The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Split U-46 Board votes pass two contested items
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 voted 5-2, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward both voting no, on setting prevailing wage rates and renewal of membership in the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) on Monday, June 19.
Costello and Ward have previously opposed the prevailing wage rates as the district uses Illinois Department of Labor (IDL) rates to set the wage levels.
“The Illinois Prevailing Wage Act is an outdated law which is harmful to local governments, the taxpayers they represent and in this case the children of this district,” said Ward who noted there are two ways to set the rates, one being to use the IDL numbers and the other being the district doing its own survey among contractors in the district.
“I don’t believe that the current prevailing wage rates that we’ve received from the Illinois Department of Labor are in line with the actual rates of contractors within this district,” Ward said. “I also know that the current rates from the Illinois Department of Labor are heavily influenced by the rates of union contractors. This creates a lack of competition within the marketplace essentially cutting out local small businesses and minority contractors from being able to bid on a public works project.”
Ward also said “prevailing wage laws increase the cost of public construction jobs by as much as 20 percent,” and “we would have that money to put back into the classrooms, and it would be significant. In a climate in the state of Illinois which is still behind on paying us what they owe us, this would be a savings we should pursue.”
The Examiner found last year when the prevailing wage rate was voted on by the board that a Government Accountability Office report showed there’s “a lack of transparency” that boxes out competition allowing only those entrenched contractors to seek government work in states with prevailing wage laws. A Suffolk University study showed prevailing wage rates increase costs by an average of 22 percent.
The U-46 administration also confirmed Ward’s stance against prevailing wage laws last year when it supported having the IASB lobby the state to eliminate prevailing wages laws for school districts. In November of 2016, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that eliminating the law “would provide additional flexibility as we’re doing our work in getting bids for work that we have to get done. I think we can do it in a way that would satisfy the needs of our community, the contractors and also our laborers.”
On IASB membership, which costs $41,339 and will come out of the education fund, both Costello and Ward voted to maintain membership in their first year on the board in 2015 at the request of board president Donna Smith to give it a year to see if they find a value. But Ward said “last year I voted no because I didn’t find a value in the services that they provide. They haven’t changed my mind.”
Costello agreed that he didn’t find the value in the IASB and added: “I think that the IASB could be a portal and a repository for benchmarking and best practices, and they’ve lost that opportunity…. I just don’t see those dollars going into the classroom.”
Board member Sue Kerr said she attended a board policy meeting earlier that day in which the district had used IASB policies to craft U-46’s, and she said it could cost more if the district hired outside lawyers to craft policies. Board member Melissa Owens said that the IASB policies “actually do very deeply touch students in our classrooms in a very profound way.”
Unanimously approved at the meeting were two curriculum proposals, for middle school physical education ($307,602) and secondary music ($14,231).
Board members tested the heart rate monitors to be used for the PE curriculum, and both Kerr and Ward said they purchased the monitors because of how well they worked.
The PE curriculum will move towards personal fitness and away from team sports, and Ward said: “I think it’s a great idea to teach students about personal fitness. I think team sports are valuable too, but a lifetime, life skill is to be able to take care of your own fitness. I think that it’s a good idea, a great idea actually.”
The board also approved with a 7-0 vote $9.3 million in itemized bills.