Sandy Hook may have been forgotten for some, for others this tragic event only seems likes yesterday. In fact, Sandy Hook’s tragedy has prompted most school districts across the county to review current procedures and practices, while reflecting on the safety of staff and students. The purpose of the presentation is to reflect on past school safety practices, review procedures and communicate the importance of school safety.

David Henebry started the panel by reflecting on the Kennedy assassination, the 9-11 events and Columbine tragedy. He then asked the question, “Are we safe, and how did someone get into our schools?”   All of the critical events mentioned have imposed a safety concern for our nation, our schools and our students.

Were they prepared? Mr. Henebry stated that all exterior doors were locked.   Even when all classroom doors are locked and staff takes proper precaution, no school is prepared to go to war with armed individuals. However, could this tragedy have been prevented if the secretary was not handling other duties?   Although it is too late to focus on the could-have, would-have and should-have, we must examine our procedures and determine best practices, he said.

Mr. Henebry reported that the staff at Sandy Hook had practiced lock-down drills in the past, but they were not prepared for the catastrophic event that took place on that day. Columbine was another event that made individuals reflect on safety procedures and question whether we are keeping our students safe in our public schools.

Mr. Henebry also mentioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) preparation. Although there have been other unfortunate school events in the past, he said, FEMA cannot stop the individuals. By regularly practicing the outline safety drills; however, schools should be able impede the crises or slow the predator down.

Another question had to do with school design and the use of security cameras. Mr. Henebry stated that the further away the parking lot is to the building, the better chance someone has to see the assailant before he or she attacks. He also stated the landscape design and fencing can define the school perimeter, which might distract the assailant from attacking.

Mr. Henebry also posed the political question regarding school safety: Is gun control the answer or passing a law for school personal to carry a concealed weapon the answer? These final questions started side conversations and discussions in the room. Many individuals voiced their personal opinions and tactics for keeping students safe.

Teachers carrying guns may seem a little farfetched, but Washington Community High School District 308 has discussed this option frequently. But, do they store them in their desk? Do they keep them in a hostler? These questions must be answered if a district is considering this law, it was explained.

Finally, the panel presented several suggested preventative measures to improve student safety:

  • Parents need to have good communication and relationships with their children.
  • Keep all exterior doors locked at all times.
  • Implement a security system for employees to enter the building through one door.
  • Employee or hire a SRO in the district and position his office in the front of the building.
  • Build and incorporate bullet proof glass, effective lighting and a closed circuit camera.
  • Have a good view of the entrance.
  • Implement alarms on the exterior doors.
  • Train all personal that will carry a concealed weapon.
  • Complete all maintenance requests in a timely manner.

Mr. Henebry concluded by noting that no plan is bullet proof. “However, we must be prepared by evaluating the needs of each individual school district and making the necessary changes so that the educational environment is a safe place for everyone,” he said.

Special Education Population – Legal Issues to Know

Melinda L. Selbee, general counsel and editor, Policy Reference Subscription Service (PRESS), Illinois Association of School Boards
Cynthia M. Baasten
, attorney, Sraga Hauser, LLC, Oak Brook
Teri E. Engler, attorney, Sraga Hauser, LLC, Oak Brook
Courtney N. Stillman, attorney, Sraga Hauser, LLC, Floosmoor

Crystal Riddick, principal, Thomas Jefferson School, PSD150

With all of the new mandates presented in education, students with disabilities and 504’s continue to be one of the most popular discussion topics in education.    Individualized Education Plans are the blueprint for the education of a child with a disability and IEPs address physical assistance, academic adaptations and technological equipment. A 504 plan is less formalized educational plan than an IEP, but it is still designed to ensure equal access to education for students with disabilities.

The purpose of this presentation was to identify and reflect on current practices and special education in the public school setting.

Teri Engler introduced the topics and identified the difference between the two legal documents and FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the federal law guaranteeing children with disabilities access to a public education. The original special education law, enacted in 1975, was renamed IDEA in 1990 and was most recently reauthorized by Congress in 2004. A district is required to provide FAPE to those students who have a physical or mental impairment that currently substantially limits a major life activity. Ms. Engler argued that a student who has a “record of disability” or is “regarded as disabled” does not trigger a district’s duty to provide FAPE. A district’s duty to a student who “has a record of a disability” or is “regarded as disabled” is to protect the student from discrimination.

Ms. Engler also explained the Child Find mandate, which is another entity of the IDEA law. She stressed the importance of locating, identifying and evaluating students with disabilities at an early age, and delivering services to students with disabilities from birth through age 21. The Child Find mandate applies to all children who reside within a state, including children who attend private schools and public schools, highly mobile children, migrant children, homeless children, and children who are wards of the state. The primary purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is to ensure that all children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education, including special education and related services that are "designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living’.

Ms. Engler also discussed the topic of discipline and students with disabilities, manifestations and change in placement. The participants discussed expulsion, suspension and detentions. Ms. Engler stated that s chool boards may consider any unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis when determining whether a change in placement, consistent with the other requirements of this section, is appropriate for a child with a disability who violates a code of student conduct.

School personnel, under this section, may remove a child with a disability who violates a code of student conduct from his or her current placement to an appropriate interim alternative educational setting, or another setting. A child with disabilities may also receive a suspension, but not for more than 10 consecutive school days (to the extent those alternatives are applied to children without disabilities), and for additional removals for no more than 10 consecutive school days in that same school year for separate incidents of misconduct (as long as those removals do not constitute a change of placement).

Ms. Engler also referenced the first case, The Raleigh Case of 1982, which had a direct effect on procedures and students with disabilities. This case states that a school system must provide the minimum necessities for all students with disabilities.

Cynthia Baastian discussed the shortage of school nurses, expectant students and mandated reporters. Ms. Baastian stated that a student with a temporary health condition, whose condition is so severe that it substantially limits one or more of the student’s major life activities for an extended period of time, may qualify as a disabled student under Section 504. For example, though pregnancy is not generally considered a disability, under Section 504, a district may determine that a pregnant student, who cannot attend school for several months due to pregnancy-related complications, is disabled under Section 504.

The most important key point taken from this panel was to establish a mutual relationship with the lawyers that represent the school board and when in doubt contact the school board’s attorneys before implementing action.

Current Trends in Collective Bargaining and Contract Management

Brian Braun, Attorney, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd.
Robert P. Lyons, Associate General Counsel, Illinois Education Association, Chicago

Scott D. Riddle, principal, Beardstown High School District 15

This presentation featured two well known, knowledgeable attorneys providing insight for board members on the current topics and trends facing boards of education across Illinois. It was a jammed packed panel with jammed packed information. The attorneys seemed to let their thoughts free flow moving from topic to topic…sometimes connected…sometimes not. The hope was to be able to glean insightful hints to better bargaining and hot topics.

Robert Lyons, associate general counsel for the Illinois Education Association (IEA), began the discussion with an informal review of his 30-year career with the Association. Mr. Lyons quipped that he is always asked what the union secrets are. “Not really any secrets…just tell them what you want,” he said.

He also listed key steps boards should take before trying to negotiate:

  • Gather as much training as you can
  • Know SB7 and PERA
  • Be familiar with acronyms that are used in the education field …ULP (Unfair Labor Practice)…AFR (Annual Financial Report)…MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to name a few
  • Know and be familiar with the Illinois Labor Relations Act
  • Understand Inherent Managerial Rights

Mr. Lyons also mentioned several cases dealing with collective bargaining such as not bargaining individually, standards for impasse, requesting information for bargaining, unilateral changes, and bargaining in good faith.

Another point he stressed was knowing the difference between mandatory and non-mandatory items that need to be bargained. Management is required to negotiate with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Mandatory subjects of bargaining have been interpreted to include: hours worked by employees; the decision to subcontract work formerly preformed by bargaining unit members; the development and implementation of procedural aspects evaluation plans; the decision and impact, when for economic reasons, of a decision to reduce the number of full-time faculty; and the decision and impact of a decision to reorganize the number and length of teaching periods, among others.

All collective bargaining agreements are required to include a grievance procedure ending in binding arbitration and provision prohibiting strikes during the duration of the agreement.

Mr. Lyons warned of relationships that are involved at the bargaining table. Management needs to be aware that the people on the other side are in a tough position. You (the board) need to actively listen to the issues. Some issues may be solved during the negotiations, but others might be better solved later, i.e., after negations. “Be harder on the issues…be soft on the people,” he directed. One of the key aspects of negotiating he continued was being respectful.

“You need to acknowledge the process and follow procedures. Set your ground rules and follow them.” He followed by pointing out that everything is filtered…even body language. He also suggested setting one spokesperson per side. This will lead to better communication and often better table behavior. Proposals also need to be explained, and not just set on the table. He also suggested that board members need to ask questions so there are no “ gotchas!” If one side shows respect the other usually does.

Mr. Lyons ended with emphasizing knowing the rules of contract negotiations. Look at neighboring districts to see what they are doing so you are prepared. Come prepared to trade, don’t always caucus. Finally, “don’t be afraid of mediation. It is not a sign of weakness,” he said.

Brian Braun, who has 30 years of experience with his firm, agreed with Mr. Lyons. “Sometimes, the best agreements come from mediation,” he said.

Mr. Braun began with an acknowledgment: “It is amazing how much I agree with the union side.” With that, he began to explain the challenges of negotiations for boards of education. In the business of school negotiations, board members will find that teachers have much more institutional knowledge than board members. And because superintendents change jobs over the years, it is more difficult on the boards of education (BOE) to negotiate…”if teachers don’t get something they can come back next time, but if   BOE cannot get something or if they mess up, it is there forever.”

He also noted that a lack of knowledge often causes many to adjust their stances. Also, unions will threaten unfair labor practices, threat of strikes, and attack certain BOE members to divide and conquer.

The board, he said, needs to remember it is in control. That is why it is important to select a good team to handle the negotiations. The team should include someone: knowledgeable in school finance, operations of the school (administrators), bargaining laws and procedures of negotiations, and current issues such as “ Obamacare,” sick leave, etc…

Mr. Braun said the board should start by selecting individuals with a good demeanor. They must be level-headed and willing to listen to all sides. “You also have to present yourself in an appropriate way,” he said. Mr. Braun shared an insightful story from his earlier years during a strike that he was called in to help with that was not going well. He walked into the auditorium where the negotiations were taking place and he was immediately struck with the set up for the discussions. The BOE was up on a raised platform with nice, cushy high back chairs and the union was down below in folding chairs. “No wonder the negotiations were going poorly! Perception is key,” he said. “Bargaining is about finding solutions; not winning a debate or talking louder or longer. You should listen better, ask questions, and be respectful. Teachers are employees and there is a power imbalance already. Don’t use that power as leverage. In fact, management does not have to fix everything. Often times it is better when the union finds the solution(s). This helps to eliminate the power imbalance,” he added.

Mr. Braun emphasized that preparation is essential to bargaining well. In this day and age, computers should be doing the work, but not during negotiations. Number crunching and data collecting should be done before coming to the table. As a board, you should share information with the union. Give them every bit of information they need and should know. This should be done, according to Mr. Braun, throughout the year, not just during negotiations. “Bargaining is not about whether you have money or not…it is about the expectations on both sides,” he said. That is why it is important to share with the union all the time so they understand where the district is at and what the board is actually capable of doing. But, you must be honest and not hold things back. “Once you lose credibility at the bargaining table, you lose!” Mr. Braun continued, “The teachers will not leave until they think they have the last dollar…like bargaining for a car.”

Mr. Braun continued to make clear the importance of working together even though you may be representing different sides. Point out if the other side is making a mistake(s). It does no one good to let problems happen because of poor negotiating. Also, if you are uncertain of particular points that need technical or legal approval, you may write into the language “until approved by an expert.”

The session ended with audience questions which ranged from the Affordable Care Act, trends toward a two-tier wage settlement, eliminating the salary schedule, to what the process teachers or the union goes through to prepare for negotiations. Both Mr. Lyons and Mr. Braun fielded the questions. They both pointed out to be cautious with the Affordable Care Act because things are changing so much and not to make wholesale changes due to fears of where it is going. As to the two-tier wage settlement and eliminating salary schedules, both agreed it is not common and causes many problems. They ended with Mr. Lyons explaining the union preparation typically beginning with teachers being surveyed to determine their issues with the board. The union negotiators are usually trained at workshops prior to coming to the table.

Successful Alternative Education Ideas

Jim Mammen, board president of Lincoln Community High School District 404
Robert Bagby, superintendent of Lincoln Community High School District 404
Janet Lovdahl, social worker/truancy of Lincoln Community High School District 404
Todd Poelker, principal of Lincoln Community High School District 404

Scott D. Riddle, principal, Beardstown High School District 15

“Using the best of what we’ve got to graduate better than what we have,” began Mr. Jim Mammen, board president for Lincoln Community High School (LCHS) District 404. Lincoln High School has approximately 850 students. The school has a traditional schedule and offers college preparatory, vocational and general education curricula.

Mr. Mammen explained that they were struggling to reach the at-risk population of students who were chronically truant and dropping out of school. The question became how to tackle this problem. The district had Lincolnland Technical Education Center (LTEC) available as a resource and staff they could utilize to work with these students to produce a capable workforce for the community.

Superintendent of Schools for District 404, Robert Bagby, stated, “The mission is to educate all students and assist them in realizing their full potential as responsible, productive, contributing citizens.” In working with the school board and his high school principal, Todd Poelker, Mr. Bagby was able to utilize the Truants’ Alternative and Optional Education Professional Development Program (TAOEP) to offer modified instruction and creative programming to prevent students from dropping out of school. This program may be used for students who are potential dropouts, truants, dropouts or who are uninvolved, unmotivated, and disaffected students. According to Mr. Bagby, “The program is about change, personal growth, and second chances.   We feel it has been very successful for our school and community and we have just recently graduated our 100 student!”

Mr. Bagby listed the wide range of course offerings they had available, which included automotive technology, cosmetology, building trades, culinary arts, welding, and health occupations. Students are assessed on their performance and also attendance. The two-hour courses are designed to simulate workplace conditions.

He touted the successes of some of the individual programs such as the automotive technology program (ATP) that in parts alone made a profit of $74,000 last year. This was working only on student cars, faculty cars and parent’s cars. They did not work on community cars, so as not to directly compete with local garages. The ATP did basic work from oil changes and tire rotations, to doing minor repairs. Mr. Bagby went on to say how the building trades program had worked on local business doing small carpentry projects to building homes. He also mentioned the health occupations program graduating Certified Nursing Assistants that were immediately employed.

Todd Poekler, Lincoln Community High School principal, reiterated the need for an alternative approach to lower the truancy rate, lower the attendance and disciplinary issues, and raise the graduation rate. He also spoke of the community needs and demographics of his school. The community needed a more skilled workforce. He said that the high school could provide such a workforce and develop students who had positive workplace behavior. The biggest benefit, Mr. Poekler remarked, “kids get some confidence!”

This type of program brought with it both pros and cons. The school saw an increased graduation rate from 70% to 83%. Their truancy rate dropped from 6.2% to 1.3% and their disciplinary referrals decreased by 40%. They saw motivated students with goals which translated into an increase in their daily attendance by 2.3 percentage points. The ultimate goal of providing a better prepared workforce was realized and many students were gaining employment prior to graduation. Mr. Poelker also shared that there was an increase in the number of students pursuing technology programs after high school.

But, with all these successes, there were some concerns.

First, the increase in the vocational coursework provided for success for a population of students that might otherwise have not graduated. But in doing this, the overall PSAE scores for the high school lowered. Second, the management of the program became more involved and was time consuming. The board of education for Lincoln has accepted the fact that the high school will struggle with raising their PSAE scores because the pathway for these vocational students does not match the traditional college prep pathway and thus these students will inherently not perform as well on such state assessments.

Mr. Bagby interjected that this board has been very accepting of what the overall goal was for the program and understood the impact it would have on their school state assessments. Mr. Poelker went on to explain how time consuming the program had become because it has evolved into two sessions now running 9 AM to 2:30 PM and 2:30 to 5 PM to accommodate the increase in students wanting to participate. Currently there is a waiting list for the 16-seat capacity program. They are at the present looking to actually expand it even more in the number of course offerings and also looking to increase the facility space to allow more students to be serviced.

The presentation finished with Janet Lovdahl, social worker for the Lincolnland Community Alternative High School (LCAHS), discussing the curriculum utilized as a part of the alternative high school in addition to the vocational training. The blended learning model utilized at LCAHS combines the vocational courses with online curriculum. “ Edgenuity” is the online education program used to deliver the formal education courses for the students enrolled in the program. This program allows students to work at a very individualized pace.

Ms. Lovdahl impressed the point again that attendance was critical to the success of the students. She was also quick to point out though, this was an expectation set for the students and just like the real world, if they missed work they would be fired. If they missed school they would be “fired” by being removed from the program and would be put on the bottom of the waiting list. She quipped, “My job is to make it as difficult as possible to fail.” But, she said she was no pushover. The students understood she cared, but that she also would not put up with nonsense.

Ms. Lovdahl finished the session by sharing the program may have vocational roots and might appear to be for only certain types of students, but it really was for all kinds of students. “It was not just for behaviorally challenged students. It was for students who had obstacles to a regular education program,” she said. It could be the student who just graduated this past year who struggled many years before because both his parents had been arrested and were in prison. Or, it could be the boy whose mother had a brain tumor and he had to care for her and he fell behind in his classes. Or maybe it was the young teen mother who not only cared for herself, but also her child. In all these cases these students just needed an alternative education program to make them successful!

Declining EAV: How to Explain the Impact to the Community, Effect on Revenues, and Levy Strategies

Elizabeth M. Hennessy, partner, Williams Blair & Company LLC, Chicago
Ares G. Dalianis, partner, Franczek Radelet PC, Chicago

Nathan S. Schilling, principal, Beecher High School

When EAV declines, tax rates increase. A school district receives CPI when tax capped property tax bills are tied to this compared to non-tax capped districts. Several items complicate the tax cap-CPI relationship: increasing debt service payments, successful assessment reductions on some properties, and home improvements such as remodeling that increase assessments. Panelists noted that uneven valuation of homes on a yearly basis can skew data, as does the Cook County Multiplier due to reassessment of property in the City of Chicago.

Both panelists offered a Top Ten list of best practices for communicating changes in tax levies to stakeholders encompass:

  • Interacting with assessors;
  • Early communication;
  • Early levy adoption;
  • Comparing current tax rates with voter approval rates;
  • Communicating PTAB’s;
  • Early levy adoption;
  • Proactive dialogue around levy options;
  • Make no tax rate promises;
  • Limiting defensive levies; and
  • Placing current tax rates in long-range contexts.

As a bottom line, EAV is very difficult to predict even in districts with a strong taxing base – circumstances that have been created due to the recent recession. Under the tax cap, Ms. Hennessy noted, a district can increase to a maximum rate that is determined by its composition (e.g. elementary, high school, or unit). Unit school districts with a cap collect the highest tax rates.

Strategies to optimize the use of rate maxes include levy lease, unlimited levies for transportation and liability insurance, supplementing the education fund with a special education levy, and transferring money between the education, O+M, and transportation funds. The latter action requires a public hearing.

The following strategies are recommended to reduce the tax levy:

  • Abate the debt service levy with accumulated debt service or operating fund balance;
  • Refund debt service for savings;
  • Defeasance, prepayment of debt;
  • Refund and stretch out debt service payments; and
  • Refund, stretch out, and abate debt service payments.

When abating the debt service levy, the operating tax levy can be increased but the debt service portion of the levy must be reduced as an offset. The county clerk can be directed to facilitate this. Bonds can only be refunded once in advance of the call date on a tax-exempt basis. Defeasance allows funds to be placed in an escrow, thereby paying off debts early and saving interest, but cash used to payoff bonds reduces the flexibility of operating monies. Refunding and stretching out debt allows debt to be restructured entirely at once and does not depend on future board action.

Mr. Dalianis started with an overview of the importance of property taxes as the primary source of revenue for most school districts. Property taxes are misunderstood, disliked by the public, and potentially undermined through TIF’s and abatements despite their stability. BOE’s, he said, should be proactive about appeals and refunds but have a very short time frame for action – typically 60 days to intervene. Notice of a $100,000 AV change is provided by the board of review on an annual basis and creates a basis for intervention. School districts have the responsibility of uncovering tax objection complaints for which the intervention cycle requires an active role and circuit court litigation. BOE’s are recommended to monitor high value properties, work with qualified appraisers, and file with the local board of review for an increase in assessment. Further reviews may be submitted to the PTAB. Mr. Dalianis said that property tax exemptions apply to non-for-profit entities, hospitals, health-care related properties, libraries, schools, and other government agencies. This status may be revoked through the board of review – a process that may be initiated by the BOE – and is governed by Public Act 97-688 and Section 15-86 of the Property Tax Code.

New property EAV is the lifeblood of determining the growing base and should be reviewed via a report from the county for accuracy. That’s why BOE’s are encouraged to be aware of incentives that will delay recognition of a new property such as TIF and incentive programs. TIF is an economic development tool that lasts for 23 years and can be extended for 12 years in which almost complete control is given to the municipality. However, TIF’s started in the 1990’s can be managed by participating in joint review boards and monitoring when they are about to expire. Mr. Dalianis concluded by commenting that BOE’s should also provide annual trends for AV in their respective school districts countywide; get to know their local assessors, boards of review, and tax extension directors; and secure impact fees for new development.

Information obtained from this presentation has the potential to help BOE’s determine how to best communicate with stakeholders and taxing bodies regarding changes in EAV and tax rates, and implement strategies to reduce the tax levy and obtain as much property tax money as possible through proactive approaches to combat appeals and refunds. The net result of this is greater money in the school system to support student learning and open dialogue with community partners that fosters trust, collaboration, and transparency when dealing with how tax money is collected and distributed.

Superintendent Evaluations: One Key to Student Achievement

Jeffrey Cohn, field services director, Illinois Association of School Boards
Scot Hastings, board president, Morris School District 54
Patrick Stevens, board member, Morris School District 54  
Carol Narvick, board vice president, Morris School District 54  
Teri Shaw, superintendent, Morris School District 54

Nathan S. Schilling, principal, Beecher High  

External realities affecting superintendent accountability include the Affordable Care Act, pension reform, Education Reform Act, and overall higher levels of public scrutiny and accountability for public education in general. According to this panel, BOE’s sometimes choose not to evaluate the superintendent due to the time and work required, as well as difficulty and/or discomfort touching upon tough and sensitive issues. However, many board members don’t feel they understand the responsibilities of an educational professional enough to provide a comprehensive, accurate evaluation. Others want to prevent conflict between the BOE and superintendent, as well as within the BOE itself. The superintendent evaluation is unique due to the fact that multiple evaluators must speak with one voice and have limited oversight of the daily work of the employee being assessed.

It was suggested that data requested from the BOE should be used for the purpose of superintendent evaluation rather than subjective statements. The Illinois School Code requires that the BOE evaluate the superintendent on the administration of district policies and stewardship of its assets. Contract decisions regarding the superintendent must be completed by April 1 or the contract automatically renews for one additional year. That’s why an annual planning cycle should be established for the BOE to set annual goals aligned to a strategic plan, obtain action steps from the superintendent to achieve them, provide resources and authority to the administration necessary to achieve these goals, complete a self-evaluation and procure one from the superintendent, and evaluate the superintendent and how well the district’s goals were achieved or not. The superintendent evaluation – one of the most important responsibilities of the BOE – should take place in the same month of every year. It is also crucial that the BOE evaluates itself on a routine basis.

The following eight steps to developing a superintendent evaluation process are recommended:

  • Develop a Focus on Performance
  • Review Existing Documents
  • Agree on Expectations and Indicators
  • Examine School Board Performance
  • Get it in Writing
  • Progress Reports
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Focus on the Future

Mr. Cohn stated that BOE members should determine what month these activities are taking place and communicate to the superintendent when he or she will be evaluated. Ms. Shaw continued by commenting that, for districts without a superintendent evaluation process, initial steps include identifying the needed components, building a consensus within the BOE for these components, and creating a relevant tool that has performance-based indicators, district value statements, and stakeholder input. Mission and vision should also be included and used to determine the priorities of the district, as well as drive decision-making.

It was noted that two surveys were given in Morris School District 54 to obtain confidential feedback from teachers regarding performance of the superintendent that can be discussed by the BOE in closed session. This should not be done after completing teacher evaluation in March, so as to prevent bias and to provide a basis for assessing the performance of the BOE. Administration of the Morris survey in 2013-2014 is outsourced to an external organization to allow for its use in BOE evaluation in addition to that of the superintendent. Areas under 65% rating in performance are given an action plan for improvement. Students are also asked about their relationships with the principal. Internal factors include class size, personnel, outsourcing of technology and maintenance contracts, shared services such as intergovernmental agreements, and monetary allocations towards curriculum. External factors over which the BOE has no control include demographics and mobility.

In Morris, five “big picture” goal areas were developed and given two goal statements each in a strategic management plan. Objectives in the superintendent contract are aligned to this document. The superintendent evaluation for Morris also includes a subjective behavior assessment, is updated annually by the policy committee, and is completed in January or February.   Morris’s BOE completes a self-evaluation in July and the superintendent evaluation in November or December that is currently binder-based but will be paperless in the future. Staff survey data is now considered accurate in its representation of district culture following the fourth year of its administration. Ms. Shaw concluded by stating that Morris’s annual planning cycle avoids random acts of improvement by providing a continuous model for growth.

Information from this session has the potential to allow BOE’s to develop and implement a comprehensive cycle of evaluation for both itself and the superintendent that is aligned to district values, mission, vision, and goals, thereby allowing for ongoing improvement that will ultimately lead to increased student learning. Such a process has the potential to nurture the collaboration of a myriad of stakeholders, adhere to state legal requirements for evaluation and contract renewal, and create a culture of data-driven decision making.

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