At the last D46 school board meeting on June 6 the Board briefly discussed the District's membership in ED-RED, an organization whose mission is to be "A united voice advocating for the diverse needs of suburban schools." In particular, board member Michael Carbone expressed concern regarding the District’s membership in ED-RED and labeled them with the loaded term 'lobbying group'. ED-RED does lobby our legistlators but I believe that ED-RED is exactly the sort of organization the District should be associated with for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its ability to bring relevant and important policy discussions directly to our state legislature. Organizations like ED-RED serve as a collective voice for their members and are able to provide a concentrated message on behalf of the school districts they serve. They serve to engage teachers, administrators and board members in the legislative process. All of these things are positive and should be supported and encouraged by District 46.
The main concern raised by Mr. Carbone seems to be that ED-RED is advancing policy ideas that are somehow detrimental to the District. I fail to see how this is the case. Following is a brief outline of the work ED-RED is doing on behalf of its members.
The main categories of their current legislative priorities are Bilingual Education, Consolidation, Education Reform, Pensions, and Property Taxes.
The main thrust of ED-REDs work in Bilingual Education is to secure more state funding for the District by supporting 2 House Bills that remove the block grant currently given to Chicago Public Schools and subsequently distribute those funds more equitably around the State of Illinois. Given the high, and increasing, Hispanic population in the District and Lake County this is an extremely important endeavor that deserves our support.
ED-RED is supporting various policy initiatives being explored and created by the Classroom First Commission which was authorized by Public Act 97-0503. This Act requires the Commission to focus on issues such as reducing duplication of efforts, improving education by removing obstacles between teachers and students, and lowering property taxes. If you read through the Commission’s Stage II report on the ED-RED website you will find dozens of ideas for reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and generally improving the health of school districts around the state.
ED-RED advocates for the reform of teacher and administrator evaluation methods related to SB-7 and the implementation of the Public Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) and the work of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC). SB-7 sets policy for the following:
-The conduct of a bi-annual climate survey to be completed by both teachers and students
-State Superintendent authority to impose sanctions on low performing teachers
-Filling new and/or vacant positions using factors such as certifications, experience, merit, ability, and performance evaluations
-Tenure, including a probationary period and portability of tenure for highly rated teachers
-Reducing staff based on performance rather than seniority
-Dismissing tenured teachers with the option to use 1 of 3 processes
-Collective bargaining and the right to strike, by setting parameters for the number of days required for each stage of bargaining
ED-RED recognizes that TRS pension reform in Illinois is an ongoing issue that has yet to be resolved. They are examining various aspects of the problem including the how the system is managed and funded. They are working with TRS, ISBE and other entities. As an example of the work that has been done thus far, the state of Illinois has implemented or proposed that some teachers contribute more to their pensions and/or health insurance premiums.
ED-RED, along with the Illinois Education Association, Stand for Children, CPS and many other entities, currently oppose 2 Senate Bills – 2862 and 2073 (as amended). These bills would eliminate the authority of local school boards to levy based on the needs of the community and students. Additionally, the proposal would freeze local resources necessitating the need for more general state aid. General state aid is not exactly a guarantee, so increasing the District’s reliance on that aid is unwise at best. The proposal would also override rates previously approved by voters. ED-RED supports HB-4021 which would allow school districts to levy to recapture revenue lost due to property tax refunds. The levy would be outside of PTELL and would have to be approved annually, and taxpayers who received a property tax refund included in the levy and exceeding $1000 would be able to apply for an abatement. ED-RED supports this proposal because it distributes the tax burden based on decisions from prior tax years and it applies only to refunds that came from a change in valuation or an exemption. As it stands, these refunds for valuation changes and exemptions are taken out of the current year tax collection even though the refunds occurred in the prior year. This proposal stops that from happening so that school districts can collect the full property tax to which they are legally entitled.
Overall, ED-RED supports initiatives that are intended to solidify funding, improve efficiencies, and generally protect the interests of the member districts and their communities. Certainly there may be some proposals with which you may not agree. Does that mean the District should withdraw completely and lose a strong voice in Springfield? This is short-sighted, throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water thinking. Rather, the District should work more closely with ED-RED in order to provide input to the process and advance our own ideas and priorities.
Rather than viewing the work of ED-RED with a narrow ideological lens we should see the work they are doing for the greater good of schools across the region.
We should not be excluding the District from this conversation. Instead, we should be asking ourselves why we don’t have someone from the District on the committees and in the working groups that are striving to improve education in Illinois.