By TRAVIS MORSE email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — Pension reform, school safety and collective bargaining were just some of the key issues discussed at Thursday night's Egyptian Division Fall Dinner Meeting of the Illinois Association of School Boards.
District 80 hosted the informational meeting at the Primary Center and roughly 65 people attended.
Superintendent Mike Green said one of the main goals of the forum was to learn the latest news from Springfield about pending legislation that could impact local schools.
Also, educators at the meeting participated in special breakout sessions to take an in-depth look at collective bargaining, school safety and charter schools.
“It was a really good meeting,” Green said. “I think it's extremely beneficial for school board members to listen to how the state views public schools and how they make decisions. … It's good to hear the latest laws and procedures and how it affects the students.”
One of the presenters Thursday was Roger Eddy, the IASB executive director.
He said the two main education issues on the horizon for the Legislature are pension reform and proposed changes in how schools are funded. These topics could come up during the fall veto session or in the next spring session.
The pension reform issue is of particular concern to local school districts, Eddy said.
According to Eddy, the state is considering shifting the liability for teacher pensions from the state to local school boards.
If implemented, this action could have a devastating impact on schools, which are already struggling with reduced general state aid, tax caps, unfunded mandates, and other challenges, he said.
“School districts now are hurting,” Eddy said. “They're laying off teachers, they're borrowing money, they're raising class sizes, cutting programs. … It's unimaginable that this would be considered at a time when this type of funding crisis is taking place.”
School safety proved to be another hot topic at Thursday's meeting. The break-out session on that subject was one of the most well-attended, Green said.
This is likely due to last winter's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., as well as other mass shootings that have spawned great concern nationwide, Green said.
District 80 officials recently installed cameras at the Primary Center and are looking to make further security improvements at district schools as well, Green said.
The district will apply for a grant in January to help fund this project. It's unclear what specific improvements would be made, but possibilities include new door locks and more cameras, Green said.
Even with all the challenges facing schools, though, Eddy said it's heartening to see how citizens are still choosing to get involved in their local school boards.
“It's really incredible and heart-warming to see individuals who will run for school boards at this kind of time and come out and work hard to provide volunteer service,” Eddy said.