The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 reviews proposals prior to upcoming vote
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 will be voting on three expenditure items totaling $1.5 million at its upcoming meeting on Monday, Dec. 4. The items were presented on Nov. 20.
One item presented was amended as the district sought to spend $25,000 a year over the next three years for the Alignment Collaborative for Education (ACE), but a majority of board members amended the request to give $25,000 for just one year citing a lack of transparency from the organization. The initiative appears to largely be funded by taxpayers via government bodies, such as city governments, which contradicts previous statements, but it is unclear.
Board member Sue Kerr said: “I would support a one-year because my concern with ACE in the past has been, they’ve done the curriculum fair, but it has not always been clear to me what else they have accomplished.”
Kerr said during a presentation from ACE committee members that it had “good plans, specific plans” and she would support a longer term commitment “as we see the work coming next year.”
An exploratory team was formed by former Superintendent Jose Torres in 2012 to create ACE, a group comprised of government entities and businesses among other organizations.
Instead of asking how the government body can serve the taxpayers who fund it, ACE is designed to ask how the public can serve the government according to Peter Sikorski, the ACE vice chair, during a presentation earlier in the meeting.
“It was a combination of government organizations, civic organizations and the business community really all coming together to say ‘what does U-46 need of the community to have broad community support?’ To me, that was much different than an organization looking to tell U-46 what to do,” Sikorski said.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that Torres “committed to a three-year, $15,000 a year commitment to alignment. This past school year, we didn’t make a contribution.”
Sanders said that Rockford commits $75,000 a year to its alignment initiative, which has been around since 2009 according to its website.
Neither district has seen academic results since creating their alignment initiatives according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s report card. Over the last three years of available data in Rockford its percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on PARCC has dropped each year from 23 percent to 17 percent and on MAP from 18 percent to 10 percent, and U-46 has also seen yearly drops in PARCC (33 to 28 percent) and MAP (24 to 11 percent).
During the meeting, there were questions left unanswered as has been the case in the past when some contradictory information had apparently been given to the board.
Board member Jeanette Ward asked: “What exactly are we spending the $25,000 on?”
Sanders said “essentially” the salaries and benefits of an executive director and administrative assistant. He added it also “goes to support the work of the alignment initiative.”
Ward asked what the ACE director’s salary is which Sanders said “I do not know.”
“I was unaware that it went for their salary,” Ward said. “I thought it was a volunteer position.”
During a presentation given last school year, Sanders made contradictory statements saying “this is all paid for through fundraising” but went on to say “there was a portion to kick it off from U-46, from Elgin, from some of our municipalities and others.” He was also unsure if tax dollars from U-46 were still going towards ACE at the time.
ACE also appeared to be a way for the district to get around the school board at least for one aspect as members of the initiative said it planned on creating a mobile preschool which they said did not need public approval during that previous presentation. Sanders was unsure if that would require additional staff to support the preschool. ACE members also lauded its collaboration portal used primarily for “private discussions” among members.
According to the proposal, the planned result from the $25,000 is for expanding career pathways for high school students, marketing early education programs for “children ages birth to four” and seeking “health professional partnerships to have more schools experiencing a holistic school environment that prioritizes students’ social and emotional development as well as their academic success.”
Board member Phil Costello said he thinks ACE is a “great initiative” but agreed with Ward’s concerns with the lack of transparency. He, Veronica Noland and Melissa Owens all agreed with Kerr on going with one year.
“I don’t think anyone finds anything wrong with this initiative,” Costello said. “I think it’s just a matter of going forward with a little more steady footing.”
Owens said ACE’s annual report “doesn’t tell me anything. I don’t know who specifically is funding this beyond ourselves, and we’re not getting a lot of information from them on numerous aspects.”
Noland said she “often wondered what they are doing and what we’re supporting,” and “I would love to get more transparency from this group.”
Board member Traci Ellis supported going with the full three years “because I don’t think that we can expect the depth and breadth of outcome that we want year by year.”
Ward was unsure if she supports the initiative at all considering the conflicting information she has received.
“I was under the impression in the past that this was volunteer and that we weren’t having to pay for this, that it was getting the business community aligned and volunteering to work with us but that it wasn’t at a cost to us,” Ward said. “And now I’m learning that there’s an executive director that’s a paid position. So I don’t know that I’m comfortable with the $25,000 period.”
Noland responded: “I can appreciate that point of view, but I also see, hear as a result tonight that having this group have a professional at the helm… is really what’s going to drive this forward.”
The remaining expenditure proposals included a five-year proposal with Hayes Software Systems costing $832,916, to come from the education fund if approved, and a proposal with Happ Builders Inc. costing $643,700, which would come from the capital projects fund. Both proposals had other organizations present lower bids for which Ward asked for an explanation on.
The proposal with Hayes Software Systems is to provide an electronic inventory system for all U-46 owned items from textbooks to computers and Bruce Phelps, interim director of business services, said the district spoke with other districts that have used both Hayes and Follett, which came in nearly $200,000 less, and Hayes provided an easier staff transition and “will not require a lot of personnel” additionally to implement. The Happ Builders proposal is to provide renovations to welding labs at Elgin High School and Chris Allen, director of plant operations, said that Construction Solution, which came in over $65,000 cheaper, withdrew its bid after making an error.