The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 Board discusses various IASB resolutions
By Seth Hancock
Members of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), including School District U-46, will be sending representatives to the annual conference in Chicago from Nov. 22 through Nov. 24.
Beyond the mostly hotly discussed topics in recent years regarding school safety issues, the IASB delegates will vote on several resolutions to determine what the lobbyist arm of the government schools will support.
The U-46 board discussed the resolutions at its Oct. 21 meeting and agreed with both the district administration and IASB resolutions committee’s recommendations on nearly all of the resolutions, but a resolution regarding minority owned businesses led to a lengthy discussion.
The resolution submitted by a district in Champaign seeks to amend state statute to allow school districts to give preferential treatment to “businesses owned by minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and veterans, in selecting companies to service contracts.”
No evidence of discrimination was provided by the submitting district, the IASB committee or U-46 administration but the stated rationale was that it would address “past, specific discrimination in contracting.”
Board members ultimately agreed with the resolution despite some concerns addressed, primarily by Melissa Owens.
Legislation in Springfield (Senate Bill 223) by Sen. Christina Castro, an Elgin democrat, addresses the issue which the IASB committee stated “could cause local school boards to lose flexibility in some human resource practices,” but it ultimately supports the goal of such legislation.
Miguel Rodriguez, U-46’s chief legal officer, said: “We consider it a good resolution.”
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said there should be further conversations on specific legislation to “make sure that it comes forward in a way that we can support as a school district.” Sue Kerr, the board’s president, said there’s a conflicting problem with current state law which requires districts to choose the lowest bidder that meets specification.
Owens said she understood the intent and called it “laudable,” but said it could come with a price.
“I am concerned though that this has a cost behind it in that if we’re not solely looking at the lowest responsible bidder, that if we add an additional qualification into the bidding process that that is going to wind up on the whole costing the district more money,” Owens said.
After some silence, Owens asked the question: “Because what would be the reason for us not accepting bids from a minority-owned business to begin with?”
Rodrigues said “it could very well be that it is cost prohibitive,” but the goal is “to address social responsibility.”
“The way we read the resolution did not say we would deny the lowest bidder,” said Sanders, but it’s “giving additional points for businesses that are minority owned. There is no harm in that.”
Owens responded: “There’s no harm as long as we’re not putting undue pressure on the district to spend more money on bids…. We’re very well conscious of the fact that given the property tax burden that our taxpayers have in this district, which is higher than most districts, I don’t want to put additional burdens on our taxpayers because of something like this. I don’t know that that’s fair.”
Board member Veronica Noland fully supported the plan saying that diversity is a higher priority than choosing the most qualified and most cost-effective contractors.
“I want to caution us to not forget that we have made a commitment to diversity in our workforce so that our students interact and our teachers interact with folks that they see themselves in our workforce, and that should apply to our vendors as well,” Noland said.
“This isn’t our money,” Owens said and added: “We have to be very judicious on how we spend that money. The reason why there’s that lowest responsible bidder restraint on school districts is specifically because of that.”
Board member Eva Porter said the district needs to “focus on those minority businesses making sure that they are considered.”
There is no evidence that minority owned businesses have not been considered or denied the ability to bid.
Former board member Phil Costello raised the issue in previous years of looking at ways to encourage using local businesses.
Owens said that could be among many parameters that should be discussed further.
“We also have an interest in this district of awarding contracts to locally owned businesses because this is a community, and it’s the community’s money that is being paid,” Owens said.
Kerr said she also was “not comfortable with it either” before seeing specific legislation but supported the goal.
A resolution was submitted to urge lobbying efforts by the IASB towards supporting host school districts being a part of the renewal process for charter schools that were authorized by the Illinois State Charter School Commission (ISCSC). It would apply only to those districts that denied charters that were then authorized by the ISCSC.
The U-46 administration and board approved of the resolution as did the IASB committee.
“This board would have a say so… that the renewal process the charter would get reauthorized,” Rodriguez said. “Which is like a good idea.”
That would give U-46 the ability to deny the renewal of the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA), a district charter authorized by the ISCSC in 2017, despite U-46 using unfair negotiation tactics according to most ISCSC board members.
The IASB committee, U-46 administration and board all agreed with resolutions concerning at-risk students and charter schools, background checks for substitute teachers, traffic zones, seating of new board members and board member terms. All disagreed with resolutions concerning the swearing in of board members and board member compensation.
There was unanimous support for amendments to five existing positions as well as one reaffirmation of an IASB position.