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SCHOOL REFORM AND OTHER LEGISLATIVE ISSUES HIGHLIGHT MANY FALL DIVISION MEETINGS
September 26, 2011

School reform legislation, better known as SB7, was a “culmination of a bipartisan effort” to address contentious issues such as seniority, tenure, dismissals, and strikes while retaining teacher rights, according to State Senator Susan Garrett (D-29, Lake Forest).

The Senator lauded the stakeholders who participated in the protracted, complicated discussions that resulted in an agreed bill that passed nearly unanimously in the Illinois legislature. The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), with its School Management Alliance colleagues, was at the table along the teachers’ unions, education reform groups, and legislators in bill negotiations.

Sen. Garrett was one of four lawmakers and other experts who reviewed the impact of education reform and other recent legislative issues affecting public education at IASB’s North Cook Division dinner meeting, held Sep. 21 in Des Plaines. The event was attended by 170 registered school board members and superintendents representing 31 of 39 school districts in IASB’s North Cook division. This fall, 13 of the 21 regional divisions in the state will focus on education reform (see list of future events below).

The panel of experts highlighted how, in the future, teacher hiring, reduction in force, and call-backs will be based on teacher performance based on recent evaluations as opposed to the current system of simple seniority in the school district.

Garrett also explained her new shared services legislation(SB 2134).

Garrett said taxpayers in her area continue to ask why their taxes have gone up when their property values have gone down. Her “sharing services” proposal would “provide a way for schools to take visible steps in sharing services and reducing costs.”

Her proposal involves a one-sheet form, as requested by the Alliance in an amendment to her bill, to be submitted annually by districts to show how they have combine services with another district to save money. The reports would be available for the public on district websites and through the Illinois State Board of Education “to allow everyone to see where cost savings can be realized.”

Her intent is that other governmental bodies will pick up on this model to “reduce governmental redundancies.”

Following Garrett’s presentation, a panel of six addressed questions regarding school reform, school district consolidation, and pension reform proposals. The panel included: Ben Schwarm, associate executive director, IASB; State Representatives David Harris (R-66, Arlington Heights), Rosemary Mulligan (R-65, Des Plaines), and Elaine Nekritz (D-57, Northbrook); and attorneys J. Todd Faulkner and Andrew A. Malahowski, both of Franczek Radalet, P.C.

The panel was moderated by Erika Lindley of ED-RED, a suburban Chicago advocacy organization that monitors education policy for its members.

When asked what the legislature’s role should be in school consolidation, none of the panelists supported forced consolidation of school districts without local input. All seemed to agree that it’s difficult to gauge the political will to actually follow through on the consolidation proposals that were put forward earlier this year.

“There’s no will up here to consolidate,” Mulligan said, and that it would be difficult to pass legislation on consolidation to impact the entire state.

“Our districts are educating children well,” Nekritz added. “This issue won’t be driving legislators up here.”

However, Harris and Faulkner both alluded to recurring efforts to force consolidation of school districts that have been around since 1899. “Where it makes sense,” Harris said, “local constituents are making those decisions. The legislature should be asking if it makes sense to have single school districts, how large is too large and how small is too small.”

Schwarm said consolidation will be of keen interest, not just to school board members and administrators, but to local school teachers, parents, and community members. While legislators heard from school board members on SB7, a further push for mandated school district consolidation means “you’ll hear from parents” as such a proposal could change school boundaries, force families into sending students to larger schools, and generally alter a way of life chosen by the families.

In response to other questions, Malahowski cautioned school board members and superintendents to pay close attention to SB 1831 that accelerates payments for Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) employees who receive an increase of more than 6 percent in their salary.

“Instead of paying over 30 years,” which is how the 6% salary cap affects school district employees who participate in the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS), the IMRF provision means “the payment is over three years,” said. To avoid the acceleration, districts will need to make sure any policies to reward non-certified staff in the years close to retirement are formally adopted and in writing before Jan. 1, 2012, and the language must exclude employees hired after that date. Payments for overtime and overload work will not lead to acceleration, he said, nor will payments made before the first of the year.

Representative Nekritz, a co-chair of one of the newly appointed pension working groups in the House of Representatives, discussed the ongoing negotiations regarding possible changes to the state’s pension funds. She indicated, and Harris concurred, that the Illinois state budget will continue to face deficits unless someone reins in the required pension payments. Pension reform legislation is a significant possibility for this fall’s veto session, she said.

Faulkner highlighted some of the finer details in SB 7 which involve the hiring and dismissal of school teachers. School districts, administrators and board members, will need to be brought up to speed on the technicalities of the new law and the new collective bargaining implications.

Mulligan predicted that the state’s financial picture will not change much in the near future, because “there are not as many dollars coming in as we would like.” However, Harris said that if legislators continue to do the “right thing” as they did this year and “spend less than what our income is,” they will have nearly a billion dollars left to help pay down old bills and eventually get rid of the backlog.

“We need to get our state out of the condition that it’s in,” Harris said.

(Note: A video broadcast from the North Cook division meeting presentation will be broadcast this week on 134 local cable channels that carry the Illinois Channel. The broadcast will be video-streamed from the website of the network: http://illinoischannel.org/ . A list of communities, stations and time slots airing Illinois Channel public affairs programming can be found at: http://illinoischannel.org/distribution.htm .)

Other sessions scheduled

P rior to the Sept. 21 North Cook meeting in Des Plaines, Starved Rock and Wabash Valley divisions also hosted dinner meetings that focused on education reform. Other meetings that will focus on education reform and currently scheduled speakers are:

Sept. 22:Kishwaukee, Marengo CHSD 154, Ben Schwarm, associate executive director/governmental relations, IASB; Jim Reed, director/governmental relations, Illinois Education Association (IEA); Robin Steans, executive director, Advance Illinois; and Cynthia Woods, director of advocacy, IASB.

Sept. 28:Southwestern, O’Fallon THSD 203, Deanna Sullivan, director/governmental relations, IASB, moderator; Merry Rhodes, attorney, Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Moha and Jackstadt; Sara Boucek, associate director/counsel, Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA); and Wanda Van Pelt, associate general counsel, IEA.

Oct. 3:Shawnee, Crab Orchard CUSD 3, Nick Osborne, associate professor, Eastern Illinois University.

Oct. 4:DuPage, Bloomingdale Golf Club, Darren Reisberg, general counsel, Illinois State Board of Education; Ben Schwarm, associate executive director/governmental relations, IASB; Peg Agnos, executive director, Legislative Education Network of DuPage County (LEND); and Ed Leman, superintendent, West Chicago SD 33; and Three Rivers: Prairie Bluff Golf Club, Lockport, Scott F. Uhler, partner, Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins, Ltd.

O ct. 5:South Cook, Double Tree Hotel, Alsip, Ben Schwarm, associate executive director/governmental relations, IASB.

Oct. 6:Abe Lincoln, Pawnee CUSD 11, Deanna Sullivan, director/governmental relations, IASB; David Braun, associate, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller Ltd.; Jason Leahy, executive director, Illinois Principals Association (IPA); and Sharon Teefey, legislative director, Illinois Federation of Teachers; and at Corn Belt, Indian Creek Country Club, Fairbury, Sara Boucek, associate director/counsel, IASA; and at Egyptian, Mt. Vernon THSD 201, Ben Schwarm, IASB.

Oct. 13:Northwest, Stockton High School, Ben Schwarm, IASB; Jim Reed, IEA; and Jessica Handy, Illinois policy director, Stand for Children.

Oct. 25:Two Rivers, Franklin CUSD 1, Rep. Jim Watson (R-97), Jacksonville; and Susan Hilton, director/governmental relations, IASB.

Oct. 27:Kaskaskia, Northwestern CUSD 2, Deanna Sullivan, director/governmental relations, IASB; and David Braun, associate, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller Ltd.

In addition, education reform may come up as a topic at the Western Division meeting on Sept. 26, when Knoxville CUSD 202 hosts “An Evening with the Illinois School Management Executive Directors.” Michael D. Johnson (IASB), Brent Clark (IASA) and Jason Leahy (IPA) will be featured.

School board members and superintendents are encouraged to attend the dinner meeting in their division. However, they are welcome at the meeting of any other division if they register and pay the dinner fee.

For more information or to make reservations for any of IASB’s division dinner meetings, see the IASB Events Calendar at https://www.iasb.com/calendar/calendar.cfm .

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