Friday, January 20, 2017

Alliance Leadership Summit
set for Feb. 21-22

School leaders will have the opportunity again to share their local education priorities directly with state legislators at the biennial Alliance Leadership Summit, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 21-22, at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. 

In addition to meeting with General Assembly, participants will get a crash course in government advocacy, learn about the issues being discussed at the state level, and hear from public education advocates about what the future holds for public education in Illinois and at the national level.

The first Leadership Summit held in 2015 drew more than 600 school board members, superintendents, principals, and school business officials. This year’s event, hosted by the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), Illinois Association of School Business Officials (Illinois ASBO), Illinois Principals Association (IPA), and Illinois School Boards Association (IASB), will offer a chance for district leadership teams to learn, plan, and engage lawmakers about the critical issues facing our public school system.

“With a new General Assembly, long-standing and new challenges to public education, and the prospects for shaping the future of public education in Illinois looming, this is the perfect time to rally local school leaders in the state Capitol,” said Roger Eddy, IASB executive director.

The agenda will focus on changes to the school funding formula, the state budget for the 2017-2018 school year, including the “Grand Bargain” proposal by the Illinois Senate. Eddy said participants should be prepared to take part in developing a school leadership strategy and carry that unified message to the state legislative leaders and governor.

On Tuesday, attendees will hear from State Superintendent Tony Smith and Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis. Other keynote speakers include former teacher, administrator, and author Jim Burgett, and Ralph Martire, school board member and executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

Education leaders will also hear from Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance staff about effective messaging and strategy when meeting with legislators. Other panels include school funding reform commission, political analysis from Capitol journalists, and a TED Talk-style panel led by Illinois ASBO Executive Director Michael Jacoby.

On Wednesday, participants will travel to the statehouse to meet with legislators and other key staff. An opportunity to tour the Senate chambers will also be provided.

Registration for the two-day event is $165 and includes two lunches, breakfast Wednesday morning, and legislative reception Wednesday night. Housing is available at five area hotels at block rates ranging from $86 to $101. A complete Leadership Summit schedule is posted on the IASA website. More details will be added as they are received.

State budget instability continues in wake of ‘lame-duck’ session

Andrew Johnson
By Heath Hendren

As the calendar rolled into 2017, Illinois’ backlog of bills continued to pile up. Unpaid bills multiplied to total nearly $11 billion and the state no longer had a temporary budget in place to pay for many services and programs.

While a full-year budget for Illinois schools was approved in June of 2016, districts throughout the state were still awaiting payments for those related expenses commonly called mandated “categoricals.”

Much education spending discussion for the current fiscal year centered on an increase in General State Aid to fully fund the per pupil foundation formula and provide an additional $250 million for high-poverty districts. Included in the FY 2017 spending plan was more than $1.7 billion for categorical payments. These funds are distributed in four quarterly payments per year, and are intended to reimburse districts for expenses such as free lunch and breakfast programs, special education personnel and services, and transportation expenses.

The amount of categorical funding varies from district to district, depending on a number of factors, including transportation needs, and the number of students enrolled in specific programs. The common thread among public school districts is that they have not received their allocated categorical payments for the current year. In fact, districts have only recently received the final quarterly payment from FY 2016.

Jasper CUSD 1 Superintendent Andrew Johnson said his district received $154,723 for the last installment of FY 16 at the start of January, with no indication about when the 2017 funding will arrive.

“We are showing a $221,000 projected deficit in our transportation budget for FY 17,” said Johnson, who added that CUSD 1 schools were owed about $252,000 for the first two FY 17 payments. “We have had to borrow from our working cash the last two years, and I am sure we will have to again this year.”

CUSD 1 is the largest geographic district in the state, making transportation funds vitally important for school operations. The district owns and maintains a 54-bus fleet that travels more than 600,000 miles per year.
Michael Lubelfeld

With the state more than six months behind in distributing categorical funds to schools, districts are forced to dip into reserves to cover normal costs.

“We borrowed $250,000 from the Operations and Maintenance Fund last year that will have to be paid back within three years or permanently transferred if we do not have enough money in the transportation fund to repay it,” said Johnson. “We are running over 20 buses with 150,000 miles on each one. Our repair bills cost about $8,500 per month. We currently cannot find the money to purchase new buses to replace our depleted fleet. According to our calculations, if we were provided 100 percent of the money promised to us rather than continual proration, our district would be in good shape with our budget.”

Other school districts that don’t rely on the state for a large percentage of their funding are faring better, but they, too, are feeling the concerns arising from the Springfield stalemate.

Deerfield SD 109 Superintendent Michael Lubelfeld said the delay in state payments has less impact on districts like his that receive most of their revenue from local sources. “We receive approximately three percent of our funding from state sources,” Lubelfeld said. “Most of our revenue is generated locally, and those dollars we can count on. But I do have a tremendous concern for other districts in our county and throughout the state that have a heavy reliance on state funds.”

Lubelfeld did caution that if the state falls behind in distributing education dollars to the Deerfield district it could impact future capital projects. “Our state aid goes into our capital construction fund. This allows us to have flexibility with projects and construction,” he said.

The Deerfield superintendent backs the Vision 20/20 initiative and the “Evidence-Based Funding Model” that is supported by the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance as the best solution for resolving the state’s education funding problems.

Some legislators have recently proposed linking changes to the way education dollars are distributed to an overall budget agreement. An initial framework of the budget proposal emerged as the 99th General Assembly convened for two final days of session on Jan. 9 and 10, before new lawmakers were sworn in. The lame-duck session brought a glimmer of optimism that a comprehensive spending agreement could be progressing in the coming weeks as Illinois Senate Democrats and Republicans unveiled a package of bills that some believe may offer a blueprint for compromise.

The framework of the potential deal encompasses an array of topics, including new revenue, borrowing to pay old bills, pension reform, gambling expansion, term limits for legislative leaders, a temporary property tax freeze, a minimum wage increase, and changes to the school funding formula.

“Though no action was taken in the January lame duck session, having actual amendments filed for all to see was a significant step in this process,” said Ben Schwarm, IASB deputy executive director. “A package of new bills encompassing this spending agreement was filed by both Senate leaders after the beginning of the new General Assembly, clearly aiming for legislative action early in the session,” he added.

The 100th General Assembly was sworn in on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Legislators will return to the statehouse for regular session on Jan. 24, followed by Governor Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address on Jan. 25.

Updates on state legislative issues can be found in Alliance Legislative Reports, issued each week that the General Assembly is in session.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Update: Deadline for submission of
foster care student transportation
procedures delayed until June

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has changed the deadline for districts to submit foster care student transportation procedures to June 30, 2017 (previously Jan. 16). To assist with developing and implementing the new procedures, ISBE released an FAQ on the subject. Additional resources, including sample procedures and an interactive webinar, are currently under development and expected to be available in the coming weeks.

For background and more information on this issue refer to the December 22 News Blog story Districts face transportation obligations for foster care students.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

School strike averted in Quincy

The Quincy SD 172 Board of Education negotiates
with teacher and support union representatives Jan. 10.
Plans by Quincy SD 172 teachers and support personnel to go on strike on Tuesday, Jan. 17 were nixed, pending ratification of a tentative settlement reached over the weekend. No details have been released of the agreement, which was reportedly reached during four hours of talks on Saturday.

There has not been a teacher strike during the 2016-17 school year, although a total of 14 districts have been through the process of public posting of offers with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. Work stoppages were narrowly averted by contract agreements reached in Chicago Public Schools 299 on Oct. 11, 2016, and in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 on Dec. 2, 2016.

The last school strike in Illinois occurred April 1, 2016 in Chicago, involving the 27,000-member Chicago Teachers Union and the 400,000-student Chicago District 299. The one-day strike over teacher funds was also meant to call attention to the need for increased state funding.

The most recent posting involves the Byron Community School District 226 and the Byron Education Association. That notice was filed Jan. 10. The two sides are still meeting regularly in the Byron contract talks, with the next negotiating session set for next month. The complete list of such public postings can be viewed here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sixteen Illinois schools join Blue Ribbon ranks

Sixteen public schools in Illinois were recognized recently by the U.S. Department of Education with awards through the National Blue Ribbon Schools program.

The program bestows awards on elementary, middle schools, and high schools for academic excellence and improvement in closing the gap between privileged and underprivileged students. Schools can qualify as Blue Ribbon Schools by being rated as “high performing” or “achievement gap closing.”

All 16 schools qualified by scoring in the top 15 percent of all schools in the state in reading and math. All groups within the school — including lower-income students — also had to collectively score in the top 40 percent.

Five private schools, which faced similar requirements, were also awarded the Blue Ribbon this year, bringing the total of Illinois school winners to 21. That compares to 16 in 2015.

Here’s the list of the public schools that earned the designation, their enrollment, and the school district in which they reside:

  • Alan B. Shepard Middle School, 513 students, Deerfield SD 109
  • Countryside Elementary School, 418 students, Barrington CUSD 220
  • Damiansville Elementary School, 103 students, Damiansville SD 62
  • Daniel Wright Junior High, 821 students, Lincolnshire-Prairie View SD 103
  • Earl Pritchett School, 568 students, Aptakisic-Tripp CCSD 102 (Buffalo Grove)
  • Eisenhower Academy, 261 students, Joliet PSD 86
  • Grove Avenue Elementary School, 513 students, Barrington CUSD 220
  • Half Day School, 370 students, Lincolnshire-Prairie View SD 103
  • Kennedy Junior High School, 951 students, Naperville CUSD 203
  • Monroe Elementary School, 405 students, Hinsdale CCSD 181 (Clarendon Hills)
  • Oak Grove School, 803 students, Oak Grove SD 68 (Green Oaks)
  • Skinner North Elementary School, 472 students, Chicago District 299
  • Tri-Valley Elementary School, 287 students, Tri-Valley CUSD 3 (Downs)
  • Tripp Elementary School, 628 students, Aptakisic-Tripp CCSD 102 (Buffalo Grove)
  • Walden Elementary School, 453 students, Deerfield SD 109
  • Woodlawn Middle School, 656 students, Kildeer Countryside CCSD 96 (Buffalo Grove)

Federal education officials honored these schools among the 279 public and 50 private school award winners nationwide at a ceremony held Nov. 7-8 in Washington. Each school received an award plaque and a flag as symbols of their accomplishments. In its 34-year history, nearly 8,500 schools in the United States have received the Blue Ribbon Schools award.

More information about the program and the award winners can be found on the program’s official website.