The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Split U-46 Board vote to sustain membership
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education of School District U-46 will remain members of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), but it came with a 4-3 split vote on Monday, July 18.
The cost of membership is $41,039, which will be paid for out of the education fund, which does not include the cost of board self-evaluation meetings or the fees for the IASB’s annual conference. Phil Costello, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voted against the renewal after voting for it last year to give it a year to see if there was value.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that for policy reviews “we rely a lot on the Illinois Association of School Boards” for legislation updates from the state regarding education.
“If the administration, or Board of Education, opts to not renew the membership in IASB, I just want to be transparent with the board that we need to do something to ensure that we have the staff in place to do those policy reviews, write the policies and ensure compliance,” said Sanders.
However, the IASB engages in partisan politics and has what appears to be a monopoly as the only organization allowed under state law to offer board self-evaluations, and it offers Open Meetings Act training at a cost which it successfully lobbied the state to require board members to receive.
The IASB’s influence in Springfield also may create the need for the legislative updates as it lobbies for more state laws.
Costello said the IASB “is in effect a monopoly,” and although he understood the administration’s reasoning he could not support prolonging the status quo.
“I was troubled by this because Mr. Sanders did give a very good description of why we should stay in there, but it came back down to perpetuating the development of a larger and larger school system and not enough of an opportunity to go after efficiencies and our own resourcefulness at coming up with ways we can better this school district,” Costello said.
Ward reiterated the IASB’s support of programs such as expanding preschool and attempting to weaken transparency, issues she’s said she’s “at odds with” the group, as the reason for her no vote.
If you are a Republican or simply someone who understands how the government is supposed to work as the General Assembly controls state spending, your tax dollars are going to an organization against your interests as the IASB has played partisan politics by blaming Gov. Bruce Rauner for the state’s financial crisis according to Ward.
“They blamed the lack of education funding on partisan bickering when in fact there was one party who refused to present the governor with a clean education bill,” Ward said.
Those board members who supported the IASB admitted the IASB does appear to have a monopoly and doesn’t always support the best interest of U-46, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Board member Sue Kerr said that she thinks “you can gain a lot by networking with other districts and seeing what they do.” She said “IASB may not always support what we all agree on… but I think overall the benefit is worthwhile.”
Kerr also expressed concern in “individual school board members being the ones trying to keep track of legislation.”
Donna Smith, the board’s president, said “I find a benefit with it” then asked Ward: “Would you be ok if this was voted down, would you be ok with us hiring someone to do this policy end of it?”
Ward said she would be fine with hiring someone to provide a policy review later “suggesting either doing consulting or using a half a (full-time employee)” if needed.
Costello said: “It’s a fair question. I agree with you Donna. I think that it is important to understand that there’s a tradeoff. We’re not saving $40,000 end of story.”
“I think the IASB perpetuates itself by being this unit of ‘this is the way we should do things,’ and it’s not right that they should adorn all of their policies on all of the school districts,” Costello added. “We are different, with different needs.”
Kerr, Smith and Veronica Noland all said they feel it might cost more than $40,000 to follow state legislation, but despite a year of time, the administration offered no specifics on how much it might cost. Costello, Holt and Ward all expressed concerns with voting for the IASB last year but voted for it partly due to the administration saying it relies on the legislative updates.
“I think it’s important to be a part of this association. It is our industry,” said Noland, who added she’s fine with it being a monopoly because “in all associations there’s usually only one, sometimes two.”
Board member Traci Ellis said commented about Costello’s points: “I agree with to some degree; however I find that to be the case with most large industry associations,” and then went on to make it personal again after doing so at the June 20 meeting when the renewal was presented. At that meeting, Ward noted that the IASB refused to refund the registration fees for board members who couldn’t attend the annual conference.
“I don’t know of a conference that on the night of the conference when you don’t show up at 7 p.m. will give you your registration fee back nor a hotel that on the night of the day of check-in when you don’t show up,” said Ellis.
Ellis accused two board members, only naming Ward, at the June 20 meeting, of wasting district money by not attending. Ward said at that meeting she missed the conference due to a snowstorm, that was previously noted as being the second largest November snowstorm in Chicago history, and had to reiterate at the July 18 meeting that she did not ask for a hotel room.
“I did not utilize the hotel, as I said last time,” Ward said and Ellis interrupted: “No, that was Mr. Holt.”
Holt did not engage in any debate with Ellis but told The Examiner after the meeting that a personal matter arose that kept him from attending the conference.
“What the people of U-46 witnessed tonight is exactly what my colleague has done since she has been on the board,” Holt said. “She throws out a red herring to distract people from the real issues. Yes, I didn’t attend the conference, I wanted to be there. However, I had unexpected personal matters arise combined with a snowstorm.”
Holt said that Ellis is fine with spending taxpayer dollars “to go to the convention to dine with lobbyists and vendors. That’s her prerogative, but it’s not mine. I’ll continue to do the work on behalf of the people of U-46 and not play petty political games.”
Costello ended the discussion by saying the board needs to have “a lot of priority-driven discussions” regarding the budget as the current financial state of Illinois may force it.
“I think every decision should be based on whether that dollar goes towards a child’s education or whether it goes to something on the periphery,” Costello said.