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The Education Year in Review -- 2007-2008


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Legislative Issues

Illinois Education

The Federal Scene

Significant Developments

IASB Financial Report
Click here to download the IASB financial report for FY 2008 in portable document format.

Awards and Honors

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

As state legislators weighed proposals in the spring 2007 legislative session aimed at enacting additional accountability requirements for school board members, IASB lobbyists became concerned about unfunded mandates contained in some proposals. The lobbyists began asking Association members to communicate with legislators about these accountability measures.

A "Call to Action" was sent out by IASB lobbyists on June 28, 2007 to the Association's members. It stated: "Illinois legislators have been more focused than ever on legislation that would provide a significant infusion of revenue to schools across Illinois. However, discussions of additional revenue include implementation of additional programming, audits, ethics and mandated school board member training, all under the heading of 'accountability.' The program of most concern to your Association in these discussions is any attempt to impose an unfunded mandate requiring school board member training."

The document pointed out that IASB was created for the purpose of board member training and had been providing "exemplary training programs" for school board members for 94 years.

After much grass-roots lobbying by school board members, mandatory training of school board was defeated during the 2007-08 fiscal year, although the issue was not entirely abandoned by legislative proponents of the idea.

Budget. A budget implementation bill (BIMP) held up a legislatively approved increase in the state aid foundation level of $400 per pupil as part of the state's fiscal year 2008 budget. While the signing of BIMP bills is traditionally a mere formality — they are, after all, adopted only after the legislature and governor have already agreed upon and enacted a state budget bill into law — this BIMP bill was still pending a signature on Governor Rod Blagojevich's desk more than two months later.

The General Assembly had sent SB 783 (sponsored by Sen. Martin A. Sandoval, D-Chicago) to the governor on Nov. 5, 2007; the governor then had 60 days in which to take action or the bill would become law.

When the governor vetoed the bill just before the deadline fully two months later, lawmakers over-rode his action within six days and it became effective immediately. But the delay caused some difficulties.

Many school districts were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in state aid because an old number was being used in the school funding formula.

On Jan. 4, Gov. Rod Blagojevich finally used his amendatory veto to try to change the budget implementation bill, SB 783. But the bill became law six days later without his changes, putting into effect a $560 million funding increase for schools that was adopted in the budget for fiscal year 2008.

For the rest of the fiscal year, the state would be distributing its promised increase in the minimum amount of money – called the foundation level – that school districts receive for each student. The budget called for increasing the foundation level to $5,734 per student from $5,334.

The line item for mandated categorical grants in the budget was increased by more than $185 million to fully fund those reimbursements. The special education personnel reimbursement was also increased, which was the first such increase in nearly 25 years.

The delay in releasing this money caused concerns for school districts that had waited for their increased funding while the cost of salaries, fuel and insurance continued to rise.

Most did not report significant problems due to the delays, but had the issue not been resolved, those problems were coming. Short term, the delay was not a pressing concern for those districts that were able to take advantage of emergency financing. But many school districts were forced to borrow against themselves for the interim.

Legislation of Interest

In other key action, a number of significant new education-related bills were adopted into law, including:

CPR training. HB 258 (Smith, D-Canton) requires the state to establish a matching grant program to pay school districts for half the cost of providing training in CPR, or on how to use an automated external defibrillator. Public Act (P.A.) 95-43; effective Jan. 1, 2008.

Renewable energy grants. HB 285 (Mitchell, J., R-Sterling) requires, subject to appropriation of funds, a new renewable energy grant program to be launched to assist school districts in the installation, acquisition, construction, and improvement of renewable energy sources. P.A. 95-46; effective Aug. 10.

Interfund transfers. HB 357 (Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora) extends the expiration date for school district interfund transfers from June 30, 2007, to June 30, 2010. P.A. 95-53; effective August 10, 2007.

Gang resistance. HB 438 (Pritchard, R-Hinckley) provides that, in addition to providing for instruction in bullying prevention, each school district may provide instruction in gang resistance. P.A. 95-198; effective Jan. 1, 2008.

Wind farms. HB 620 (Rose, R-Mahomet) provides that a county may establish standards for, and regulate the site of, wind farms and electric-generating wind devices. P.A. 95-203; effective Aug. 16.

Physical education waivers. HB 1839 (Joyce, D-Chicago) limits waivers from the physical education mandate to two years and only allows them to be renewed twice. P.A. 95-223; effective Jan. 1, 2008.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) gave a green light in June to significant changes in state regulations governing special education (Part 226). Requirements call for district administrators to complete plans by Jan. 1, 2009, for introducing a new approach to special education, known as Response to Intervention (RTI).

"The RTI-related requirements will not be difficult for school administrators to meet, and federal IDEA pass-through funds and state grants can be used to help put the plans into action," according to Tim Thomas, superintendent of the Northern Suburban Special Education District, who helped push for the state rules changes.

Key changes that ISBE and JCAR approved, and their impact on school boards are as follows:

  • Class Size and Caseload: Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, special education class sizes will be determined by the amount of time students spend outside regular education classrooms, not the kinds of disabilities student populations have. To safeguard against unmanageable workloads, school districts will be required to have a written plan spelling out special education classroom workloads. In practical terms this means the issue can be bargained, so school boards need to pay close attention to class size and caseload matters.
  • Response to Intervention (RTI): Beginning in the 2010-11 school year, districts will be required to use a series of regular assessments (not just I.Q. tests), known as "RTI," in determining whether a student is learning disabled. A delay of several years in implementation will allow ISBE and school districts to put together plans, including budgets, to ensure school employees receive the training needed to apply RTI effectively. Schools boards should expect to play a role in planning for all of this.

As mentioned in the June Newsbulletin, RTI aims to catch specific learning disabilities before students fall behind their classmates – an approach that could lead to a major change in the way special education is provided. RTI places primary emphasis on early intervention and puts reduced emphasis on psychological testing (mostly I.Q. tests) and other traditional tools of special education now being used to address student disabilities.

RTI is not a new idea. Some Illinois schools, and scattered schools around the nation, have been using bits and pieces of it for more than 10 years, but it appear to be spreading from elementary schools to middle schools and high schools, experts say. They stress RTI can be effectively used to address behavior problems, not just academic ones, and it is designed for providing interventions for students in regular classrooms as much as for students in special education.

In an RTI teaching model, teachers must monitor all students' progress with frequent short assessments, as often as twice a week. If a student makes sufficient gains, the teacher can move on to the next lesson. But if the student fails to respond to one intervention, different ones are tried before the school and parents decide that special education is necessary.

The ISBE-proposed rules pertaining to RTI are displayed in a document posted at: http://www.isbe.net/board/meetings/may07/part226.pdf . Key provisions of the new rules include the following requirements:

  • Develop a state plan by no later than Jan. 1, 2008, to identify the kind of professional development, and other training and resources that will be needed to properly implement RTI in every district beginning with the 2010-2011 school year
  • State plan must identify the estimated cost for successful implementation and sources of funding to meet these costs
  • State plan must include a timeframe for provision of training, financial resources, etc.
  • State plan must set forth best efforts ISBE will make to secure and provide support to districts as they gear up to implement RTI
  • State plan must identify districts less able to implement RTI without help from the state and include a process for getting resources to such districts first
  • If ISBE does not develop and disseminate such a plan by Jan. 1, 2008, districts will not be required to begin using RTI in the 2010-2011 year
  • Rules would require every district to develop its own RTI transition plan by no later than Jan. 1, 2009
  • District plan must identify resources district will devote toward implementation and include kinds of assistance it believes it will need from the state, particularly for professional development.
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ILLINOIS EDUCATION

State Board of Education Developments

June 2008– The State Board engages in a full discussion of the next steps to improve state standards for high schools, possibly moving toward joining the American Diploma Project's multi-state network and convening a state team to participate in a standards alignment institute.

May 2008 – State Superintendent Christopher Koch makes student residency issues one of the top items in his May 6 weekly newsletter, noting that residency challenges have become increasingly common. Some blame the growing problem on widening disparities in educational spending from one district to the next.

April 2008 – ISBE submits new rules regarding school food service and "junk food." The proposal is published in the Illinois Register on April 4, thus beginning the process used by the legislature to review proposed state regulations. The new rules are even more stringent than those rules currently in operation, according to school lobbyists.

March 2008 – State officials express concern over the adequacy of the state budget for schools as proposed. They note that revenue estimates for the year are down from earlier projections, and that school districts received last year's budgeted increases six months late, which means districts lost several months of interest on their money.

February 2008 – The ISBE calls for a $300 million boost in school spending — $260 million less than the previous year's increase. Meanwhile, state revenue forecasts look increasingly grim.

January 2008 – Based on a survey instrument circulated by IASB for the Lieutenant Governor, local school leaders give the ISBE an overall rating of 70.6 percent "satisfactory," 10 percent "needs improvement," and 19.4 percent "excellent." But 36 percent of responding school board presidents said ISBE needs improvement in the area of finance services, with the lowest ranking being reserved for the agency's timeliness in providing funding to schools.

December 2007 – The ISBE announces that Illinois ranks fourth in the nation for having the highest number of teachers achieving National Board Certification during 2007. A total of 511 Illinois teachers achieved National Board Certification, an 18.6 percent increase from 2006.

November 2007 – Illinois schools participating in federal child nutrition programs have made considerable progress in adopting local wellness policies and establishing wellness policy teams, according to a statewide needs assessment survey coordinated by ISBE in collaboration with Action for Healthy Kids – Illinois. Three in four respondents report their district has developed and adopted a wellness policy.

October 2007 – ISBE asks all districts to complete and submit the School Capital Needs Assessment form by Oct. 31. ISBE and the state's Capital Development Board use all the data received from it to communicate the capital needs of school districts to state officials.

September 2007 – ISBE explains that school districts should consult with their attorneys and auditors to determine how to address expenditures from the tort immunity fund in light of recent court rulings. ISBE recently provided updated information on the subject online at: http://www.isbe.net/finance/pdf/Tort_Summary.pdf.

August 2007 – A record number of Illinois high school students took Advanced Placement (AP) tests in 2006-2007, ISBE announced. More than 55,000 public and non-public juniors and seniors took AP tests, representing a 9.9 percent increase over 2006. In addition, the state also saw a significant increase in all minority groups taking AP classes.

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THE FEDERAL SCENE

NCLB reauthorization plans supported by most Americans, with key changes. A survey released by Educational Testing Service (ETS) finds strong public support for reauthorizing the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. But it also shows that teachers, school administrators and the American public want major changes in NCLB. The public wants to shift the focus toward trying to fix, rather than just identify, schools that are struggling. NCLB is said to be one of President Bush's biggest domestic accomplishments.

Peformance pay pilot project begins in Chicago. For perhaps the first time ever, unionized schools in Illinois engage in differential pay, beginning in the fall of 2007. An experimental merit-pay program is introduced at 10 schools in Chicago District 299 under a $2.8 million federal grant. The program will pay teachers yearly performance bonuses of as much as $8,000, and higher-level teachers as much as $15,000 more to train, mentor and evaluate colleagues.

Charter grants are available. The Illinois State Board of Education was successful again in the summer in obtaining a Federal Charter School Start Up grant, making Illinois one of only 10 states receiving the funding for the year. The FY08 Federal Charter School Start Up grants are of three kinds: 1) a Pre-charter Planning grant; 2) a Charter Planning grant; and 3) a Charter School Implementation grant.

Derogatory speech policy upheld in federal court. A judge once again decides that a Neuqua Valley High School student cannot wear a shirt to school that reads "Be Happy, Not Gay." An attorney for Indian Prairie CUSD 204, Naperville, said the Dec. 21 federal court ruling vindicates the district's position that prohibiting derogatory speech is consistent with furthering the school's educational mission.

Vouchers, federal funding cuts proposed. The Bush administration revives a push in February 2008 for a $300 million voucher proposal that would allow poor students to transfer to public schools outside their district or to private schools, if their schools have not met benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind act or if they experience low graduation rates. Opponents of private school vouchers such as the National School Boards Association voice strong objections to this concept. "NSBA remains vehemently opposed to the continuing proposals by this administration to spend taxpayer dollars to fund a privatization scheme that does not impose the same accountability requirements for academic progress as those under NCLB," says NSBA president Anne L. Bryant. Bryant also expresses NSBA's displeasure with the administration's proposed cuts in public school funding, including career and technical education and education technology. The President says eliminating 47 education programs would save about $3.3 billion, and the administration argues that the programs are too small to have a national impact, are not effective for other reasons, or get money from other sources.

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SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS, 2007-2008

July 2007 – Bloom THSD 206 in the Association's South Cook Division rejoins IASB, bringing the district count to: 853 IASB member districts; 16 non-member districts; and 869 total districts. Thus, 98 percent of all Illinois school districts belong to IASB, the highest-ever proportion of membership.

August 2007 – Due to the overwhelming response to IASB's new board member workshops in the spring, IASB offers one additional opportunity to attend the Basics of School District Governance workshop. This day-and-a-half workshop is offered on Aug. 17-18, at IASB's Lombard office.

September 2007 – IASB gathers survey responses from its membership to learn what local school board members think about member services. The survey results are to be used by staff for continuous improvement efforts, and to inform future work.

October 2007 – IASB announces it is expanding a two-day training strand for school board and district secretaries and clerks or recording secretaries at the 2007 Joint Annual Conference. The event features 12 topics plus a "meet-and-greet" session. Sessions for board support professionals are set to run concurrently on both Friday, and Saturday at the conference.

November 2007 – More than 350 school board delegates vote to push for legislation to allow legally enrolled students who have become non-residents of their own district to attend school, tuition free, until the end of the grading period. A proposal is also adopted to continue to allow students to have the opportunity to serve on a board of education governing the district where they attend school. The voting occurs during the IASB Delegate Assembly at the Joint Annual Conference in Chicago on Nov. 17.

December 2007 – Lobbyists with the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance, including IASB governmental relations staff members, oppose a new bill that would mandate school board member training. The Alliance argues it is patently unfair that the mandatory training provision would only apply to volunteer, unpaid, elected school board members, but not to salaried public officials such as legislators. School board members already receive far more training and professional development than any other group of elected officials in the state, according to the Alliance.

January 2008 – Results are released from the 2007 Illinois Lieutenant Governor's survey, which contains school leaders' opinions on state education services to schools. The survey shows general satisfaction, except on "finance," as the lowest ranking is reserved for the timeliness of providing funding to schools. IASB plays a role by distributing the survey instrument to board presidents to expedite feedback on the need for and quality of state services.

February 2008 – Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), tells an audience at IASB's Rally for Public Education in Lombard on Feb. 27 that today's education system, increasingly driven by federal requirements, may soon face irrelevance. That is, unless leaders bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn, Bryant said. The Rally draws 237 school board members, superintendents and other school leaders.

March 2008 – "Green" construction may be slightly more expensive, but districts in Illinois are finding that the energy savings and health advantages can outweigh the added costs. So says the cover story of the March/April issue of The Illinois School Board Journal. Readers also learn about a district that will soon be powered by a wind turbine, and about academic dishonesty, grievance process terminology, the Golden Apples Scholars Program and much more.

April 2008 – President Mark C. Metzger wins election to the NSBA Board of Directors at the 68th NSBA Conference held in Orlando, Florida. Approximately 450 Illinois school board members and administrators were registered for, and attended, the conference. No other state sent as many school leaders to the national conference.

May 2008 – IASB's Policy Department celebrates its 50th contract for School Board Policies Online, the Association's online policy manual publishing service. With this service, IASB member districts can publish their local policy manuals on the Internet, complete with links to legal and cross references, a searchable Table of Contents and a search engine. IASB adds an archiving feature at no additional cost to subscribers, enabling districts to maintain older versions of a policy for historical and legal purposes.

June 2008 – A final list of submissions is assembled at IASB offices after the June 25 deadline for the receipt of Delegate Assembly resolutions. The annual Delegate Assembly is IASB's major policy-setting mechanism and it consists of delegates chosen by IASB member boards to represent them, with each board entitled to send one delegate to the assembly. The delegates gather at the Association's annual conference to vote on resolutions submitted by member districts to establish policies and the direction for IASB in the year ahead.

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AWARDS AND HONORS

Thomas Lay Burroughs Award. ISBE Chairman Jesse H. Ruiz presents Mark C. Metzger, school board president for Indian Prairie Community Unit School District 204, with the Thomas Lay Burroughs Award at the 2007 Joint Annual Conference. Metzger had earned the National School Boards Association's Distinguished Service award in the previous year. An IASB Master Board Member since 1997, he was first elected to the school board in 1991. ISBE created the Burroughs Award in 1991 to recognizes extraordinary educational leadership by local school board presidents, including leadership in resolving a crisis or major difficulty, in resolving a crisis or major difficulty, and on behalf of equal education opportunities. The Award is named in honor of the late chairman of ISBE.

Superintendent of the Year. Blondean Y. Davis, Superintendent of Matteson ESD 162, was named the 2008 Illinois Superintendent of the Year at the 2007 Joint Annual Conference. The award, sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Administrators, was presented Nov. 17, 2007 in Chicago. Award winners are selected based on their work demonstrating: creativity in meeting students' learning needs; strength in personal and organizational communications; commitment to growth through upgrading their administrative knowledge and skills; and their community involvement.

Cole Awards. Eleven newspapers received awards in the 27th annual Robert M. Cole Awards competition for 2007, including the Belleville News-Democrat, which earned first place in the large daily newspaper category. The Times, Ottawa, won first prize in the medium-size daily category, the Times-Republic, Watseka, won first prize in the small daily newspaper category, and The Doings, LaGrange, won top prize in the non-daily newspaper category. Other papers winning awards included: The Pantagraph, Bloomington, The Pekin Daily Times, Morris Daily Herald, Coal City Courant, the Ledger-Sentinel, Oswego, and Village Voices, Lena. Named in memory of the first executive direction of IASB, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes newspapers that are doing an outstanding job of covering local school boards while emphasizing the community's connection with local public school districts.

Those Who Excel. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) singled out four school board members and two school superintendents with awards for their outstanding service to schools at the 33rd annual Those Who Excel banquet in 2007. Three school board member winners received the top-level Excel Award from ISBE, the Award of Excellence. Those winners were: Carol Farnum, president of Aurora East District 131; Paul C. Piszkiewicz, who had recently announced his retirement from the Des Plaines CCSD 62 Board of Education; and Mary Wilkerson, a board member at Evanston THSD 202. Farnum is also the director of IASB's Kishwaukee Division. The fourth individual honored in the school board category was former school board member Tim Baldermann, of New Lenox District 12. Baldermann, the mayor of New Lenox, received an Award of Recognition. Two school district superintendents were honored with Excel awards, namely Larry R. Elsea, of Southwestern CUSD 9, Piasa; and Kevin Settle, of Mt. Vernon District 80. Settle was also the previous year's Illinois Superintendent of the Year, as named by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

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