School boards push to add definition of cyber bullying in school policy

CHICAGO—The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) seeks legislation that would require every Illinois public school district policy on bullying to contain a definition that includes “cyber bullying.”

Representatives from 360 Illinois school districts considered resolutions on various public school issues at the Association’s annual Delegate Assembly. The assembly was held in conjunction with the 2012 Joint Annual Conference, Nov.16-18 in Chicago.

The resolution, submitted by Dunlap CUSD 323 in Peoria County, is intended to encourage school districts to bring a wide range of education stakeholders together to establish local policies that will help deter all forms of bullying, including activities conducted online.

The rationale behind the resolution noted that the effects of cyber bullying have been fatal, and there are no consequences in state law to deter such behavior.

Cathy Piehl, board secretary of the proposal’s co-sponsor, Indian Prairie CUSD 204, Naperville, said such a bill would provide state guidance for local districts to deal with a growing problem that is “very destructive to our school environment and our school districts.”

Piehl said the general definition of cyber bullying is well established, and the resolution presented to delegates strikes a good balance between guidance from the state and the flexibility for local control.

“I don’t think the legislation that was in place before defined cyber bullying,” she said.

The measure was passed overwhelmingly by the school board delegates.

Representatives also approved a resolution that seeks to revise the method of funding state-authorized charter schools to limit the amount that can be diverted from local school districts to support charters.

Sponsors said the proposal would encourage creation of new state-authorized charter schools to the extent the state provides the means to fund them. They said decreases in state aid endanger services for both state-authorized charter school and their host school districts.

The amount of state funds diverted from the local district currently is based on the per capita tuition calculation of the local district multiplied by the number of students at the charter school. For example, a state charter school drawing 300 students would receive $3 million from the local district if that district had a per capita tuition charge of $10,000 per student. The local district must shoulder 100 percent of the cost even though state dollars may only account for 20 percent of the local district’s revenue.

The resolution was approved overwhelmingly and without discussion.

A total of 23 resolutions were submitted for consideration this year; 11 of which were new proposals, and one that amended an existing position statement. The others reaffirmed existing position statements. Local member districts are encouraged to draft and submit proposals in the spring. After a committee review them and offers its recommendations, the Delegate Assembly votes on the resolutions. Those approved are used by IASA and other school management supporters to establish an agenda for their lobbying efforts.

“This resolution aims to limit the withholding of state funds from school districts hosting a charter school by pegging it to the percentage of state funds the local district received per student in the prior year,” said Ben Schwarm, IASB deputy executive director. “School districts said they need to have the state revenue per student follow the student, not local revenue. The state, as the chartering entity, would then ensure payment of the balance of the per capita funding entitlement to the charter school.”

Other resolutions approved by local school board representatives included proposals that:
• Allow school districts additional flexibility under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL)
• Encourage employers to allocate time off for employees’ state-required school board member training
• Restore boards’ right to enter into contracts with third parties for non-instructional services
• Exempt students from physical education classes as needed to attend show choir
• Ease state requirements for homeless student transportation beyond district borders in order to bring the state law into agreement with federal law

Delegates also approved a call for biennial state budgets rather than yearly budgets, essentially requiring that lawmakers determine the amount of funding for education entitlements and General State Aid to schools no later than March 31 (three months prior to the start of the budget year).

Sponsors said the budgeting cycle needs to be changed to allow school boards to make fiscal and staffing decisions after they are informed about the amount of state aid and educational entitlements available. Currently, local school district budgets are due months before the state budget is finalized. The timetable has been a bigger concern in the past few years because state budget shortfalls and lean fiscal times have caused delays and reductions in state payments to school districts.

Delegates rejected seven of 12 resolutions containing new or amended position statements for IASB, including a pension reform proposal to seek additional state revenue, including potential Tax Increment Financing (TIF) reform sources to cover any additional cost placed on school districts for pensions benefits of teachers.

“Discussions about reforming the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension funding have included a proposal to shift the normal cost of this to local school districts, with a price tag of an additional $800 million to be paid by school districts,” Schwarm said. “While most delegates agreed that absorbing an $800 million hit would devastate local school districts, concern was voiced about the fairness of using TIF funds to defray these costs, particularly because such funds are already allocated for specific purposes by municipal officials.”

IASB delegates also heard reports from IASB Executive Director Roger Eddy and Association President Carolyne Brooks.

“Education faces some of the most challenging times in the history of our country, and it truly is crucial that we do something in Illinois to help preserve our democracy,” Brooks said.

Brooks was re-elected as Association president, and Karen Fisher as vice president. Both will serve one-year terms. Brooks is a board member in West Richland CUSD 2 in Noble, Ill.; Fisher is a board member in THSD 140 in Ottawa, Ill.

More than 84 percent, or 727 of the state’s 861 school districts, attended the 2012 Joint Annual Conference. This was the 80th meeting of the IASB, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

Attendance at this year’s event topped 10,000. This included school board members, exhibitors, administrators, superintendents, board secretaries, regional superintendents and university professors, IASB service associates, school attorneys, state board officials, special ed administrators and others. The conference offered a wide variety of professional development programs in 116 panel sessions, nine pre-conference workshops, three general sessions and other learning opportunities.

The Illinois conference is the largest state education conference in the nation. More information about this year’s conference can be found on the Association’s website: www.iasb.com/jac12/.