Saturday, February 04, 2006

Questionable Practices of the School Construction Program

Please note the letter below. You may want to take the information in the letter below and send a letter to the Governor, your Senator and your Representative and ask them not to pour any more money into The School Construction Program.

This is a copy of the following message sent to Web-master via Illinois
Senate Republicans

This is an enquiry e-mail via from:
Jeffrey D. Ferguson

I am writing to bring to your attention, a process that must not be allowed to continue. The School Construction Program is riddled with questionable practices. Per CDB records, only 254 of the 497 projects since 1998 were approved by the local voters in their respective district. Our district was one of the 243 that built schools with nothing more than a school board
resolution as authorization, despite a referendum being defeated 71-29%. I have spent the past 35 months researching and documenting the process at the local, regional, and state level. I have also contacted every conceivable state agency, as well as two Senators and the US Attorney's office. Still, Governor Blagojevich is proposing another $500 million be poured in to this Program. We have residents literally being taxed off their property and out of their homes, and the State, at every level, allows it to continue. Enough is enough. We are considering legal action in our district, which will undoubtedly have far reaching implications if we proceed. Our website is I suggest the Illinois GOP educate themselves on this
Program before any consideration is given to additional funding.

Jeffrey D. Ferguson, Chairman
Coalition for Public Awareness

$10 million spent annually by district for classroom subs

The article below appeared in the Chicago Tribune . Be sure to email the authors and tell them to keep up the great investigative reporting.

Chicago to target absent teachers
$10 million spent annually by district for classroom subs

By Tracy Dell'Angela and Darnell Little
Tribune staff reporters
Published February 4, 2006

Driven by parental concerns about teacher absenteeism, the Chicago Public Schools for the first time will start scrutinizing schools with high numbers of teachers taking sick days.
The district also plans to publicize teacher attendance rates at each school beginning next school year.
"This is important to parents. There's never been a spotlight on this, and that's a mistake," Schools Chief Arne Duncan said of the new scrutiny, which was announced to schools in a memo this week. "I think it's like any workplace. When people feel good about the work, people want to be there. This is not only important for student learning, it's important to school culture."
On any given school day in Chicago, an average of 1,500 teachers, about 6 percent of the teaching staff, call in sick or take a personal day, according to a Tribune analysis of teacher payroll records. The absentee rate is highest on Fridays, when an average of 1,800 teachers don't show, the analysis revealed.
While some individual schools track teachers' attendance, the district has never tried to analyze how many teachers are out systemwide--or whether some schools have a disproportionate number of absent teachers.
For each of the last six school years, Chicago teachers missed an average of 12 unscheduled days in their 39-week work year. Their current contract calls for 10 sick days and three personal days.
By comparison, salaried employees nationwide take an average of five sick and personal days during their 50-week work year, according to a 2004 survey of 536 employers by a major human resource consulting company.
The district's effort is an attempt to address the academic disruption that occurs in schools with large numbers of teachers calling in sick. But it also is expected to reduce the hiring of substitutes, which costs the cash-strapped system more than $10 million a year.
Last school year, the district tapped 280,000 substitutes, with the peak coming in February, when demand for substitutes topped 47,000--or about 2,350 each day. The demand for subs in the 2005-06 school year is even higher, up about 27 percent for the first five months of this school year compared with the same period the year before, according to district reports.
The absentee problem falls hardest on students in schools perceived to be dangerous or chaotic because their schools have the toughest time securing substitutes, principals say. In May, an average of about 200 substitute requests each day went unfilled, which meant that the school had to find another staff member to cover the classroom. Stable schools typically have their own stock of steady substitutes and don't rely on the district's substitute center.
Union officials contend that the district is unfairly trying to punish teachers for taking days that are guaranteed by the contract.
"The district is using this as an intimidation tactic," union President Marilyn Stewart said. "Teachers may take off for a lot of reasons, either because they are sick or frustrated. It's no one's business. I don't see why it has to be public. Why do parents care, if it's not tied to test scores? You can clean your house without letting everyone see your dirt."
Stewart argued that most Chicago teachers are dedicated professionals who are working under heavy stress and are not misusing sick time. She blamed the high absentee rates in certain schools on principals, who contribute to teachers' stress but do little to manage their staffs.
One principal agreed, saying the new policy stigmatizes schools without addressing some of the underlying reasons that drive teachers to call in sick even when they are not.
"There are a lot of things coming down from the central office from people who have no idea what it's like to be in a classroom with 32 children and an unsupportive principal," said Christina Gonzalez, principal of Zapata Academy on the Southwest Side. "Absences create chaos in the classroom and it creates chaos in the building. And of course you don't want teachers to be absent. But I don't think this is fair. I really don't think most teachers abuse it."
Duncan said the idea is not to shame teachers, but to spot schools where the absences suggest a deeper morale problem.
"If teachers are feeling that level of stress, then the question needs to be why and what can we do to relieve it," Duncan said.
Some school leaders favor the public attention because it lends weight to their own scrutiny of teachers suspected of misusing sick days.
At Otis Elementary, Principal James Cosme tracks his teachers' attendance yearly and looks for excessive absences that can't be explained by a long illness or family emergency. In a typical year, he may call in three teachers--out of his staff of 50--to discuss excessive absences. Usually it works, but sometimes it doesn't. He once had a teacher who frequently called in sick on Mondays, which Cosme suspected was caused by a drinking problem. He ultimately decided to dock the teacher's pay, and the teacher retired soon after.
Cosme also makes a practical appeal, urging teachers to conserve their sick days and bank them in case they need them in coming years for an unexpected illness. Or they can cash them in at the end of their career for a richer pension.
Even though he's paying attention to the issue, he welcomes the extra scrutiny.
"Anytime you shine a light on something, it forces self-examination," said Cosme, who said that in a typical year his teachers average six to seven sick days. "It will be interesting data because I don't know how well I do compared to other schools like mine."
At Bethune Elementary, Principal Charlotte Stoxstell is already one step ahead of the district. She sends out notices to teachers every month or two, detailing their attendance and punctuality rates. When it dips below 95 percent, the teachers are "reminded" they are falling short of the school's improvement goals.
And she tries to set a good example, taking care of her personal business in the evening or the weekends. At times, she even covers a teacher's classroom when he or she calls in, which is usually embarrassing enough to discourage frivolous absences, she said.
"I do fuss at them, but I don't just focus on the people who are out absent," she said. "I give it to everyone and I salute those who come every day."

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Teachers' Unions - is there a more destructive force?

The article below appeared in the Wall Street Journal on the Editorial Page. The Wall Street Journal has been doing a great job as of late discussing the problems with teachers' unions and the American Public Education system.

The Education Borg
In Florida and Wisconsin, teachers unions crush
educational opportunities.

Sunday, January 29, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

Teachers unions keep telling us they care deeply, profoundly, about poor children. But what they do, as opposed to what they say, is behave like the Borg, those destructive aliens in the "Star Trek" TV series who keep coming and coming until everyone is "assimilated."

We saw it in Florida this month when the state supreme court struck down a six-year-old voucher program after a union-led lawsuit. And now we're witnessing it in Milwaukee, where the nation's largest school choice program is under assault because Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle refuses to lift the cap on the number of students who can participate.

Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program, enacted with bipartisan support in 1990, provides private school vouchers to students from families at or below 175% of the poverty line. Its constitutionality has been supported by rulings from both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts. Yet Mr. Doyle, a union-financed Democrat, has vetoed three attempts to loosen the state law that limits enrollment in the program to 15% of Milwaukee's public school enrollment. This cap, put in place in 1995 as part of a compromise with anti-choice lawmakers backed by the unions, wasn't an issue when only a handful of schools were participating. But the program has grown steadily to include 127 schools and more than 14,000 students today. Wisconsin officials expect the voucher program to exceed the 15% threshold next year, which means Mr. Doyle's schoolhouse-door act is about to have real consequences.

"Had the cap been in effect this year," says Susan Mitchell of School Choice Wisconsin, "as many as 4,000 students already in the program would have lost seats. No new students could come in, and there would be dozens of schools that have been built because of school choice in Milwaukee that would close. They're in poor neighborhoods and would never have enough support from tuition-paying parents or donors to keep going."

There's no question the program has been a boon to the city's underprivileged. A 2004 study of high school graduation rates by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute found that students using vouchers to attend Milwaukee's private schools had a graduation rate of 64%, versus 36% for their public school counterparts. Harvard's Caroline Hoxby has shown that Milwaukee public schools have raised their standards in the wake of voucher competition.

Mr. Doyle says he will agree to lift the cap to 18%, but only if it's tied to a change in the school-aid formula that he knows would never pass the Republican legislature--particularly in an election year. So instead of building on this education success, Mr. Doyle and his union allies are poised to close the book.

The unions scored a separate "victory" in Florida three weeks ago when the state supreme court there struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Passed in 1999, the program currently enrolls 700 children from chronically failing state schools, letting them transfer to another public school or use state money to attend a private school. Barring some legislative damage control, the 5-2 ruling means these kids face the horrible prospect of returning to the state's education hellholes next year. The decision is a textbook case of results-oriented jurisprudence. The majority claimed the program
violates a provision of Florida's constitution that requires the state to provide for "a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools." Because "private schools that are not 'uniform' when compared with each other or the public system" could receive state funds under the program, the majority deemed it unconstitutional.

This is beyond a legal stretch. Not only have courts in such states as Wisconsin and Ohio rejected similar bogus "uniformity" challenges to school voucher programs, but so have other Florida courts. The logic of the ruling could also apply to charter schools, which are public schools that are able to live by non-uniform rules. That's the entire point of school choice--to break out of the stifling monopoly that traps so many poor children in "uniformly" awful schools.

What the Milwaukee and Florida examples show is that unions and their allies are unwilling to let even successful voucher experiments continue to exist. If they lose one court case, they will sue again--and then again, as long as it takes. And they'll shop their campaign cash around for years until they find a politician like Jim Doyle willing to sell out Wisconsin's poorest kids in return for their endorsement. Is there a more destructive force in American public life?

District 41 Referendum - Same tale different district.

The same games are being played with children, families and taxpayers across Illinois. This time it is District 41 in Glen Ellyn and their building referenda. The below story appeared in The Sun Glen Ellyn. To view the site and LTE click on the title of this post.

It's same old story: 'Emperor has no clothes'
Remember the fairy tale story of the two deceitful tailors who see an opportunity and convince the emperor that they can create some fine new clothes for him? They "work" behind closed doors, spinning with invisible thread and reveal the fine new clothes. The only problem — no one can actually see the clothes, but they don't want to admit it because only fools can't see them, explain the tailors. Of course, we all know that no one can see them because they don't exist. This story is a good anecdote for the activities in recent years in District 41.
We've gotten a new "tailor," who seems very adept at spinning nothing into something very costly. He came to Glen Ellyn seeing the opportunity presented in the form of millions of tax dollars available because of the 2001 referendum. This new administrator hardly waited one second to unpack his bags before setting on the task of creating the need for and attempting to convince the citizens of that need for a new school building.

As far as I know, the definition of "overcrowded" has never been explained.

Is "overcrowding" planting mobile classrooms in our school fields like tulips and filling them with classes well below the amount of 24 to 26 students the community asked for? Does overcrowding occur when children are moved around schools like shells in a shell game, while specialists or teachers' lounges now command what used to be classrooms in the bricks-and-mortar buildings?

Does "overcrowding" occur when the pre-K program was moved out of rented space at the Main Street Rec Center and into a K-5 school building? There are many questions about the new but not-yet-approved fifth- and sixth-grade center: How much will it really cost us? When will this big, new school break the education fund bank and require yet another infusion of cash into the coffers of District 41? How much has already been spent in the quest for the fine new school?

... If the new building is approved and built, it is slated to open around the year 2009. Coincidentally, that is just about the time that Dr. Barshinger's contract runs out. Apparently, he has said that he will move out of his home near Hadley and move back to DeKalb. Similarly, the tailors left the emperor and the townspeople scratching their heads in the realization that it was because they didn't speak up when they could have that they were duped.

I know that there are others, like me, who don't mind saying publicly — or privately in the voting booth — that "the emperor has no clothes."
Monica Miller Glen Ellyn

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why one parent is voting No on the D-300 referenda.

The District 300 referendum is a passionate issue with emotions running high on both sides. Although, my views will support a “no” vote, my interest in getting involved is to simply provide transparency and clarity. The decision of how to vote is, of course, yours to make. State Senator (and Lt. Governor Candidate) Steven Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) said recently at a campaign forum in Huntley that today’s school districts “…are seemingly run for the benefit of the adults working within it.” What I have found thus far seems to support his view.

My concerns with this referendum are twofold:
1) In my view, District 300 has not provided what I consider a quality education for my children and has not demonstrated fiscal self-discipline. Simply throwing more money at a problem doesn’t solve it.
2) I suspect there is more to the Advance300 organization than what they would like you to believe.

My research into Advance300 (formerly Schools for Now Dist. # 300 Committee) began in mid-January after I visited their website. I was impressed by its construction and concluded immediately that it was professionally produced (i.e. expensive). I emailed them and asked very specific questions:
1) Would you provide me a list of your leadership and members?
2) How are you funded?
3) Who created and paid for the website?

I received a response from Nancy Zettler (who serves on District 300’s Community Finance Committee), who identified herself as co-chair with Douglas Sibery. Her response was evasive at best, stating that… “Advance 300 is a growing coalition of several hundred parents, grandparents, students, business owners, community leaders and other community members dedicated to providing our children the excellent education they deserve and ensuring the health and strength of our communities… We are funded by donations. The website was put together by a hard-working, dedicated group of Advance 300 volunteers who have worked very hard for several hundred man-hours researching dozens of sources of information for accuracy, truthfulness and relevance.” My impression was that is their standard response to all inquiries which was likely created with professional assistance.

Ms. Zettler’s comment stating the website was created by volunteers is not truthful. According to their Schedule B document filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections on January 31, $7,000.00 was paid to M&R Strategic Services of Washington, DC for “web site services” on December 19, 2005. In M&R’s website, their self-description is, “For over 15 years, M+R has been helping groups we believe in (notice the phrase, “we believe in”) accomplish their policy and organizational goals... we provide integrated strategy, field organizing, communications, lobbying, direct mail, web production, online advocacy and fundraising services.” A review of their client list reveals the groups they “believe in” point toward a far left political philosophy naming clients such as The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere, The Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Community Center of New York and People for the American Way.

As instructed on M&R’s website, I also requested a list of their “electoral” clients from Ms. Debra Rosen, Senior Consultant. As of February 2nd, I have received no response from her. Incidentally, Advance300’s Schedule B also reveals $6,750.00 was paid to Campaign Solutions of Algonquin for “referendum consulting”. Campaign Solutions has a P.O. Box for an address and has no phone number listed in the Internet Yellow Pages. Last time I checked, volunteers are not paid for their services, and I wonder who owns that company.

District 300 cannot legally financially support Advance300 directly, even though it appears they have hired (with taxpayer funds?) St. Louis based public relations firm Unicom.ARC. As of February 1, a request from Unicom to confirm this has been unanswered.

On January 20, Northwest Herald Reporter Allison Smith published an article on a meeting she attended with District 300 Superintendent Ken Arndt, “about” 25 builders and real estate agents, as well as village officials from Algonquin, West Dundee and Hampshire to raise $153,000 (the minimum amount needed to fund a successful referendum according to Unicom.ARC). As Allison points out in her article, “The campaign money, administered by the Advance 300 citizens group, will pay for an office, mailings, T-shirts, yard signs, TV and radio ads, and possibly even billboards.” Cal Skinner’s blog site, McHenry County Blog (, has recently detailed the extent of the pro-referendum contributions that have rolled in (and who they are from). Keep scrolling down until you find them (there are several posts on this topic) or if you prefer, I can send you copies. Check back there often.

Another topic worthy of discussion is District 300’s handling of its finances. Besides the issue of having $38 million available in its working fund to cover the $27 million deficit in the education fund (which the District claims it cannot use because its in a trust and is needed to ease cash flow problems between property tax receipts), were you aware that in 2003, the District had to repay the U.S. Dept. of Education $607,908.06 for violating the terms of a grant that was provided to support the effort to serve limited English proficient students? According to the Federal Register, the funds "...had been used for improper or unsupported expenditures for personnel, fringe benefits, travel, supplies, training and other items."

I personally spoke with the contact person from the D.O.E. for this matter, who verified this information as correct. I have a copy of the Federal Register document as well and was informed by the D.O.E. contact person that District 300 has a copy of the settlement agreement. Also, because of current loopholes in property tax law, we must take the District at their word that the 55 cents/$100 they are asking for the education fund will only be used for the current tax year. State Rep. Michael Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) has introduced legislation in Springfield to close these loopholes. However, even if passed, it will not be in place in time for our referendum.

Although Advance300 portrays itself as a local grassroots organization, it is clear what we have here is a well calculated, well financed and covert public relations effort on the part of District 300 to win this referendum. The deplorable tactic of using our children as pawns to accomplish their desire is nothing short of extortion. I personally don’t believe for a minute that all extracurricular activities will be cut if the referendum fails. The amount of money spent on athletics and music amounts to approximately 1% of the budget and I assure you, no elected school board official who is interested in retaining their office would ever be re-elected if that happened and the public outcry for Superintendent Arndt’s resignation would be immediate. Also, don’t believe the myth that our home values will decline if the referendum fails. Simply ask yourself how much your home has risen in value over the past several years since the last referendum was voted down?

Although my views on this referendum are unmistakable, I hope you can see that my opinion is based upon objective, verified information — not less than truthful rhetoric designed to play on your fears and emotions. Please pass this along to others who are interested, regardless of what their present opinion may be. Besides the McHenry County Blog, I encourage you to visit the web sites of The Family Taxpayer’s Network ( and Citizen’s For Fair and Reasonable Taxes ( Please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to keep you informed.


John Ryan
Precinct 62
Algonquin Township

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Yorkville School Distict Referendum

This post will be used to Discuss the Yorkville School District Referendum. Feel free to post your comments. The below articles where posted on the Beacon News website .

Not a terrible parent

The Yorkville School District referendum is turning neighbor against neighbor because folks are making it personal. I do not believe that anybody against the referendum believes that the school system does not need more money. They just believe, as I do, that the way to get the money is not through increased property taxes on existing homes. Yes, there are an abundant number of new families moving to the area and those children need to be schooled. The way to pay for those schools is to include that cost in the cost of all the new housing going up, not through increasing existing property taxes. The School Board can't seem to figure out why what they do comes across as a threat to most of us decent parents and residents. It is because it is. To close the schools for all activities is an absolute threat. Stopping extracurricular activities may be needed, but to close the publicly funded properties to the community is a threat for no other reason than to scare folks in to voting for this proposal. Why not say that anyone using the school will have to pay the true cost of using the facility or even a little more? That didn't seem to enter the conversation. There are always many options if you dig deep enough. Increasing taxes is just the easiest answer.
I am personally really, really sick of hearing what a terrible parent I am because I oppose the referendum. Sorry, but I volunteer to coach basketball, baseball and soccer.

Randy Cavanaugh

The article below appeared on the Beacon News website.

Aldermen balk at school referendum

• Possible tax hike: City Council member says it's not his job to take a public position

By Heather Gillers
Staff Writer

YORKVILLE — Drawing criticism from Mayor Art Prochaska, four members of the City Council refused to take a position this week on a plan to increase taxes to fund the city's schools.

Voters here will decide in two March 21 referenda whether the Yorkville School District will raise property taxes to help support a skyrocketing student population.

Aldermen this week debated a resolution lending official support to the tax increase, which school officials say is crucial.

But half the City Council — Aldermen Joseph Besco, Dean Wolfer, Rose Spears and Marty Munns — declined to take a public position. Only Aldermen Valerie Burd, Paul James and Wanda Ohare voted in favor of the resolution, which passed with three yes votes and four abstentions. (Alderman Jason Leslie was absent.)

Prochaska, who favors the tax increase, criticized the majority abstention.

"Part of the idea of being on a government board is you're there to give an opinion," he said.

But Besco suggested that informing constituents about his position on an issue outside the city's jurisdiction is not part of an alderman's job description.

"I didn't think that we should have to tell the people that we support it or oppose it," he said. "I didn't think that's our place."

Meanwhile, "mixed feelings" prompted Spears to hold her tongue. The alderman said she feels conflicted about supporting the tax hike.

"I know how important it is," she said. "However, many, many seniors cannot afford an increase in taxes."

Taxes on a $250,000 home would rise by a maximum of $607 if both referenda pass in March, said School Superintendent Thomas Engler.

One referendum calls for a $56 million bond issue to pay for the construction of three schools. The other calls for a tax increase to help the district staff and operate the new buildings, along with Grande Reserve Elementary School, which was built by developers.

School official say the district needs more money to cope with more and more children entering Yorkville schools. The district's student body has grown 73 percent in the past nine years, Engler said. Since school started this past September, 120 new students have enrolled.

Moreover, while experts recommend that classes contain a maximum of 22 students, some classes in the Yorkville district have more than 40 students, Engler said.


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Educational State of the Union

The below post appeared at

The Educational State of the Union

Friday, January 27, 2006

By Andrew J. Coulson

It's the night of the State of the Union address. President Bush ascends to the podium, waits for the polite applause to die down, and says this: "Education has never been a national responsibility in our country, and school systems should not be operated by an agency in Washington."

Jaws drop.

Not the sort of thing our 43rd president is likely to say? Too reactionary? Too paleo-conservative? Au contraire.

The cited words are those of the late Albert Shanker, erstwhile president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoken back in 1978 in opposition to the creation of the Department of Education.

Shanker was right.

Powers not accorded to Congress by the Constitution are reserved, by the 10th Amendment, to the states and the people. As it happens, the U.S. Constitution mentions neither the word education nor the word school. Doesn’t even allude to them.

The public's education is thus properly a matter for citizens and their elected officials at the state and local level. Federal courts must ensure that state education policies do not violate the rights of the people, but Congress lacks the constitutional mandate to set those policies.

But it isn’t just a matter of constitutionality: Top-down central planning in education robs teachers of their professional autonomy and parents of their freedom and responsibility. It hobbles the ability of schools to cater to students’ varied needs, and prevents families from obtaining the kind and quality of instruction they seek.

The greatest thing George W. Bush could do for American education in his State of Union address would be to renounce unconstitutional and destructive federal meddling with the nation’s schools.

Step one would be to ask for the repeal of his own No Child Left Behind law that unconstitutionally substitutes the judgment of federal officials for that of parents and state legislators. Encouraging Congress to dissolve the Department of Education, President Carter’s post-election thank you gift to the National Education Association, would be a helpful second step.

But these are mere correctives. A State of the Union address should be forward-looking and visionary.

President Bush should therefore issue a wake-up call to the American people, explaining the harm we have done by delegating our educational responsibilities to ever higher and more remote levels of government -- from marginalizing parents to shortchanging the poor.

Our nation was not built on a foundation of federal, or even state-level, intervention in schooling. It was founded on locally operated independent and semi-public schools that were directly responsible to the families they served.

Even in the old semi-public schools, parents who were financially able were expected to directly cover some of the cost of their own children's education. This combination of parental responsibility and parental choice led to high levels of engagement. Parents not only hired the teachers in many cases, but selected textbooks as well. They had to take charge because there was no nanny state promising (however unrealistically) to relieve them of their educational duties.

The parental disengagement about which many public school teachers complain is an inevitable side effect of an education monopoly that gives parents no role other than to point their children toward the school bus in the morning.

Nor has our increasingly centralized approach to schooling served the interests of the poor. Though many inner city public school districts from Detroit to DC spend $12,000 to $16,000 per pupil annually, their performance is often abysmal.

The problem with these systems is not the monetary poverty of the parents but rather the poverty of our own -- and our policymakers' -- imaginations.

When given the chance, low income families make better educational decisions for their own children than state-appointed bureaucrats make on their behalf. Similarly, autonomous educators competing for the right to serve students are far more responsive to families’ needs than those laboring in protected monopolies to which students are automatically assigned.

Numerous studies have found this to be true, both in America's small parental choice plans and in larger programs operating abroad. A recent Cato Institute paper by professors James Tooley and Pauline Dixon found that parent-chosen independent schools in some of the poorest slums and rural villages of the third world are outperforming the local government schools -- and at a fraction of the cost.

Poverty is not a sign of parental incompetence. Conversely, by locking America's low-income population into an inflexible government monopoly, we have willfully perpetuated an economic and educational underclass.

The president should exhort his fellow citizens to right these wrongs, and to re-take control over their children's education. He should ask them, though their state representatives, to pass legislation empowering all families to choose the independent or government schools they deem best.

Until that happens, the Union’s educational systems will remain in a sorry state indeed.

Andrew Coulson is director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.

D-26: No need for revenue boost now

The below article appeared in the Northwest Herald. It is great to have Kevin Craver back safely and reporting again for the Northwest Herald. He is one of the shining stars of the Northwest Herald. To view this article click on the title of this post. This is one of the few school boards in the over 800 school boards in Illinois that is opposed to tax increases. It is too bad that all Illinois residents can not have a responsible school board like this one running their school district.

D-26: No need for revenue boost now

[published on Mon, Jan 30, 2006]

CARY – Despite a possible deficit and possible borrowing against future tax dollars, District 26 school board members said it was too early to forecast a budget problem.

And with a solid majority of the board staunchly opposed to tax increases, and with a likelihood that voters would reject one, the district has no plans for a referendum anytime soon.

"Basically, we want to make sure that we take a good look at how the district is being run prior to going down a path saying that we need additional revenue from the taxpayers at this point in time," board President Craig Loew said.

But the numbers halfway through the district's current fiscal year hint at possible problems to come.

The district could run a $1.9 million deficit by the end of the year as a worst-case scenario and could issue up to $6 million in tax-anticipation warrants, Chief Financial Officer Andrea Gorla has said. The warrants are a way to borrow money at low interest rates against the next year's tax receipts.

Loew said school board members barely had discussed issuing the warrants.

If they do, it would be to ensure a steady cash flow and not because of a budget crisis, Loew said. The district had about $2 million in operating revenue in April, when the board issued $4.5 million in tax-anticipation warrants.

"The sheer fact we are taking tax-anticipation warrants does not mean we are in a true deficit position," he said.

Making ends meet without asking taxpayers for more money was a cornerstone of the April 2005 election that swept Loew and three other newcomers onto the board. A one-week teachers' strike in 2002 resulted in a contract that critics said the district couldn't afford, and 23 teachers were laid off after a 2004 education-fund referendum was clobbered by a 2-1 margin. The district cut programs and closed Oak Knoll School.

The current teachers contract expires at the end of this school year, Gorla said.

Board members are creating a new citizens financial advisory committee to help determine where money should be spent and saved, and to help communicate the budget process to residents.

"I think we have to dig in, and if costs are rising faster than our revenue, we have to figure out which costs are rising and how we should manage it," board member Chris Jenner said.

About 75 percent of the budget covers salaries and benefits, with 10 percent or so going to building operations and maintenance, Gorla said.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tenure series inspires legislation

Please encourage your legislators to support this bill. The great article below was written by Scott Reeder and was published on Quad-Cities Online.

Posted online: January 19, 2006 8:50 PM
Print publication date: January 20, 2006
Tenure series inspires legislation

By Scott Reeder,

SPRINGFIELD -- State Sen. Todd Sieben introduced legislation Thursday that he said will enhance school accountability and improve teacher quality.

The Geneseo Republican said his legislation was inspired by The Hidden Costs of Tenure, an investigative report conducted by Small Newspaper Group that focused on accountability issues in the public schools. Small Newspaper Group owns The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.

"That report showed that the consequences of a student having a bad teacher can be severe," Sen. Sieben said. "We need to do something about this. Our children deserve better. I think if we have better disclosure of information, some of these problems in schools can be better addressed."

One finding in the report is that teacher job-performance evaluations rarely result in ineffective teachers leaving the profession. Only one out of 930 evaluations of tenured teachers results in an unsatisfactory rating.

"I think a lot of parents and school-board members aren't aware that bad teachers are receiving good job evaluations. This bill would force administrators to report the number of teachers rated excellent, satisfactory and unsatisfactory at the end of each school year," Sen. Sieben said.

"If a parent or board member knows of an underperforming teacher and later sees that all of the teachers in the district have been rated 'excellent' they can say, 'Wait a minute -- something needs to be done."

Sen. Sieben also introduced legislation that would force school districts to disclose financial terms of settlement agreements in cases in which teachers are paid to resign.

The newspaper group's investigation found that because it often can cost a school district more than $100,000 in attorney fees alone to attempt to fire a teacher, some school boards have resorted to secret agreements in which teachers are paid to resign.

Both of the state's major teacher unions, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, routinely insist the terms of the settlement agreements remain confidential.

"That's just not right. This is taxpayer money and we ought know how it is spent," Sen. Sieben said.

The Illinois Business Roundtable and the Illinois Press Association are lobbying for the passage of the measures.

The Business Roundtable is a public policy group made up of the chief executive officers of Illinois' largest companies. The Illinois Press Association is a coalition of the state's newspapers.

"These bills are about the public's right to know how their schools are being run and how their tax dollars are being spent. We very definitely will lobby for the passage of this legislation," said David Bennett, executive director of the press association.

Jeff Mays, president of the Roundtable, said members of his group are frustrated that the state's system of evaluating teachers is having little impact on teacher quality.

"Job performance evaluations should be a tool for improving teachers. But even though school districts across the state have devoted millions of hours to evaluating teachers, we don't see a discernible improvement in teacher quality," he said. "Study after study has shown that teacher quality is the most important factor in whether a student learns."

Mr. Mays said that there is a great deal of frustration that school administrators have been unwilling or unable to address the problem.

The Small Newspaper Group report found that of an estimated 95,500 tenured teachers in Illinois, only an average of two per year are fired on grounds of poor performance and only five are dismissed for issues of misconduct.

The investigation also found that 93 percent of Illinois school districts have never even recommended the dismissal of any tenured teacher in the last 18 years.

Sen. Sieben, who is married to a public school teacher, said common sense would indicate there are more under-performing teachers in the state than these statistics would indicate.

"We owe it to the good teachers out there to do something about this problem," he said.

Mr. Mays said he anticipates Sieben's measures will face stiff opposition from lobbyists for both major teacher unions.

A spokesman for the Illinois Education Association declined to comment on the legislation Thursday. Representatives of the Illinois Federation of Teachers did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

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