Can Leland Schools Stay Open Without State Money?
4 months ago
Can Leland Schools Stay Open Without State Money?
There have been a number of articles in the newspapers and media about the financial status of area schools if there is no State money. I’d like to address how this information relates to the district in Leland.
First, remember that public school districts get money from 3 main sources: local, state, and federal. Local money comes primarily from property taxes, and makes up about 82% of Leland’s revenue budget. Federal money comes through grants, and accounts for about 4% of Leland’s budget. The state contributes roughly 14% of our funding through General State Aid (GSA) and Mandated Categorical Payments (MCATS). Also, for better understanding, school district operate on a July 1 -June 30 fiscal year.
General State is calculated through a formula that factors local wealth (which means how much property tax money is available), low income population percentage, and a number the State determines is needed to educate a child in Illinois. This is the funding formula the politicians are arguing about now in Springfield. No one disputes that the current funding formula is broken, however the disagreements are happening over how to calculate the new formula. You may have heard or read about Senate Bill 1, which is the one that passed both houses. When sent to the Governor, he did an amendatory veto – which means he didn’t just veto it, but instead made his own changes to it indicating it will pass with his changes. Typically, the first GSA payment to districts start around August 10th, but without a funding formula in place those payments will not be deposited in the bank accounts of any public school in Illinois. Districts who rely heavily on GSA can quickly get in trouble. Because Leland CUSD 1 does not rely heavily on GSA, we won’t feel the immediate devastating impact. Leland CUSD 1 is still owed over $100,000 for MCAT payments due last year. The State made 2 out of 4 quarterly payments (late) and there is a question as to whether schools will ever see payments 3 and 4. I am focusing my efforts on pressuring the comptroller’s office to release these funds.
The most recent discussions of area schools (throughout Illinois) have focused on the term ‘days cash on hand.’ There can be many factors calculated, but the most basic explanation is to use the cash balances in the district funds used to pay for the operation of the schools as of July 1st – the start of the fiscal year. This doesn’t take into account investments or anticipated money (like local tax property tax payments), but simply divides the annual cost of running the district by the number of days in the year and compares that to the amount of cash in the accounts. ‘Days cash on hand’ is actually the number of days a school can stay open using the cash available in the bank. Thinking of this in terms of a personal budget, if a person were to find out they were not getting paid any longer, there would be an immediate need to see how much money is in the bank. If that person were to avoid cashing in investments and/or using credit, he or she should be able to look ahead to their monthly bills and determine how long the cash in the bank would last.
To answer the obvious question, Leland CUSD 1 has just over 300 days of ‘cash on hand’ – which is a healthy balance. We will, of course, get property tax money, and with over 80% of our budget coming from local taxes this available ‘cash on hand’ amount will increase. For audit, reporting, and comparison purposes the July 1st number is used for consistency.
It is important for everyone to contact their legislators in Springfield. Public education has never seen a crisis at this level. Politicians are saying they hear from school superintendents (and it is our job to do so), but they aren’t hearing from other constituents. This is you. They need to hear that the people who vote will not stand for lack of school funding. Increased State funding is necessary as well to end the overreliance on local property taxes.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Thank you for taking the time to read this information!
State Budget Impasse #PassILBudget
7 months ago
April 25, 2017
Public education is truly at a crisis point in Illinois. I know as a teacher, I figured my job was to teach the kids in my room - and not so much take on the politics of education.
Feasibility Study Conversation
7 months ago
March 24, 2017
A Longer Conversation About a Feasibility Study Involving Leland CUSD 1
There have been conversations about small schools in our area consolidating, at least as far back as in the early 1980’s. Every now and then, state politics or economic hard times will renew the discussion, and when that happens we want to share that information with our community. The passage of a referendum to raise the tax rate to support Leland CUD #1 in 2012 spoke volumes about the dedication of the community to its local school.
That said, we always must continue to look to the future with an eye toward providing the best possible educational opportunities for our students going forward. It is from that perspective that we are looking into whether it is the best interest of the district to ask for a restructuring feasibility study. We would look at restructuring instead of just consolidation because there are many ways to restructure districts. For example, we already have been exploring collaboration and shared services with our neighboring districts as well as the use of technology in an effort to be more efficient and deliver the best educational opportunities possible for our students.
A study would take all of those options into consideration as well as taking a close look at such consolidation issues as curriculum offerings; extracurricular opportunities; staffing needs and contractual impacts; transportation; whether there are adequate facilities in terms of capacity, age and renovation; tax rates of the communities; and the amount of debt in each district, to name a few items.
If the study determined that consolidation is feasible and is the best option, the next step would be to organize a committee of 10 individuals with diverse backgrounds from the interested communities to examine the issues raised in the study. Ideally, this committee would not include Board members so that perspectives other than the Boards’ perspectives are shared with the Boards and the communities. Two sets of eyes – or, in this case, 10 sets of eyes – are better than one.
It then would take two or more Boards to decide, after public hearings, to place the issue of consolidation on the ballot. It is important to note that the referendum then would have to be approved by voters in every one of the affected districts. A “No” majority vote in any of the affected districts would mean the consolidation effort would fail.
In the interest of transparency, we would like to share answers to questions that have been raised.
Q: I thought I read last spring that the Board was not going to join a feasibility study, then in the summer they voted to join one, and now they are talking about joining one. What’s going on?
In the spring of 2016, Earlville and Paw Paw were discussing a feasibility study and asked if Leland would like to join the study to explore the feasibility of the three districts joining together in some type of restructuring. It was placed on the agenda, but the Board felt it was not a good to join that study for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was that Earlville and Paw Paw had a very ambitious timeline, and the Board felt that pace did not fit for Leland. The Board also felt hesitant to incur the cost and conflict of the feasibility process to potentially give up what the members feel is a great small school and still end up being a relatively small school. The combination of Earlville/Paw Paw/Leland would put the high school at roughly the same size as Serena, Somonauk, and Indian Creek. While there could potentially be more course offerings, these high schools face many of the same major “small school” challenges as Leland.
During the spring of 2016, we were approached by an interim superintendent in Earlville to see if there was interest in a bigger feasibility study that also might include Serena, Somonauk and Indian Creek.
With the exception of Indian Creek, the superintendents from each of the other districts met and took the proposal back to our Boards. Then, in June of 2016, the five interested districts then sent one Board member and their superintendents to meet with Dr. Bill Phillips, a consultant who does feasibility studies. Our Board thought that the larger study would offer more information and a wider choice of options, including the possibility of a restructuring that would result in a high school of 400-600 students.
The Leland Board voted to join the larger study, as did Somonauk. However, the larger study fell through. The Boards at Earlville and Paw Paw did not vote to join the larger study, and Serena did not put the item on its agenda for a vote because of ongoing grade school restructuring conversations at the time. Our Board did not want to enter into a study with just Leland and Somonauk as that defeated the purpose of a larger study.
However, the chain of events ignited a lot of conversation about the school – specifically the high school. In fact, this conversation as shown up a number of times as an agenda discussion item for our Board. After much discussion, the members asked Dr. Phillips to come back for a special meeting, which was open to the public. The Board then decided to meet with our neighboring districts to reopen a conversation about the vision and direction of their communities when it comes to possible restructuring.
Q: What is the point of even talking about consolidation? Is Leland having problems?
The reason for Leland to explore options is because of our desire to make sure our students are being offered the best possible opportunities going forward. Leland is financially stable, and there is no need for consolidation for financial reasons at this time despite the unreliability of state funding. In addition to determining whether consolidation would save or cost money (in some cases consolidation does not save money because of costs involving transportation, facility renovation, special education services and the equalizing of pay schedules for certified teachers), the study would also include looking at curriculum, technology and ways to maximize our offerings for our students.
Q: Does the Board think our high school is too small? Do the members think the community wants it to change?
While bigger certainly isn’t always better when it comes to schools, having fewer than 100 students poses very real challenges regarding what can be offered to students. Weighing that against the advantages not found in larger high school settings is a delicate balance, but it is part of the responsibility of being an elected Board member representing the community. As representatives of the community, it is their responsibility to inform themselves as fully as possible in order to be confident that they are looking to the future for the students and the taxpayers.
The Leland Board has great community representation. Some members have elementary children, some have high school children, and others have children who graduated from Leland. We have members who attended Leland schools, others who attended small rural districts, and some who attended larger high school districts. The discussions about Leland School have a healthy variety of input and ideas, and the members listen to each other.
The Board takes very seriously the fact that the money needed to run the district comes mostly from local property taxes, so they want to ensure they are using that money as efficiently as possible to offer the best possible learning environment for the students.
A: Why is the Board holding meetings with other districts if the members aren’t sure they want a change?
While every town and district has its own culture and priorities, the curriculum and financial issues facing smaller rural districts have become more challenging in the last 10 years. The members of the Board realize they can have discussions every month about what is best for Leland, and they can continue to do research and get input from various groups in the community. However, this all takes place in a vacuum unless they are also having discussions with the other districts. It makes sense for Board members from neighboring districts to talk to each other.
Per policy, the Board formed a committee to approach other districts to see if they would like to talk about the future of education in our area, the ideas and visions each district holds for their students and communities, the challenges and strengths of our districts and how we can support each other, as well as whether a feasibility study is an option to investigate the advisability of looking at restructuring our schools, particularly the high schools.
Q: How have the meetings gone? Has anything been decided?
The meetings have gone well and have been productive. We are very lucky to have a group of schools geographically within decent commuting distance, and we can share extracurricular and course offerings either by moving students and staff around, or through the use of technology. In other areas of Illinois, the small rural schools are often separated by greater distance and coordinating services is challenging if not impossible.
Our contingent districts (districts that touch Leland) include Indian Creek, Somonauk, Serena and Earlville. Our districts are in three different counties, have different Regional Offices of Education, have different special education provision structures, and have students who reside in three different community college districts. Instead of seeing these things as obstacles, the superintendents of these districts (inviting Sandwich, Hinckley-Big Rock and Newark as well) have begun to meet regularly to share ideas and to work cooperatively for the best student offerings.
What has been different about the recent meetings is that they include the concept of doing a feasibility study, and there are two school board members from each district having an open dialogue instead of having the superintendents offering their understanding of their Board members’ visions and concerns. A few items stand out as a result of the conversations among Board members:
- All neighboring districts are focused on ways to maximize the use of staff and student scheduling, as well as ways in which to share resources with each other.
- Putting two (or even three) small districts together -- still resulting in a small high school comparable to Somonauk, Serena, or Indian Creek -- will not be enough to solve the current issues Leland faces as a small high school.
- There are a number of neighboring districts with a majority of seats open on their Boards of Education in the April election. New members on all Boards will need time to learn the issues specific to their own districts before re-engaging in conversations.
- There is interest among the area schools to do a feasibility study that involves more than two districts. The cost of doing a study does not increase proportionately with the number of schools, and if more participate, the information can be gathered about the larger area in general. This might lead to future considerations for restructuring for a combination of districts that are both effective for the students and efficient for the taxpayers. Again, a feasibility study may reveal that restructuring/consolidation is not practical to pursue.
- A feasibility study doesn’t commit any of the districts to continuing toward restructuring/consolidation. It simply provides information necessary to know if it is an option that makes sense to explore further.
- A desire to continue to meet was expressed by all districts involved. The Board members found the dialogue, brainstorming and sharing of ideas beneficial to opening lines of communication between the districts.
We recognize the strong pride in and tradition of Leland School. Our job is to gather all of the information and opportunities possible for Board members to have the most confidence in their work for the community and students. We respect the willingness of the Board members to investigate various ways to support their strong vision to continue offering the best educational opportunities to the students of Leland. There is no individual or collective agenda to restructure or consolidate Leland School, just a responsibility and commitment to collect the information necessary to do what is best for our students and our community.
Please don’t hesitate to email questions, concerns, and comments to me, or to the Board at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence will be shared with the entire Board, regardless of which address you choose. You may also email if you would like to set up a meeting. I thank you for taking the time to read this information, and I value any feedback you offer.
The State of Illinois is Not Fully Funding Our Schools
7 months ago
November 02, 2016
During this election season, Springfield likes to promote the idea that the State is fully funding education for the first time in many years. This is misleading at best, and is certainly far from accurate. To understand how this claim can be made, it must be set into the context of how our State financially puts money into public education. (This does not include Chicago Public School System, which has its own funding formula.)
There are 2 main funding sources from the State: General State Aid and something called categorical payments. Usually GSA is explained first, but I’m going to start with categorical payments.
Categorical payments include financial obligations by the State to pay a partial reimbursement to each district for the expenses which include transportation expenses and special education. In no way does the State fully reimburse each district for the costs of transportation or special education programs. State reimbursement is a fraction of the actual expenses, and often Springfield will attempt to shift more (or all) of these cost responsibilities to the local taxpayer. Remember Governor Quinn, who wanted transportation to be completely the responsibility of the local taxpayer? This actually translates into the politicians in Springfield touting ‘lower taxes’ or no tax increase at the State level, however the local taxpayers then must find a way to cover increasing annual costs through a city-wide tax, or most likely through property taxes.
School districts have a financial year (fiscal year) that goes from July 1 to June 30. For the fiscal year 2017, the total of transportation and special education categorical payments calculated for Leland CUSD #1 is $208,237. As of November 1st payments totaling $52,058 have not been disbursed by the State Comptroller to the schools. In addition, many of the final categorical payments for last year (fiscal year 2016) were not processed. For Leland, we are still owed $52,800. If you are adding this up, the State currently is delinquent on payments to our school to the tune of $104,858. Even more sobering is the very real possibility that the State simply does not have the money for the comptroller to release payments due to the fact there is no State budget from which to allocate funds. Superintendents, myself included, are planning for the reality of no categorical payments for 2017, and no final payment for 2016. This puts a $261,037 hole in our revenue.
So how can they say we are being “fully funded?” They are only referring to GSA, which also needs some explanation. General State Aid is what the State calculates it must send to each district in order for the public schools to provide a basic level of education to each student in that district. There are some complexities to the formula, but basically it works like this:
The State has a foundation level of $6,119. This is the amount per student the State says is necessary to provide an education. This amount is multiplied by the number of students in the district. You might be thinking if Leland gets $6,119 for 275 students, that is $1,682,725 from the State – but wait. That $1,682,725 is the starting number. From this, the State subtracts ‘local wealth’ which includes property taxes. After calculations are done, the GSA from the State for Leland’s 2016-17 school year amounts to $825 per student, and not $6,119. What “fully funded” actually means, is that the State is paying 100% of this $825 per student totaling $226,975. Why is Springfield acting like this is a good thing? Because the State doesn’t usually pay 100%. When running short of funds, the State pro-rates the GSA payments. The State hasn’t paid 100% of the GSA since 2011. Since 2012, the State has pro-rated the payments at percentages of 95, 89, 89,87,and 92 respectively. If the State were to pro-rate this year’s GSA at 90.4% (the average of the last 5 years), we would lose $21,790 or roughly $80 per student. While publicly touting “fully funding” of the General State Aid formula, the State is neglecting to pay its categorical payment obligations. Leland is projected to gain $21,790 by “fully funded” GSA, but is currently experiencing a shortfall of $104,858 due to unpaid categoricals.
There’s more to consider. Going back 10 years, the foundation level for GSA was $5,334. In 2008 it increased to $5,734, in 2009 to $5,959, and 2010 to $6,119. It has remained at $6,119, while costs to educate our children have not remained stagnant. The State has developed the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) to made recommendations to the legislators. In 2012, the EFAB recommendation was $8,260 per students, and it has increased each year. For fiscal year 2016, the EFAB recommendation was $8,899 per student. Even if the State continued to subtract local wealth before calculating GSA, by following their own advisory board’s recommendation districts would have realized an additional $2,780 per student from the State. For Leland, even prorated at last year’s 92% this would have added up to an additional $191,820 last year. Why can’t they fund GSA at a realistic level for the current school year? Because to do so would require money from the State, and the State gets money from taxes, and Springfield likes to say they are not raising taxes. Lack of tax support from the State level translates directly into a larger local tax burden, which we all see in our property taxes.
Remember Schoolhouse Rock? Reading is knowledge, and knowledge is power.
We have an election coming up. Don’t just read what I’ve sent out. Learn more, be informed, and vote.
What Happens At a School Board Meeting? Understanding the Agenda
7 months ago
September 19, 2016
When people come to a Board of Education meeting, they often don't know what to expect. Board meetings are very different from town meetings and committee meetings. A person who sits through any type of representative board meeting can leave feeling ignored or disregarded because the agenda is very straightforward, and includes items for which the Board members have often had access prior to the meeting. The business of the Board of Education is conducted in full view (open session) of the public for transparency of discussion and voting, but the meeting is not meant to be a presentation to the public - and this can feel less than satisfactory for someone who isn't aware of or used to the business purpose of a board meeting.
Board meetings for the entire fiscal year are posted on every district's website. The agenda for each meeting is posted on the website at least 48 hours prior to the meeting. Minutes of past meetings also can be found on the website. The Board welcomes community members, and if items on an agenda look interesting I hope people will consider attending to hear the discussion. If a person comes to the Board meeting, they can expect the following:
- Call to order, Pledge of Allegience, Board recognitions, and Open Forum (which is the opportunity for community members to speak);
- Agenda items requiring Board action are then voted on, with discussion as needed;
- Administrators give information about reports and updates, and items for Board discussion that do not require action are presented;
- If necesary, the Board may go into Executive Session, which is a closed session, for discussion of matters that cannot legally be held in open session; If there is a closed session, the members will have to come back into open session before the meeting is over.
- If there are action items to vote on following the closed session, it is done after returning to open session;
- The Board votes to adjourn the meeting.
During the Open Forum at the start of the meeting, individuals may speak directly to the Board per policy 2:230. To effectively address the Board:
1) Address the Board at the appropriate time on the agenda, and when recognized by the Board President.
2) Identify yourself. Comments are limited to 5 minutes unless prior arrangements have been made.
3) if there are a number of people wanting to speak, observe the Board President's decision to shorten public comment to conserve time and give the maximum number of people the opportunity to speak.
4) Observe the Board President's decisions to determine procedural matters regarding public participation.
5) Conduct yourself with civility.
6) Petitions or written correspondence to the Board shall be presented to the Board in the next regular Board packet at the next scheduled meeting.
Other advice includes: decide what you want to say before you speak, be brief and stay focused on a single topic, state clearly what action you want the Board to take, and state if you represent an area speaking for a group. Addressing the Board during Open Forum can be very effective and interesting. The Board does appreciate input. However, if a community member is discussing a matter not appropriate for open session (personnel for example), or is asking that the Board address a specific questions, he or she may be asked to submit a request to be placed on the agenda at the next meeting. It's important to remember that the 7 members who make up the Board may all have their own opinions, but as a Board they function as one voice. The Board President may not feel he or she can answer fairly 'on the spot' for all of the members
If you leave a Board meeting with questions you'd like to ask, or if you read the minutes from or an article about a meeting and would like more information, please email them to email@example.com. You may also email the Superintendent at firstname.lastname@example.org. In either case, you will be contacted and your questions addressed, and your questions and concerns will be shared with the entire Board.
A Hot Topic What Determines A Heat Day?
7 months ago
Deciding to alter the school day schedule is not an easy decision, and there are many factors to consider. In the winter, it's one thing when the roads are blocked with a few feet of snow and the winds are blowing, but it's another set of circumstances when trying to predict the severity of weather. The focus is on the safety conditions of student transportation including road conditions and the impact of the weather on our busses. I'll be addressing this winter weather before we know it!
Calling off school for excessive heat is less clear cut. I joke around about the fact that I went to a Catholic grade school 45 years ago in the swampy southeast corner of Georgia (Brunswick), staffed almost exclusively by nuns who wore full layers (I'm guessing at least 20 to 200 layers) of black garments. We didn't have air conditioning, our playground was the black asphalt parking lot, and we never got out of school early for excessive heat. Any complaints to a Sister about the weather surely would have resulted in a lecture on offering it up for penance, and if I had complained to my parents (imagine military officer reaction) they probably would have sent me outside to do some less than desirable chore so I would "know what hot really is."
That being said, we don't live in the swampy part of Georgia. Our schools aren't built to allow for cooling airflow, and our kids aren't used to being oppressively hot. I'm not saying our kids are wimpy! We all feel that first really hot day of summer much more so than we do once we get used to it. For our students, the heat of summer is one thing, but it is a different feeling when sitting in a classroom and our weather changes so quickly to fall that they don't have much time (or need) to adjust.
There are a couple of considerations that support a decision to stay in school for a full day, despite the heat. First of all, with 176 attendance days, the United States has the shortest school year of any developed country in the world. Every hour of the school day is valuable for education. Secondly, the students aren't going to be significantly hotter at 3:00 than they are at 1:00 - making a decision for early out more difficult to justify. Last (for this posting anyway) but not least is the fact that in a K-12 building, we have a lot of families who need to do significant juggling for child care purposes when the day is altered.
So what are the reasons that push me toward scheduling an early out? I consider the building and how it holds heat. When we have consecutive days upwards of 90-100 degrees, and our nightime temps don't cool down under 80, the cummulative impact on a solidly built brick building is significant. Even if we open windows before 6:00 a.m. there is no way to bring that fresher air in. When the night temperatures cool down, it helps. Also a factor is how many days in a row we've had bodies in the building. Those little bodies (and big bodies at the high school end) make a lot of heat! As difficult as it is for me to call an early out, there is a point when the cummulative effect is just too significant.
Returning from Labor Day weekend, the temperature got pretty balmy on Monday. According to The Weather Channel, it is predicted to be in the low 70s throughout the night and then heat up to 90 on Tuesday.afternoon - followed by another cool down during the night to the low 70s. Wednesday looks pretty warm again, and then the night is in the mid 60s. Given the fact the building has been without bodies, we are not scheduling an early out for Tuesday. On Tuesday afternoon we will see how the building feels and check the weather, and we will let families know the decision for Wednesday so parents can adjust after school schedules as needed. Students will be allowed to have water in the classrooms. If you have a student in school, please make sure they are well hydrated at home and remind them to avoid caffeine.
Whether we are considering summer or winter weather concerns, ultimately parents have the right to determine what is best for their child, and we respect that. I hope what I am conveying in this post, is that there is a great deal of thought that goes into the responsibility of providing the expected educational schedule - along with the concerns for the health and safety of our students. I thank you for the time spent reading this! I may not always have the answers/explanations that make everyone happy - but I am always happy for the opportunity to explain and be heard.
New Page! What is there to talk about?
7 months ago
I've never put a Superintendent's Page on the website. On a survey a few years ago, one of the questions asked if there was interest in a Superintendent Blog. The responses let me know there was not overwhelming excitement about the idea - and one person actually wrote "Oh great. One more thing I'm expected to read!" I admit that I laughed and totally understood where the parent was coming from.
The job of a disrict superintendent assumes responsiblity for the education and well being of the children of the community, as well as a a large portion of the local taxpayers' dollars. What are the two hot button items in a family relationship? Money and children. In the relationship I have with the community, I respect the fact that I'm trusted with these important priorities, and completely understand that emotions can run strong over perceptions - and sometimes misperceptions.
I value communication with the students, families, and community members. Because I am open and believe transparancy is an absolute must when it comes to public education, I can fall into the trap of assuming people know they can approach me if they are interested in any aspect of their local school. But I realize not everyone knows that about me. This leads to the fact that I am putting up a Superintendent's Page to encourage communication.
Trust me when I say I welcome questions and ideas for topics of discussion. You can send them to email@example.com. I hope to hear from you soon!