State legislators, school admins discuss pensions, teacher evaluations
9 months, 2 weeks ago by Jamie Busen
Gov. Quinn also calls for special session on teacher pension reform
Senator John Sullivan and other area legislators went on what Sullivan called a "fact-finding mission" Monday morning in the Mt. Sterling Community Center.
About 25 area school superintendents, principals and administrators joined Sullivan, Sen. Sam McCann, Rep. Norine Hammond and Rep. Jim Watson for a roundtable discussion on pension reform that Sullivan put together.
Along with the cost-shifting proposal talks, the crowd also discussed the implementation of new teacher evaluation rules under the 2010 Performance Evaluation Reform Act with reps from the Illinois State Board of Education.
It seemed the only consenus made during the two-hour meeting was that when it comes to pensions, there needs to be reform. Governor Pat Quinn has called for the Legislature to return to Springfield for a special session on the topic on August 17.
"The cost shift will be detrimental on several levels," McCann said. He added it would set into motion events where taxes won't decrease and revenues won't increase.
Sullivan called the discussion "educational."
The proposal that's currently being discussed shifts some of the new pensions costs at the local level - and Sullivan wanted to know how that would impact the area's Districts.
"It's a difficult issue, trying to come up with a solution that is fair and equitable to everybody," the Senator said after the meeting. "There's a fair amount of pain felt throughout all entities at the table. The realization that has to be made is that the current funding system is not sustainable. Not doing anything is not an option. We have to do something, and look at all the proposals out there."
Sullivan said he was "offended" when Governor Pat Quinn put out a list of the school districts in the State, showing the money each had in reserves. Sullivan said he almost indicated "it was a bad thing, showing this money that is sitting there, not going to use" and that it could be used for employee pension costs. Sullivan said he looked at it as "just the opposite."
"These Districts are being responsible, and trying to anticipate tough economic times ahead. You are seeing that this year with the budget that was passed. Those Districts had set some money aside, and that's a very positive thing to be proactive and realize what was going to be coming down the road. But to say, 'Oh, these school Districts can easily absorb these costs' ... I took offense."
Sullivan said it was made worse when he recently found out that in order to stay off the financial watch list, the schools had to have a certain amount of money set aside in the reserve funds.
Diane Robertson, superintendent of Mendon Community Unit School District 4, said that list wasn't relevant because it was only a "snapshot in time" of Fiscal Year 2011.
"A lot of us had to get into those funds," she said. "They are eroding."
She also had questions about what the terms of the cost-shift would be regarding percentages and length. Sullivan said there weren't any concrete plans in place at this time.
After about an hour of pension talks, the focus turned to teacher evaluation training and a new rating system the schools will begin using this fall.
Illinois was awarded more than $42 million late last year from the United States Department of Education in the fourth round of Race to the Top. With that grant money, the State's been paying for new training implementations. The Act amends who can evaluate teachers and principals and the training required to become a qualified evaluator.
Many school administrators expressed concern they don't have enough time to complete the training - which is all online and rolled out a few months later than state officials had originally said. ISBE officials said their hands were tied because the act was passed by the Legislators, and they couldn't grant more time to train. Some superintendents also said it wasn't fair that recent hires had only a few weeks to get through the training, while others had months.
"The frustration was high," said Adams/Pike County Regional Superintendent of Schools Debbie Niederhauser after the meeting. "It's not best practice, the way it's happening. I don't have to do (the training) but I'm doing it so I can know what the Districts are talking about. The way that it's been rolled out ... and that it has to be done online ... it's not best practice."
Niederhauser said teachers are trying to get ready for school, and they are spending their nights and weekends working on the training. One principal said he had put 40 hours of training in already, and wasn't halfway finished. Another said he was retaining the information and passing the tests, but he didn't feel like it made him a better evaluator.
He said it was akin to watching a late-night infomercial on selling real estate and then thinking "you can make millions" selling property. The way the training is being handled "isn't right."
"Education reform in and of itself is not a bad thing at all," Niederhauser said, adding people had issues with the training methods, not the training itself.
After Mt. Sterling's discussion, the Legislators headed to Macomb and Manito for other roundtables.
Area state legislators will spend Monday and Tuesday discussing issues pertaining to education.
Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) is hosting the event and other area legislators are scheduled to take part including Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria), Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville), Representative Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria), Rep. Norine Hammond (RMacomb), and Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville).
Members of the Illinois Association of School Administrators’ three Western Illinois regions; and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) personnel are also participating.
A news release from Sullivan’s office called the roundtable “An opportunity for district superintendents, regional superintendents, principals, and other administrators to discuss pension cost-shifting proposals and the implementation of new teacher evaluation rules under the 2010 Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA).”
Local legislators will listen to administrators’ concerns and suggestions, and ISBE representatives will be on hand to answer questions about teacher evaluation training and a new rating system schools will begin using this fall.
This discussion comes on the heels of a series Illinois Policy Institute discussions on teacher pensions that have been held around the state, with the most recent one being held in Quincy last Monday.
The three discussions are set for the following locations:
Two Rivers Region (Adams, Brown, Cass, Calhoun, Greene, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler and Scott Counties):
Monday, July 30 from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Mt. Sterling Community Center, Route 99 South, Mt. Sterling
Western Region (Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough and Warren Counties):
Monday, July 30 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 2500 East Jackson, Macomb
Central Illinois Valley Region (Mason, Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford Counties)
Tuesday, July 31 from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Forman Center. 308 South Harrison, Manito