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The Education Year in Review -- 2012-2013


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Legislative Issues

Illinois Education

The Federal Scene

Awards and Honors

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON BALLOT

The voters of the state were granted a say in how future pension enhancements were to be enacted when lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that placed a proposed change in the State Constitution on the November 2012 ballot.

Defeated at the polls, the amendment would have required a 3/5ths vote of the legislature or local governments, including school districts, to adopt any benefit increase for any state pension or retirement system. The Amendment was narrowly rejected by voters on Nov. 6, 2012.

ISBE TRANSPORTATION PROPOSAL HELD IN COMMITTEE

A proposal initiated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to modify the transportation reimbursement formula and eliminate the requirement that school districts transport students to school met stiff opposition in the Senate Education Committee. The proposal was amended onto HB 5825, but sponsor Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) pulled the bill before a vote could be called, reportedly it was held after it became evident the measure would not receive the number of votes needed for committee approval.

DEEP BUDGET CUTS FOR SCHOOLS WEIGHED

Legislators considered major budget cuts for FY 2013. The foundation level could have seen cuts between $300 and $500 per pupil. The transportation reimbursement budget line item could have been eliminated, as well.  

On pensions, a plan to shift part of the state’s pension liability onto local school districts was seen as a very viable option by many legislators. This proposal could have drained up to $700 million from local school districts the next year – in addition to the anticipated cuts in school appropriations.

Plans proposed in the spring also included shifting the state’s portion of the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) pension liability to the local school district or taking away all of the Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax (CPPRT) that flows to school districts and sending that money to the pension systems. It was estimated that if the legislature shifted the “normal costs” of the TRS pension liability to local school districts, each school district would have been required to pay 7.65% of its TRS payroll to TRS each year. This would have been approximately $700 million statewide in the first year.

This cost shift could have been due and payable immediately in Fiscal Year 2013. There was apparently to be no property tax levy to assist school districts in funding this new requirement. If all of the CPPRT funds were diverted to the state’s pension systems, over $1 billion would have been taken from local governments and school districts. CPPRT funding is part of the General State Aid formula for school funding and eliminating these dollars would have been harmful to public schools.

Legislative leaders left much of the “heavy lifting” on the top issues until the last 10 days of the spring session. The Fiscal Year 2013 state budget was only to be finished at the last hour, but the companion budget issues of Medicaid cuts and pension reform needed to be completed first, lawmakers said, so budgeteers could factor in any resulting budget savings.

FISCAL YEAR 2013 BUDGET

The legislature finally sent a budget to Governor Quinn for Fiscal Year 2013 at the end of May, one containing considerably less spending for schools than the year before. The House did, however, add a little more to the K-12 education budget than had been in its original plan. The initial House budget cut K-12 education $258 million below the FY ’12 funding level, including $212 million less in the General State Aid (GSA) formula. However, a late amendment restored $50 million for GSA. The education budget, which attempted to hold the mandatory categorical grant funds flat, resulted in an overall spending plan that was $208 million less than in FY ’12.

No General Revenue Fund money was allocated for Regional Office of Education salaries as the necessary provisions were amended in the law to allow lawmakers to again fund these offices out of Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax funds.

PENSION REFORM

After more than 12 months of intense pressure to approve legislation to reform the state’s pension systems, the legislature adjourned the spring session without passing a pension bill. The final two weeks were especially targeted on the issue, as dozens of hours of discussions and negotiations took place while legislative leaders looked to reform the Teachers’ Retirement System. But no bill to reform TRS was ever called for a vote on the House or Senate chamber floor.

In the final week of session a bill was approved by a House committee that would have significantly changed the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for both active teachers and administrators and retired TRS members and would have shifted the state’s pension costs onto local school districts. Eventually, the bill was amended to remove the provisions for the cost shift. Then Governor Pat Quinn told legislative leaders to stop action on the bill. The governor was expected to call legislators back into session sometime in the summer to address pension reform legislation.

BILL ACTION

The governor did, however, sign a number of significant new education-related bills into law in 2012, including:

HB 4993 (Cross, R-Oswego) provides that a candidate for an administrative certificate who has enrolled and begun coursework prior to August 1, 2011, in an approved Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) program, and who successfully completes that program prior to January 1, 2013, may apply for the general administrative endorsement until January 1, 2013, without his or her two years of full-time teaching or school service personnel experience. The bill became Public Act 97-0701, effective June 25, 2012.

SB 638 ( Steans, D-Chicago) makes changes to Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification procedures. It extends the timeline for which persons may be admitted to an Alternative Teacher Certification program or Alternative Route to Teacher Certification program from September 1, 2012, to September 1, 2013. Likewise it extends the dates for completion of the program from September 1, 2013 to January 1, 2015. Under this section, it adds charter schools as a recognized institution. The bill became Public Act 97-0702, effective June 25, 2012.

SB 2706 ( Haine, D-Alton) contains some of the recommendations of the Streamlining Illinois Regional Offices of Education Commission. Specifically, the bill requires that the population of each region be no more than 61,000 and there be no more than 35 regions by July 1, 2015. Before June 30, 2013, regions may be consolidated voluntarily or by joint resolution of the county boards of regions seeking to join a voluntary consolidation, effective July 1, 2015, to meet these population requirements. If, before January 1, 2014, locally determined consolidation decisions result in more than 35 regions of population greater than 61,000 each, the ISBE, before June 1, 2014, shall direct further consolidation, beginning with the region of lowest population, until the number of 35 regions is achieved. The bill became Public Act 97-0703, effective June 25, 2012.

SB 3244 ( Frerichs, D- Champaign) requires ISBE to work with stakeholders to develop a model mathematics curriculum that must be available to school districts, though districts would not be required to implement the curriculum. The bill originally required that high school students must complete a fourth year of math before graduating from high school, but that provision was removed from the bill due to Alliance opposition. The bill became Public Act 97-0704, effective January 1, 2013.

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ILLINOIS EDUCATION

ISBE ASKS FOR REMOVAL OF SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted in June to ask for the permanent removal of sitting, elected school board members. Although a provision in Illinois statutes had for several years allowed for school board members to be removed for failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for an extended period of time, no such action had ever taken place or even been attempted.

The state board unanimously approved authorization for the state superintendent to require the regional superintendent of schools to remove three school boards.   It allowed the state superintendent the power to appoint an independent authority to operate the troubled districts in the name of improving student performance and enhancing school improvement.

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THE FEDERAL SCENE

Federal ‘sequester’ spending limits threaten future school funding

NSBA began warning school leaders in November that the federal “sequester,” slated to become effective Jan. 2, 2013, could impact certain school bond programs, reducing future federal funding. School operating budgets were faced with potential cuts of 8.2 percent or more in federal funding.

Title I aid for underprivileged students as well as grants for special education and Head Start programs were threatened. NSBA said an estimated $2.7 billion in public education cuts could take place in districts throughout the United States unless Congress agreed to alternatives.

NSBA contacted the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Treasury Department to address this concern. If a school district had issued direct-pay bonds under any of these programs, the district was being urged to consult its bond counsel regarding the effect on future federal payments.

Illinois proposes to increase testing, rank schools on 5-star scale

Illinois began moving to overhaul how students were tested and schools judged, with a proposed “star” rating system as one key element of a dramatic new state plan. The state proposal would have ranked schools on a scale of one to five stars.

The plan was developed when Illinois joined 37 other states in applying for a waiver from some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Such waivers came with the condition that each applicant state must create its own alternative assessment system acceptable to federal officials.

In addition to the star ratings system, major NCLB waiver plan components in Illinois included mandatory testing for every grade from 3 through 11 and raising the score required to pass grade-school exams.

Under the federal NCLB law, schools could fall short of federal standards and face sanctions if too many students flunked state tests. The new star rating system would have included more assessment categories, such as whether students were making yearly progress and how prepared they were for college. Each major category would be worth 100 points — points that would be the basis of the proposed star ratings.

The waiver proposal submitted by Illinois officials needed approval by the U.S. Department of Education.

State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch announced in the middle of June the state still was working with the federal department to get approval. “While much of our application seems favorable to the department, we are still not in agreement regarding the timeline for when districts must use student growth in their new local evaluation systems,” Koch stated.

Existing Illinois law called for a progressive phase in, with some districts beginning to use the proposed new evaluation system the next year and all districts using them by 2016-17. The U.S. Department of Education wanted all districts implementing the new evaluations in 2014-15, Koch said.

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AWARDS AND HONORS

Burroughs Award

Ronald Moehring, board president in Illini Central CUSD 189, was the winner of the 2012 Thomas Lay Burroughs Award as the state’s top board president, which was presented at the November Joint Annual Conference.

He was nominated by district superintendent Lori Harrison for the award. “ Moehring has been a blessing to Illini Central and to thousands of students and staff,” Harrison wrote in her nomination letter. “He has a dedication, loyalty and love of the Illinois students, staff and community that is second to none.”

Cole Awards

Twenty newspapers received awards in the annual Robert M. Cole Awards competition for 2012, including the Peoria Journal Star, which earned first place in the large daily newspaper category.

The Cole Awards were sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards and conducted by the Illinois Press Association to recognize newspapers doing an outstanding job of covering local school boards and emphasizing the community’s connection with public school districts.

Other first-place Cole Award winners were: Coal City Courant, small weekly division; The Bugle Newspapers, Plainfield, mid-size weekly division; Pioneer Press, Glenview, large weekly division; Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, small daily division; and Quincy Herald-Whig, mid-size daily division.

Multiple award winning newspapers included Pioneer Press, which also garnered third place in its division. The Northwest Herald, Crystal Lake, had three stories that tied for second place in the mid-size daily division. And the Morris Daily Herald earned a third place and honorable mention in the small daily division.

Winning individuals and judges’ comments:

  • Dave Haney , Peoria Journal Star, “Excellent leads, tight writing and good use of graphics give this entry first place.”
  • David Adam , Quincy Herald-Whig, “Excellent continued coverage of board distress in Quincy.
  • Andrew Mitchell , Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, “Excellent tie-ins for all stories to board actions and an example of how to make a board meeting story more than a rehash of approving an agenda item.”
  • Karen Berkowitz , Pioneer Press, Glenview, “Excellent lead article on whether its grads are prepared when they leave area schools propelled this to the top.”
  • Laura Katauskas , The Bugle Newspapers, Plainfield, “Strong story on school board’s new grading policy and good board member quotes.”
  • Ann Gill , Coal City Courant, “This entry stood out from the others for its excellent leads, well-written copy and information that was more than what comes out of a school board meeting.”

Named for the first full-time executive director of IASB, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes outstanding coverage of education issues that emphasizes the community’s connection with its local public school district.

Winners were announced June 15, 2012 at the annual convention of the Illinois Press Association in Springfield.

Governance Awards

Eight school boards were recognized in the fall of 2012 as recipients of IASB’s second annual “Governance Recognition Award.”

The award is designed to acknowledge school boards that have engaged in activities and modeled behaviors leading to excellence in local school governance in support of quality public education.

“The recognition for our efforts at improving our governance process is most welcome,” said Quintin Shepherd, district superintendent of Skokie / Morton Grove School District 69, which was one of the eight winners.

Other boards receiving the recognition were: Prairie Grove Cons. SD 46, Crystal Lake; Harlem SD 122, Machesney Park; THSD 214, Arlington Heights; CCSD 62, Des Plaines; Grayslake CHSD 127; Hawthorn CCSD 73, Vernon Hills; and Waukegan CUSD 60.

The main focus of the program is on full board development and participation, not individual board member efforts, according to Angie Peifer, IASB associate executive director.

“Effective school boards understand that excellence in local school board governance requires full board commitment to obtaining the knowledge, skills and abilities critical to good governance,” she said. “It is that commitment that provides the opportunity for the board to practice and model continuous improvement and life-long learning for the staff, students and community,” Peifer said.

Other areas cited in the application were the board’s success with encouraging stakeholder participation in important issues facing the district; monitoring the district’s performance over time; and taking responsibility for its own performance, including school board member orientation procedures.

Holly Jack Award

Debra Williams, board recording secretary and administrative assistant to the superintendent of Arlington Heights School District 25, was the recipient of the fourth annual award for school district secretaries. She was honored Nov. 16 at the 2012 Joint Annual Conference in Chicago.

Williams was chosen to receive the “Holly Jack Outstanding Service Award” from among 31 nominees. She had been the administrative assistant to the superintendent since 1991 and had served as the board recording secretary for five years. SD 25 is an elementary district serving 5,100 students.

Williams said “the district’s strategic-vision is to be ‘wired’ for success and understanding,” with WIRED being an acronym whose meaning has been the key to her own success: “We Integrate, Reflect, Engage, Discover, and Engage,” she said.

The award was created to honor the memory of Holly Jack, a long-time employee of the Illinois Association of School Boards, who served as an IASB administrative assistant and was instrumental in promoting and developing the secretaries’ program that is offered at the annual conference and in regional workshops. Jack passed away in October 2008.

Those Who Excel Awards

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) singled out five school board members for their outstanding service to schools at the 38th annual Those Who Excel/Teacher of the Year banquet on Oct. 20, 2012, in Bloomington.

There were several levels of recognition in the annual awards program, including the top-level Excel award, as well as the Award of Merit and the Award of Recognition.

Receiving the Award of Excellence were: Renee Klass, Board Vice President, Kildeer Countryside CCSD 96, Buffalo Grove; and Ronald Moehring, Board President, Illini Central CUSD 189, Mason City.

Receiving the Award of Merit were: Maryann Ovassapian, Board President, Libertyville SD 70; and Ellyn Ross, a board member in Aptakisic-Tripp CCSD 102, Buffalo Grove. Ross is also a community volunteer in Adlai E. Stevenson High School District 125, Lincolnshire, where she won the award.

The Award of Recognition went to Sharon Lynch, a board member in CCSD 62, Des Plaines.

Candidates were nominated by their local school districts or members of their communities. The nomination included a brief biography of the nominee, his or her philosophy of education, professional development, community involvement and views on the state’s most pressing educational needs. Letters of recommendation were also required.

A committee of peers chose the award winners. The committee represented statewide education organizations and former award winners.

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