The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 approves expenses for IASB conference
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved travel expenses to the annual Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) conference by a 6-1 vote, Phil Costello voting no, at its meeting on Monday, June 18.
The conference will be in Chicago and it is scheduled to take place over three days in November while the approved cost imposed on U-46 taxpayers is “not to exceed $4,500.” The conference fee, without lodging and other travel costs, is $485 per attendee and five board members signed up to attend as well as U-46 CEO Tony Sanders.
Costello and board member Jeanette Ward, who did vote in favor of the travel expenses, did not sign up to attend. Both voted against renewal of membership with the lobbyist organization, costing $40,000, at the June 4 meeting.
“I am going to vote yes on this, even though I voted no for the IASB membership, because I don’t want to prevent my fellow board members from going to the conference,” Ward said.
Although saying he finds a value in board members networking, Costello told The Examiner that in his experiences he has not seen that value come to fruition at the IASB conferences and he finds little value in the IASB in its current form.
“Our job is to the taxpayer, not to IASB,” Costello said. “IASB provides no value to the board members as an organization. They only want to perpetuate larger school systems, and they use us as pawns to get there.”
The IASB did reduce its membership fee this year for large school districts, U-46’s membership being $1,339 less than last year, while it has often opposed the lobbyist recommendations made by its smaller, rural school district members.
Prior to the membership vote on June 4, Costello asked how the district’s “involvement and expenses invested in this organization directly benefit local school’s performance and operating capacity?”
The district’s response: “Administration cannot speak to how Board members have benefitted from being members of IASB. However, administration has noted… the benefits that come from the policy services provided by IASB.”
In support of membership in the IASB, board member Sue Kerr said U-46’s board needs to be told what to do by the IASB because “board members are not trained. We can be anyone off the streets.”
The district has claimed value in IASB’s policy briefs regarding changes in state and federal education laws. State law has created a monopoly for the IASB organization as the only one able to run school board self-evaluations, at an additional cost to taxpayers, as well as requiring school board members to receive training that the organization offers, also at an additional cost.
The IASB has opposed local control including at the 2017 conference when four rural school districts asked the IASB to lobby for allowing districts to be able to have armed staff for protection of students. Those four districts explicitly stated they wanted to leave “the decision to each local district board to decide what is best for their schools and students,” but the IASB as a whole opposed the measure as did U-46’s administration and board majority.
Despite agreeing with the four rural districts’ points, such as rural districts having a slower police response time and having less funds for armed security, the IASB admitted it opposed the measure for partisan reasons saying the “controversy of having guns inside the school” was its sole reason for opposition.
The IASB lobbied last year for the change in the education funding formula which required tax hikes by the state on both personal income and corporate rates as the taxpayers funded the organization to lobby against their interests.
Costello has been hesitant about the IASB from the start when he took his seat in 2015 but has given them a chance. In 2015, both Costello and Ward voted for membership in the group at the request of Donna Smith, the board’s president, to give the IASB a chance, but they both did not see the value as they have opposed the membership since then.
In 2016, Costello volunteered to be U-46’s voting delegate at the conference saying at the time it would allow him to “objectively evaluate the merits of continued participation and direct and indirect costs of the relationship.” After attending the conference, he said it was both “interesting and disturbing at the same time. While our district’s administrative cabinet recommendations were approved by the board, they happened to mirror all of the IASB Recommendation positions. In my opinion, the whole process seemed rather sanitized.”
Costello told The Examiner that the IASB could be a worthy organization but currently is not.
“I think IASB has every potential to be a great organization if they were to stick to the impact and effectiveness of school districts without regard to how they grow and how they use tax dollars,” Costello said. “What they should be looking at is whether they are providing an efficient tax dollar and an education to the public student, and that should be their only obligation.”
Costello added: “I think that they need to understand their role should not be about just making school districts get bigger and larger and using more and more tax dollars. That’s just wrong.”
Kerr and Smith as well as board members John Devereux, Veronica Noland and Melissa Owens all signed up to attend. Devereux was seated at the June 18 meeting.
Noland said in the past that she typically only attended one day at the conference and has not required any lodging, but she was considering attending for all three days this year but “at this point, I’m not going to have the district pay for my lodging.”
“The expense is pretty high for the registration because its one fee no matter how many days you go, so I was looking at the possibility of possibly going more than one day,” Noland said. “But I also wanted to know that if I could possibly reimburse the district for the lodging costs if I decided to do that. I didn’t get any feedback yet for that.”
Noland said that U-46 is waiting on hearing from the IASB on if she can reimburse the district for the lodging costs.