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The Education Year in Review -- 2002-2003

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Legislative Issues
EFAB panel's final report
Major financial woes in many districts
Schiller the new State Superintendent
Governor advances year-end state aid

Illinois Education
Funding inequities
EFAB panel's final report
Major financial woes in many districts
Schiller the new State Superintendent
Governor advances year-end state aid

The Federal Scene

Significant Developments

Participation in IASB Programs
Click here to download a table in portable document format showing numbers of participants in IASB programs for the past three years.

IASB Financial Report
Click here to download the IASB financial report for FY 2003 in portable document format.

Awards and Honors
Thomas Lay Burroughs Award
Heroes in Education
Cole Awards
Those Who Excel Awards


When Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich took office early in 2003 he faced a deficit and fiscal crisis of enormous proportions, the worst in more than 50 years. Democrats had recently gained control of both legislative chambers, however, as well as the governor’s chair, which bode well for reaching a budgetary agreement. Democrats had controlled the Illinois House prior to the November 2002 election, but they picked up a larger majority, and took control of the Illinois State Senate as well.

Gov. Blagojevich used his first State of the State address in March to urge members of the legislature to join him in enacting an $88 million list of educational improvements. Specifically, he put forward proposals aimed at improving the state’s preschool education system, boosting parental involvement (with more time off for parents to attend school activities, such as meetings with teachers or counselors, from eight hours per year to three full days per year). He also proposed helping schools attract teachers to hard-to-fill posts.

The governor’s FY 2004 budget message was delivered later than usual, on April 9. It contained several one-time funding solutions—asset sales and sale leasebacks, "fund sweeps," and pension obligation bonds, for example. But the budget also contained several on-going solutions, such as state administrative cost reductions, agency consolidations, and revenue enhancements to balance the budget. Despite legislative complaints that the governor had not revealed his plans to balance the budget far enough in advance for lawmakers to fairly deliberate upon all the budgetary details, state lawmakers ultimately adopted a 2003 education budget that provided what Gov. Blagojevich had requested, and more. This included a final elementary and secondary school funding increase of $384.5 million.

The final education budget raised the per pupil foundation level by $250 to a total of $4,810, far below the $5,665 recommended by the blue-ribbon education funding reform study group known as EFAB. But the budget did increase funding for mandated categorical grants, and increased spending on early childhood education by $30 million. State leaders also provided $500 million in new bonding authority for school construction, and enacted the governor’s new teacher scholarship program to help attract new teachers to shortage areas.

But the governor later made minor cuts in funding intended for the administration of state grant programs, and reduced the appropriation for career and technical education programs by nearly $1.6 million. Blagojevich also ordered a reduction in the total number of Illinois Regional Offices of Education (ROEs) from 45 to 22 statewide.

The governor had originally proposed eliminating the entire $23 million budget for the 45 ROEs. But state legislators, under pressure from grass-roots education groups, put $17 million for the ROEs into the budget. The governor used his veto power to reduce that amount to $11.3 million and ordered regional superintendents to create a new map of the 22 regions by May 2005. The governor also pushed through a plan for the regional superintendent of the largest county in each ROE to become superintendent of a new combined region, acting as the fiscal agent, and distributing grants and other appropriations. Under the governor’s ROE plan, the remaining regional superintendents would work cooperatively with the successor as "transitional" superintendents until the reorganization is complete in 2007.

Other state developments in 2002-2003 included the following:

Administrative re-certification gets tougher—A new law required new re-certification standards for school administrators and provided that tough new administrative certificate renewal requirements were to begin July 1, 2003. The bill required professional administrators to participate in continuing professional development activities totaling a minimum of 100 hours over five years.

Cell phone policies left up to school boards—Provisions contained in another law allowed local school boards to decide whether to allow cell phones to be used at school and, if so, to establish appropriate rules and disciplinary procedures regarding such usage.

School district deficit spending hits all-time high—Over 80 percent of Illinois school districts were spending more money than they were taking in during fiscal year 2003, according to Gary Ey, ISBE’s top financial manager. In contrast, only 46 percent of Illinois school districts faced spending deficits three years earlier.

School report cards reveal record-high graduation rates—Illinois schools recorded a record-high graduation rate and an all-time low dropout rate in 2002. An ISBE analysis of local school report cards found for the first time the Illinois’ graduation rate exceeded 85 percent, rising to 85.2 percent, two points above the 2001 level, and significantly above the 76.3 percent mark reported on the first school report cards in 1986.

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Illinois funding inequities draw national concern — Inequities in state and local support of local school districts exist in most states, separating the rich from the poor, but only one state in the nation has a wider funding gap than Illinois. So said a new analysis of government financial data released in August 2002 by the Education Trust.

Final funding panel report urges sweeping changes — State income and sales taxes should be swapped for property tax cuts, according to the final report of the state’s Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB).

Report: 32% of districts face major financial problems — Thirty-two percent of all Illinois school districts were encountering significant financial problems in 2003, according to ISBE. The financial watch list – a catalog of districts encountering the worst financial difficulties – included 100 of the state’s 893 school districts. An additional 183 districts were classified in the next most severe category.

Schiller named Illinois schools chief — The Illinois State Board of Education named Robert Schiller as the new State Superintendent of Education in July 2002, making him the state’s third superintendent since Glenn "Max" McGee was ousted in December 2001.

Governor advances final two state aid payments to schools – School concerns that the state’s budget woes would deprive school districts of anticipated year-end state aid payments proved unfounded, thanks to an action announced by Governor Rod Blagojevich in late March. School leaders had expressed concern the state might follow past practices of some governors and not make the final two state aid payments until the next fiscal year to help relieve the state’s budget crisis.

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President’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget underfunds NCLB

President George W. Bush’s proposed FY 2004 budget included $12.3 billion for Title I programs for disadvantaged students—a major component of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). That represented an increase of $648 million or 5.5 percent. But school advocates noted that the $12.3 billion the President proposed in March 2003 would continue to underfund NCLB. The original NCLB legislation had authorized about $18.5 billion for those Title I programs, yet only $11.8 billion was actually appropriated the first year. Moreover, the White House and Congress had agreed in 2002 to boost Title I spending to $16 billion for FY 2004. Thus, the proposed budget underfunded NCLB by nearly $4 billion, according to the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

Under NCLB, schools yielding low state test scores receive additional financial aid, but if a school fails to show sufficient progress after two years, some students may be permitted to transfer to another public school. After three years, some students are to receive federal funds for tutoring or transportation to another public school. The original NCLB legislation included provisions for funding private school vouchers, as well.

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July 2002 – IASB launches a new electronic bookstore enabling visitors to browse and search by title, author, or topic, online at .

July 2002 – IASB staff publish "staff standards" conveying what board members have a right to expect from staff members.

August 2002 –232 Illinois schools, including 179 in Chicago, are required to provide school choice under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). State assessment results are used to identify schools allegedly not making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) in 2000 and 2001.

October 2002 – IASB executive director Dr. Michael Johnson appears on WGN radio to explain school leaders’ disappointment with the state’s accelerated approach to implementing NCLB. "We have suddenly jumped into year three of a five-year cycle," Johnson says.

November 2002 – IASB launches a new service for board members called School Board LeaderShop. It includes workshops and networking opportunities designed to provide the knowledge, skills, and resources board members need.

November 2002 – IASB publishes a new book, Essentials of Illinois School Finance, by James B. Fritts, a training manual and reference for school business managers and budget makers.

December 2002 – Representatives of IASB’s 862 member districts vote to demand that a state assessment be developed to test the Illinois Learning Standards in compliance with—but only testing those areas required by—NCLB.

January 2003 – Education Week’s "Quality Counts" report compares the 50 states on education, and gives Illinois an "F" on equitable distribution of resources and a "C+" on adequacy of resources.

March 2003 – IASB announces the planned move of its headquarters offices to Springfield’s near south side will begin the week of April 21, and will be effective May 1.

April 2003 – The governor picks Janet Steiner of Carlinville as the new ISBE chairperson, succeeding Ronald J. Gidwitz of Chicago, whose term as chairman has expired.

May 2003 – As the war in Iraq continues, school officials in some districts add a "shelter-in-place" plan for chemical attacks to their usual emergency procedures.

May 2003 – A new IASB survey of board members and superintendents shows school leaders generally are not optimistic about the impact NCLB is having on Illinois schools. Superintendents cite a lack of information and clarity on requirements of this sweeping federal law.

June 2003 – IASB officers and staff host an open house on June 10 at the Association’s new headquarters, located at 2921 Baker Drive, Springfield.

July 2003 – In light of widespread school financial woes, IASB’s Board cancels member dues increases that were to have resulted from increased operating expenses.

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Thomas Lay Burroughs Award. Martha Swierczewski of Township High School District 211, Palatine, was the recipient of the eleventh annual Thomas Lay Burroughs award at the 2002 Joint Annual Conference in November. The award recognizes the state’s most outstanding local school board presidents, while celebrating the work of all school boards for their service to children and to education. Specifically, the award is presented annually by the Illinois State Board of Education to local school board presidents who have shown outstanding leadership on behalf of improved student learning, educational excellence, equal opportunity, and crisis resolution. The Thomas Lay Burroughs Award is named in honor of the late chairman of the State Board.

Heroes in Education. IASB Assistant to the Executive Director Pat Culler received the first-ever Heroes of Education Award from the Illinois State Board of Education during the 2002 Joint Annual Conference. The award was given in recognition of Culler’s 38 years of distinguished service to school leaders, and particularly for 32 years spent in organizing and managing the annual conference.

Cole Awards. Eleven different Illinois newspapers received recognition in the 2003 Robert M. Cole competition for best coverage of local school board issues. The annual contest is sponsored by IASB and conducted by the Illinois Press Association. Two daily papers—the Rockford Register Star and the Daily Herald, Morris—repeated as first-place winners in the 23rd annual Robert M. Cole Awards competition. The Wednesday Journal, Oak Park; and Ledger-Sentinel, Oswego took home first-place honors in the weekly newspaper category. Other papers winning awards this year included: The Telegraph, Alton; the Daily Herald, Vernon Hills; Sauk Valley Newspapers, Sterling; the Times-Republic, Watseka; The Times-Press, Streator; the Highland News Leader; and Liberty Suburban Chicago Newspapers. The awards are named in honor of IASB’s first full-time executive director.

Those Who Excel. Eight school board members were honored by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2003 for their outstanding contributions to Illinois schools. The school board members receiving Those Who Excel awards included: Theresa L. Kelly, Proviso Township High School District 209, Maywood; Alexia E. Weber, Community Consolidated District 146, Tinley Park; Harold Ernst, Highland C.U. 5; James E. Newsome, Madison C.U. 12, Madison; James J. Speciale, Edwardsville C.U. 7; W. Keith Davis, Bloomington District 87; Thomas Ellsworth, McLean County Unit District 5, Normal; John Coers, O’Fallon C.U. 90.

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