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School boards push for law to forbid school strikes
November 23, 2009

The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) will seek and strongly support legislation forbidding public school employees from striking. The IASB Delegate Assembly has voted to push for such a law, meanwhile working with state legislators, the Illinois State Board of Education, and teachers' unions to develop alternatives to striking, including mediation and binding arbitration.

Much like police and fire service, a community's public school system is a taxpayer-funded entity essential to the stability and growth of that community, board members argued. Under no circumstances are police officers or fire fighters permitted to strike and, for reasons of public safety, teachers and other school employees should be classed along with them as "too important to strike."

Shawn Green, a board member from Consolidated SD 158, Algonquin, explained that in any teacher strike "the harm to the community would outweigh any benefit to employees." Green, who is employed as a police detective and is a labor union member said, "I am proud to have a profession that is too important to go on strike."

Jack Cantlin, a board member from Serena CUSD 2, said only 13 states presently allow school teachers to strike. Regarding the so-called "right to strike," Cantlin said he remembers when teachers in Illinois did not have that right, adding that in a strike parents commonly ask "where are our rights to get our children back in school?"

Teachers have had the right to strike under Illinois law (115 ILCS 5/13) for more than 30 years. But some school districts want to change the law, and legislation to ban teacher strikes will likely be introduced in the legislature next year, according to school management advocates.

But some IASB delegates who disagreed with the measure, which was passed by an overwhelming margin on a show of hands, said they voted to reject the proposal out of concern for the many school boards that have worked hard to cultivate a positive working relationship with their teachers' unions.

That was the reasoning of Mike Kelly, a school board secretary and long-time board member in Plainfield CCSD 202. Kelly said his board has built a strong relationship with the teachers' organization even after facing a contentious strike in 2001, and "I don't want to create a split in that relationship."

Also speaking against a strike ban was Karen Carney, a board member from School District U-46, Elgin, where the district has one of the largest teachers' unions in the state.

"I strongly urge you not to pass this," she said. "You cannot legislate behavior. You can't mandate that it can't happen.

The resolution, submitted by Consolidated SD 158, Algonquin, amended a less strongly worded IASB position against the idea of strikes.

The debate about strikes, which prompted more than 15 speakers, and the subsequent vote took place on the floor of the Delegate Assembly on Nov. 21. Representatives from 375 Illinois school districts voted on this and 18 other resolutions on public school management topics at the 2009 Joint Annual Conference, the largest statewide conference of school leaders, Nov. 20-22, in Chicago.

Assembled board members from throughout the state also voted to push for legislation to sharply limit the authority of state oversight panels that, according to some school board members, can undermine local control of schools, and to support softening the restrictions certain school districts face when seeking to choose school board members at large.

The issue of limiting the authority of state oversight panels was submitted by Calumet Public SD 132 and was passed by an overwhelming margin.

Guy Finley, a board president from Round Lake CUSD 116, said districts are "alone in the woods" when they're going through the financial oversight process, and that it "needs to be clear how (local control and finances) comes back." Round Lake is due to come out of ISBE's financial oversight next year.

The issue of electing school board members at large in school districts that currently cannot do so has been advocated for years in those districts where there is a requirement in state law for a majority vote in each congressional township in order to move to an at-large election method. Until now IASB had adopted no official position statement directly addressing the issue.

The measure to ease a district changeover to allow electing school board members at large was submitted by Greenfield CUSD 10 and was also passed overwhelmingly.

A total of 19 resolutions submitted by local districts were considered at the Delegate Assembly; two of which were new proposals that passed, and six others approved were designed to amend or reaffirm existing positions.

Local member districts are encouraged to draft and submit proposals in early spring; the deadline this year was June 24. After a committee reviewed them and offered its recommendations, the Delegate Assembly voted on the resolutions, which, in turn, are heeded by IASB and allied school management lobbyists.

Delegates also voted to amend current IASB positions on several topics, including resolutions to:

  • recognize and support the importance of the role of school counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Submitted by: Township High SD 211, Palatine
  • choose a different federal inflation index, rather than the Consumer Price Index from one selected month as is now used, in calculating Illinois Property Tax Caps, choosing the index offering the best average indicator of inflation over time, thus lessening the unpredictability of tax-capped local resources. Submitted by: Wheaton Warrenville CUSD 200
  • prevent any school building from being used as a polling place in an election unless the safety of the children and staff will not be compromised and unless voters will be physically separated from students when the school is in session. Submitted by Orland SD 135, Orland Park

Delegates also voted to reaffirm two current IASB positions to:

  • call for legislation that prohibits the passage of unfunded educational mandates, submitted by United Township High SD 30, East Moline
  • call for a reaffirmation of Position Statement 5.05 calling for the repeal of the Prevailing Wage Act, submitted by Jasper County CUSD 1, Newton

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

  • prohibit school districts from holding children back due to their age if academically capable. Submitted by: Hoover-Schrum Memorial SD 157, Calumet City
  • include parts of a state-mandated exam in high school graduation requirements – as determined by the local school district. Submitted by: East Peoria CHSD 309, East Peoria
  • create a task force to study public school funding with the goal of developing a more reliable financial foundation for educational opportunities for children. Submitted by: Olympia CUSD 16, Stanford
  • reaffirm the mission of the IASB regarding the professional development of school board members. Submitted by: Dolton West SD, Riverdale
  • allow board of education members who offer services outside of the school district for which they serve as a board member to be allowed to provide those services to the school district they serve through the normal competitive bidding process. Submitted by: Hoover-Schrum Memorial SD 157, Calumet City
  • allow board of education members to be reimbursed for lost wages for attendance at board functions such as conferences, workshops, emergency board meetings, etc. Submitted by: Hoover-Schrum Memorial SD 157, Calumet City
  • cap administrator salaries, including salaries of superintendents, principals, assistant principals, business managers and directors at no more than 50 percent of the original hire or contracted start date. Submitted by: Hoover-Schrum Memorial SD 157, Calumet City
  • support the development and implementation of national K-12 learning standards with the rationale that national learning standards will create more equitable opportunities for students nationwide through common goals and assessments. Submitted by: Carlinville CUSD 1
  • recommend that all home-school students be required to take the same assessment tests as those required for public school students. Submitted by: Carlinville CUSD 1
  • seek legislation that would promote the consolidation of all school districts into unit districts. Submitted by: Barrington CUSD 220
  • change the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) into a criterion-based assessment emphasizing Illinois Learning Standards, and drop the norm-referenced test component and scoring approach. The PSAE is administered to all 11th graders in the state. IASB delegates agreed with the submitting district that the PSAE should no longer include the ACT exam, which is norm-referenced, and should, instead, include testing that addresses a student's grasp of the Illinois Learning Standards. Submitted by: Palestine CUSD 3

IASB delegates elected Joseph Alesandrini as president, and Carolyne D. Brooks as vice president.

Alesandrini has been a member of the Pekin CHSD 303 board of education since 1985, and is currently its vice president. He previously served as treasurer of IASB prior to becoming the association's vice president two years ago. He joined the IASB board of directors in 1997 to represent IASB's Central Illinois Valley division. He previously chaired the association's audit and resolutions committees, and he has served on the executive committee since 2003. Alesandrini has also served as a delegate to the National School Boards Association's delegate assembly.

Brooks has been a member of the West Richland CUSD 2, Noble, board of education since 1995. She is currently the board secretary and has previously served as board vice president. She chaired the association's audit committee in 2008, and has also served as a delegate to the National School Boards Association's delegate assembly.

For more information about the Delegate Assembly or the 2009 Joint Annual Conference, visit the Association's Web site at www.iasb.com/jac09/.

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