Thursday, March 21, 2019

Video: Exec. Director Bertrand
shares thoughts on state education issues

In a new Illinois Channel interview, IASB Executive Director Tom Bertrand updates viewers on a variety of Illinois education issues, including minimum pay for teachers, the school funding formula, new school board member training, school safety and security, transportation funding, property tax freeze concerns, and more.




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Bertrand chatted with Terry Martin, Executive Director of the Illinois Channel, who asked for an overview of some of the significant issues currently facing schools.

Bertrand began by noting the matters he has been addressing within IASB. The Association’s strategic plan includes an initiative for stronger member engagement, an improved website, and an outreach effort to members.

“Externally, a major focus right now is the spring legislative session. Over 6,500 bills have been introduced. Usually in a typical legislative season about half of those bills will in some way affect education,” he said.

Bertrand’s comments focused on key issues, such as:

Minimum teacher salary
IASB position statements stress the desire to maintain local school boards’ authority, as the representatives of the local communities and the taxpayers, to determine wages and benefits for their employees. The Association would oppose legislation that diminishes the right and the responsibility of locally elected school boards to bargain with their employees on this.

“So the challenge with minimum salary is that while we all want our teachers to be compensated fairly, we all want them to be paid as much as we can afford to pay them, pay needs to be determined locally, not mandated at the state level,” Bertrand said.

New Funding Formula
“I think the bottom line is that any funding formula is only good if it’s funded and now there’s been a commitment to at least put new money towards that formula,” he said. He added that the faster the state gets school districts up to an adequate funding level, the closer schools would get to reaching their goal of ensuring an excellent education for all students. “The goal was to get every school district to at least ninety percent of an adequacy level,” Bertrand explained.

He said adequately funding the new school funding formula will help with some of the challenges schools may face with paying for the many new mandates accompanying the new funding formula. “But our position has always been that we would oppose mandates that are unfunded.”

New Board Member training
Terry Martin brought up the training of new school board members that will be taking place after the April 2 general elections.

Bertrand said IASB training is scheduled to enable new board members to get oriented in their governance role and to obtain required training. He admits there is a learning curve for new school board members.

“Our role is to help close that learning curve for new school board members.”

School safety/security
“In my 34 years in education we’ve seen a dramatic change, not only in the need to physically secure our physical plants, with secure entrances and emergency protocols and all of that, but the social emotional needs and mental health needs of our students,” Bertrand said. He added that districts are looking for more services, and training for their staff in these areas.

“…At our Annual Conference we cannot offer enough sessions on security, and social-emotional issues, and mental health issues….We have lots of sessions at the conference every year about dealing with trauma, trauma-informed practices in our schools, and mental health services, and working with community agencies.  So the need is just continuing to grow across our country.”

Transportation funding
When asked about the position of school districts in regard to getting money from the state that is owed to them for transportation costs, compared with the past few years, Bertrand said: “I think they're in a better position than they have been for the last four or five years, perhaps even eight years. But I think many districts are digging out of a hole. And so we’re in year two of doing that. But the reality is, we're still at least one transportation payment behind, and we have been for a decade now. I think schools are grateful right now that they're being funded with the new formula. I think that the categorical programs like transportation are being funded, so that certainly helps.”

Property tax freeze
When asked about the impact on schools of the sometimes-discussed question of a property tax freeze, Bertrand said it would depend upon how property tax reliant that school district is.

“I think the challenge locally is that: Do you trust that if there was a freeze, you would get an offsetting amount of money from the state to offset that amount of money that you saved the local property taxpayer?”