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November 21, 2011

The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) has resolved to support legislation to exempt school districts from the scope of the Prevailing Wage Act if lawmakers will not repeal the applicable provisions of the act, as school board representatives have long requested.

IASB has sought since 1982 to repeal the state law that regulates the wages of laborers, mechanics and other workers employed by school districts. Supporters of the new resolution said the prevailing wage law is an obstacle to school board members who take an oath to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds. They argued that the law gets in their way by inhibiting competition and artificially setting wages that would otherwise adjust to market forces to reduce the cost of public school construction.

Representatives from 342 Illinois school districts considered seven resolutions on various public school issues at the Association’s annual Delegate Assembly. The assembly was held in conjunction with the 2011 Joint Annual Conference, Nov. 18-20, in Chicago.

Sponsors of the proposal on the prevailing wage act said school leaders have been forced to pay wages that independent research indicates are 20 to 40 percent higher than market-set wages.

Hinsdale Township High School District 86 submitted the resolution, arguing that 18 states already have no prevailing wage law, while Ohio has exempted public school construction from their law.

Supporter Jeff Mays, board member of Quincy District 172, said the exemption would allow a greater number of necessary Illinois school construction projects to be carried out.

“If you are like our district, you probably have a lot of construction projects delayed already.   If you have to pay prevailing wages, you are going to have fewer project proceed,” Mays stated.

The measure was passed overwhelmingly by the school board delegates.

Representatives also approved another budget-related resolution supporting legislation that would require the state to pay interest on late general state aid payments. The legislation would require such interest payments at the current legal rate that applies whenever the state is late in paying vendors for goods and services, which currently is 5 percent per year.

The resolution, submitted by Wheaton Warrenville CUSD 200, is intended to send a message to lawmakers that schools are being unfairly treated compared to other entities that are owed money by the state.

The rationale behind the resolution noted that when state payments are late, school districts are forced to borrow money, deplete reserves or pay late fees and interest charges.

Barbara Intihar, board president of CUSD 200, argued that “while this may increase the tax burden of the state of Illinois, taxes will increase no matter what if we are forced to borrow money.” Other supporters said the proposal would bring heightened awareness to education funding problems and stress the difficult financial times schools face.

A total of 21 resolutions were submitted for consideration this year; four of which were new proposals and three of which amended existing position statements. Local member districts are encouraged to draft and submit proposals in the spring.

After a committee reviews them and offers its recommendations, the Delegate Assembly votes on the resolutions. Those approved are used by IASB and other school management supporters to establish an agenda for their lobbying efforts.

“The theme this year, because of the austerity of the last two state budgets for schools, is that the state budget process needs to be repaired,” said Ben Schwarm, IASB associate executive director for governmental relations. “Schools need to know how much funding they are getting and to know earlier and get the funds earlier.”

Other resolutions approved by local school board representatives included proposals for ending all federal sanctions to school districts under NCLB, granting all districts an equal footing with a “debt service extension base” under the state’s so-called tax cap law, and limiting categorical spending cuts to application in future fiscal years.

Delegates also approved a call for greater legislator pay transparency – essentially requiring that all lawmakers have their salaries and benefits posted on the web. They also forwarded a resolution that would require timely notice between county assessors of any substantial adjustments to assessed values for a taxing district that has assessed property in multiple counties.

The latter proposal seeks to modify the state’s property tax assessment system to ensure that a large assessment change by one county does not cause a large shift of the school tax burden from one county’s taxpayers to another. Currently, there is no notification required between county assessors.

Delegates rejected eight of 21 resolutions containing new or amended position statements for IASB, including one on school district consolidation and reorganization.

“Delegates said they did not want to change the school consolidation process at a time when a statewide consolidation commission, led by Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, has just begun its work,” Schwarm said.

IASB delegates also heard reports from Executive Director Emeritus Michael D. Johnson and outgoing Association President Joseph Alesandrini. Carolyne Brooks was elected as the new president and Karen Fisher as vice president. Both will serve one-year terms.

Brooks is a board member in West Richland CUSD 2, Noble. Fisher is a board member in Ottawa THSD 140.

More than 84 percent or 729 of the state’s 866 school districts attended the 2011 Joint Annual Conference. This was the 79th meeting of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

Attendance at this year’s event topped 11,000. This included 4,128 guests, 3,483 school board members, 1,609 exhibitors, 802 administrators, 627 superintendents, 163 board secretaries, 31 regional superintendents and 22 university professors, as well as IASB Service Associates, school attorneys, state board officials, special ed administrators, and others.

The Illinois conference is the largest state education conference in the nation. More information about this year’s conference can be found on the Association’s website:

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