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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – Jan. 16 - 23, 2004



1    Excerpts from Blagojevich speech / Peoria Journal Star
2    Gov drops 'bomb' on Board of Ed / Sun Times
3    Governor lambastes state's school board / Chicago Tribune
4    Flunking out the bureaucrats / Chicago Tribune
5    Lawmakers agree on education / Peoria Journal Star
6    Schools chief: I've got bull's-eye on my back / Peoria Journal Star
7    Gov attacks schools board, seeks hand in new agency / Rockford Register Star
8    Educators give address mixed marks / Rockford Register Star
9    Blagojevich blasts ISBE / State Journal-Register
10  National Youth Leadership Council Applauds Governor Blagojevich's Proposal On Community Service for Students / PRNewswire
11  Duncan Cautious On Gov’s Schools Plan / WBBM-AM

12  Local lawmakers skeptical of governor's plan / DeKalb Daily Chronicle
13  Area lawmakers, educators cautious / Belleville News-Democrat
14  Area educators divided over ISBE proposal / Courier News
15  Local reps agree with governor in principal / Galesburg Register-Mail
16  Governor's school pitch splashy, but deeply flawed / Peoria Journal Star
17  Educators jabbing at governor's school fix, Blagojevich plan flawed, critics say / Chicago Tribune
18  Some say Blagojevich went too far in criticism / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
19  Area lawmakers agree with speech / Pantagraph
20  Education plan 'right issues, the wrong target' / Peoria Journal Star
21  Reaction cool on education plan / Champaign News-Gazette
22  Schools leery of governor's plan / Chicago Tribune
23  A governor's learning curve / Chicago Tribune
24  Local educators laud state funding ideas / Edwardsville Intelligencer
25  Blagojevich begins well on education / Decatur Herald & Review
26  ISBE only a fraction of school problem / Galesburg Register-Mail
27  Education reform: While it won’t solve all the problems, governor’s proposal deserves serious consideration / Quincy Herald-Whig
28  Fitzgerald hits schools plan / Sun Times
29  Governor's book idea latest chapter in excess / Pantagraph
30  Look Around, Guv, There's Waste Everywhere / Southern Illinoisan
31  Board of Ed says Blagojevich used 'props,' twisted facts / Sun Times
32  Legislators assess governor's speech / Pioneer Press
33  Belvidere reception warm for governor, cool for plan / Rockford Register Star
34  School board, Blagojevich do battle / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A    Philadelphia bans soda sales in school / Chicago Tribune
B    Schools turning $$ back to feds / Deseret Morning News (UT)
C    Education experiment heads for Extinction /
D    In Some Schools, It's One Teacher, One Student / New York Times
E    Ninth Grade Key to Success, but Reasons Are Debated / New York Times
F    Schools or Pencils: A Fund Disconnect / Los Angeles Times
G    In Fighting Stereotypes, Students Lift Test Scores / New York Times
H    Filling superintendent jobs gets tougher / The Arizona Republic
I     SD2 board kills spring break for ’05, ’06, ’07 / Billings Gazette (MT)



Excerpts from Blagojevich speech 

By The Associated Press, January 15, 2004

Following are excerpts from Gov. Blagojevich's State of the State speech Thursday in Springfield.

"By embracing reform, by showing the people we were prepared to change the way we earned their trust, change the way we treat their money, change the way we create jobs, change the way we deliver health care, change the way we give people from all walks of life the opportunity to work hard, to get ahead, and to build better lives, we've taken bold steps towards finally giving the people of Illinois a government that's of them, by them and for them."

"But the battle to bring down the cost of health care continues. That's why we are going to keep fighting the big drug companies, we are going to keep fighting the federal government, and we are going to keep fighting the FDA until they give consumers in Illinois - and consumers across the nation - access to the marketplace and an opportunity to safely and legally import prescription drugs from Canada."

"Illinois has many great schools, Illinois has many great teachers, many great administrators, and many great principals, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can't help but admit that when it comes to educating our children, we can do better."

"Instead of being an independent body that could regulate and support our schools, the Illinois State Board of Education is like an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy. It's clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money, it dictates policy, and it isn't accountable to anyone for anything."

"To sum it up, the Illinois State Board of Education has failed in its mission. It's a burden to the taxpayers. It's a drain on local schools. It's an albatross to our principals and teachers. It's not helping our children."

...and we know that now we're caught in a vicious cycle, where the more rules and regulations they impose, the more the State Board of Education can justify its own existence. That's the cart leading the horse, the tail wagging the dog, and patient treating the doctor, all rolled up in one."

"I can't think of any other place, not in business, not in sports, not in the media not even in government, not anywhere that would allow this kind of system to survive. Even the Berlin Wall eventually came down. Allowing the State Board of Education to continue down this path is like throwing money down the drain."

"So according to the State Board of Education, it takes 2,800 pages, all these rules and regulations to run our schools, more than all of the rules of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, combined. This is a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions."

"The quality of a child's play says a lot about a society. It's great that our children are so computer literate. But their day cannot start and end in front of a screen. Children need to be active. That means running, and jumping and skipping, and not just fast forwarding, downloading and instant messaging."


Gov drops 'bomb' on Board of Ed 

BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND LESLIE GRIFFY Sun-Times Springfield bureau, January 16, 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- Dropping what one lawmaker described as a rhetorical "atom bomb" on the Illinois Board of Education, Gov. Blagojevich eviscerated the agency and called on legislators Wednesday to create a new school management hierarchy under his direct control.

Taking aim at the sprawling agency that governs the state's 892 school systems, the governor compared the State Board of Education to an "old, Soviet style bureaucracy" that is bloated, squanders taxpayer money and has run amok.

"It's clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money, it dictates policy, and it isn't accountable to anyone for anything," the governor said in a blistering State of the State address dominated by his takeover plan.

By shifting most of the board's administrative duties to a new Department of Education under his control, Blagojevich predicted he could trim up to $1 billion in waste over four years -- money that could be rechanneled to classrooms.

Those savings -- whatever they end up being -- may be all that schools get because Blagojevich refused to commit to injecting any more state funds into education next year and completely sidestepped the financial crisis that has some school districts on the brink of insolvency.

The governor, who found public dissatisfaction with the board in results of internal polling, blamed the agency for sitting idly by when more than half of the $20 billion the state spends annually on education goes for social workers, lunches, buses, administration costs and operations -- instead of directly to instruction.

"Like many unaccountable bureaucracies, the Illinois State Board of Education turned into an organization that exists more for the benefit of its own administrators than for the benefit of the children of this state," the governor said, noting salaries for 40 top agency executives averaged $90,000.

Blagojevich also singled out the board for allowing 34,261 errors on 2003 school report cards, hiring too many consultants and public relations experts and failing to prevent schoolchildren in Will County from being sickened by ammonia-tainted chicken.

The governor held up an 18-inch pile of documents to illustrate the 2,800 administrative rules he said the state board has written hamstringing school districts on everything from school holidays to curriculum to hiring.

While many of those rules were the direct result of state laws, Blagojevich vowed to streamline the requirements that he said eclipsed the combined breadth King James Bible, the Torah and the Quran.

"This is a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions," Blagojevich said to laughter.

The broadside immediately drew scorn from state schools Supt. Robert Schiller and a handful of state lawmakers, who said Blagojevich was searching for a new whipping boy while ignoring the huge spending gap between rich and poor school districts.

During Blagojevich's 82-minute speech, Schiller sat directly in front of the governor on the floor of the Illinois House, shifting in his seat and appearing red-faced.

"What we've seen here is a focus being placed on politics and power and not . . . how we provide equity of funding for 4,000 schools," Schiller said, noting how his agency was the latest Springfield institution to be scapegoated by the freshman governor.

"First, obviously, it was the former governor. Then higher education got vilified. Then there was a movement to Springfield, the legislators. Moving along, you've got the drunken sailors."

Schiller accused the governor of twisting numbers and facts.

"All this rhetoric is great. The public will gobble it up," said Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "But what are we really accomplishing here?"

Blagojevich's proposal won early backing from the state's two largest teachers unions, ex-state schools Supt. Michael Bakalis and 15 legislators from both parties.

"I've been around several governors and the General Assembly for a long time, and I've never seen a governor lay an atomic bomb on one issue like Gov. Blagojevich did in his speech with respect to the State Board of Education," said Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who said he backed the governor's concept but wanted more details.

The governor's new department would create purchasing authorities for schools to buy supplies, would re-examine school construction costs and cut paperwork for districts to obtain state assistance.

Blagojevich pledged to make the new agency work with 80 percent of the budget now in place for the state Board of Education and with 60 percent of the board's current work force, which now totals about 490 people. A shell of the existing state board would remain as an education "think tank."

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) said he wanted to take a closer look at Blagojevich's proposal. He promised to work with the governor but predicted a difficult legislative fight ahead.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), said his powerful boss was open to a "review" of the governor's proposal but had not taken a stand on it.



Highlights of Gov. Blagojevich's education initiatives:

*Project Success -- reinstates and expands former Gov. Jim Edgar's program that pairs parents, community leaders and service providers to identify and meet the needs of local students at a cost of $5 million.

*Certificate renewal requirements -- proposes legislation requiring elementary school teachers to complete half the requirements based on best practices to teach children to read.

*Teaching task force -- brings teachers and education experts who started out in other careers together to develop program to incorporate different experiences and backgrounds into classrooms.

*Childhood Hunger Relief Act -- requires schools to provide breakfast to poor children.

*Physical education waivers -- ends practice of allowing schools to waive students from physical education class.

Suburban schools want money -- not prospect of it


They'd rather see the money than hear the promises.

That's the reaction of several suburban school officials, who said Thursday they're skeptical that Gov. Blagojevich's proposal to gut the State Board of Education will actually improve schools.

Administrators said they would have preferred to see Blagojevich commit new money now to education rather than relying on savings he hopes will come from changing state bureaucracy. Many of Blagojevich's revenue projections this past year have fallen short.

"The real issue is, are you going to correct funding for schools in the state of Illinois? That's not addressed at all,'' said Supt. Gail McKinzie of Indian Prairie District 204, which has more than 26,000 students attending schools in Naperville and Aurora.

McKinzie said the proposed changes seemed designed not to help local schools make ends meet, but to give Blagojevich more control over education. "I think it's political, in that he doesn't have direct control now."

She's not necessarily opposed to giving the governor that control, but chided him for contending changes are necessary because the state board is performing poorly.

Given all the different tasks board staffers must do, McKinzie said, "I think they're doing as well as can be expected.

"If he wants control, he should just do it. Let's not do it by beating up on everybody else.''

Supt. Phyllis Wilson, who heads Joliet School District 86, thinks there's room for improvement in the way the board oversees local districts. The amount of paperwork districts must complete to meet board regulations has been rising, and that's not how local educators want to spend their time.

"Any time you have an increased amount of paperwork, it takes away the focus on the children,'' Wilson said.

Another suburban school official, who asked not to be identified, contended Blagojevich was aiming at an easy target, noting the board has little real power except to pass on state money and legislative mandates to local districts.

By putting a new education department under his control, the governor -- for better or worse -- would make himself directly accountable to voters for the success of education funding and policy in the state.

"That could be a good thing,'' the suburban official said.

In Springfield, many employees at the state board watched Blagojevich's speech on television, then left in a huff, upset the governor had criticized their work and uncertain about their jobs.

"We're really too angry to talk," said one man, who like all the employees didn't want his name used.

"It was a power grab," said another employee, who has been with the board for nearly 20 years. "Either [the governor's] an out and out liar or he's got really bad information. One of the two."

While Blagojevich touted the success of Chicago schools under Mayor Daley's control, the board employee scoffed at that.

"If the Chicago system is good under Daley, why isn't his daughter going?"


Governor lambastes state's school board 

Blagojevich calls agency `barrier to progress'

By Ray Long and Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporters, January 16, 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- In a stinging indictment of the state's education bureaucracy, Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched an ambitious plan Thursday to strip the State Board of Education of its authority and give himself direct oversight of Illinois schools.

In his second State of the State address, the Democratic governor called on House and Senate lawmakers meeting in a joint session to join him in ripping apart a board that he condemned as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" accountable to no one and replacing it with a new cabinet-level Department of Education.


"Even the Berlin Wall eventually came down," Blagojevich said. "Allowing the State Board of Education to be a barrier to progress is like throwing money down the drain."

The governor used the bulk of his 86-minute speech to relentlessly hammer away at the board as an "unwieldy monolith" sorely in need of reform. At one point he held up 2,800 pages of rules from the board to govern schools and said that was more pages than are contained in the Bible, Torah and Koran combined. The red tape caused by the board, he complained, was a "bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions."

He blamed the board for a litany of problems, from grade school children who can't read to children getting sick on tainted school lunches.

He also cited high administrative salaries and consulting contracts as examples of excessive and wasteful spending.

But he never touched on the issue that many local educators say is the most critical one facing schools, the state's failure to overhaul an education-funding system that has created widespread inequities and led to heavy reliance on the property tax.

"The Illinois State Board of Education has failed in its mission," Blagojevich said. "It's a burden to the taxpayers. It's a drain on local schools. It's an albatross to our principals and teachers. It's not helping our children."

Noting the passion and stridency in the governor's message, veteran Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) said it was the first time he had ever seen a governor use a speech to the legislature "to drop an atomic bomb."

Later, Blagojevich surrounded himself with more than three dozen lawmakers and representatives of the state's two major teacher unions in a display of solidarity for his new cause, sounding a theme of widespread frustration with the board and its bureaucracy.

"Enough is enough," said Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association, which represents tens of thousands of Illinois teachers and has been frustrated by delays in getting teachers certified by the board.

Political fault lines began to emerge only moments after the speech ended.

Rep. Calvin Giles (D-Chicago), chairman of the House Education Committee, pledged his support for Blagojevich's proposals. "We are about to take on an entity that has been here for years and ... has no accountability to anybody," Giles said.

Sen. Miguel del Valle, the Chicago Democrat who heads the Senate Education Committee, complained the governor's address avoided the school funding dilemma, which has led to widespread disparities between school districts and which most experts say can't be resolved without raising general taxes.

"All this rhetoric is great," he said. "The public will gobble it up. They'll accept it. But the bottom line is what are we doing for our school districts in Illinois?"

Signaling that Blagojevich's program may get tough scrutiny, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said the governor already has the power to appoint all members of the board and so could effect much of the change he wants by altering its makeup.

"The cold, hard reality is the governor's office controls the system now and would control it in the future," said Steve Brown, the spokesman. "I'm not sure at the end of the day that Herb and Ethel's children are going to learn any more quickly depending on what the management structure is."

After his speech, Blagojevich defended his attacks against the board and insisted they were not mean-spirited. That said, he acknowledged that he is "angry and outraged" by actions of a board that had hampered efforts to give children a solid education, and "maybe some of that spilled over."

The centerpiece of the governor's package is a proposal to remove virtually all major duties of the board, an office created as an independent board by the state's constitution.

Blagojevich said he envisioned creating a smaller Department of Education to perform the duties of the board, which employs about 490. The board would be relegated to something akin to a "think tank," with a superintendent, the board members and a small support staff.

Blagojevich outlined a seven-point plan that called for streamlining the school bureaucracy and pooling the buying power of school districts throughout Illinois to cut costs for pencils, scissors and even health care, with the hope of saving $1 billion over four years.

He urged lawmakers to help him build programs to improve reading, expand school breakfast efforts, fight dropout rates, send more at-risk children to preschool and to increase teacher training.

He also outlined a series of initiatives that include requiring schoolchildren to perform community service, banning schools from selling junk food, revamping teacher certification procedures, and eliminating a school district's ability to waive the requirements for physical education. Another proposal was aimed at improving food-safety inspections in schools.

State Schools Supt. Robert Schiller questioned whether the governor had the constitutional authority to take the action, saying it was a back-door attempt to skirt the mandates of the state's charter.

Schiller suggested the governor was continuing a pattern he had displayed since taking office last year of picking some target to vilify, shifting from former Gov. George Ryan to the General Assembly to other statewide officeholders and now to the state school board.

"It's our turn," Schiller said. "Go through the whole cycle of the past year. Today, because I'm the CEO of the state board, I had the bull's-eye on my back."

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) is among lawmakers who have no problems with Schiller. Jones said he is "personally satisfied" with the education chief.

Jones added that he would reserve judgment on the Blagojevich proposal until he sees more details, but he said he wants to make sure education would not be politicized if a new education agency were placed under the governor.

Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville) said he could work with the governor on issues of streamlining the bureaucracy. But Watson questioned the tone of the governor's attacks, saying they may produce a backlash.

"He just was so personal and so harsh and mean-spirited, and that was surprising to me," Watson said.

Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, said he "understands and supports" the governor's desire to have more control of the schools, saying it would reflect the Chicago model in which Mayor Richard Daley has had control of the schools since 1995.

But Duncan also called Schiller "very responsive and supportive of our work in Chicago."

And Duncan challenged Blagojevich to address a school-funding system that relies too much on property taxes and community wealth, and not enough on state dollars. "The governor could leave a huge legacy if he would be willing to tackle that issue," Duncan said.

Blagojevich said a full-scale discussion on resolving funding gaps must wait until state government shows citizens it can be trusted to be careful with their money. "I just think we have a burden first before we can have that larger discussion," Blagojevich said.

The management efficiencies proposed by Blagojevich, such as central purchasing centers to cut costs by buying in bulk, were well received by some educators, though Chicago school officials expect the greatest benefit would go to smaller districts. Chicago already gets volume discounts because it is the third-largest school system in the nation.

The Blagojevich plan did win support from two former state school chiefs, Michael Bakalis and Glenn "Max" McGee.

"It's a very political job, whether it's independent or part of the governor's office," said McGee, who runs an elementary district in Wilmette. "When the city schools came under the control of Mayor Daley, the schools improved dramatically. The key will be to bring in someone who has a laserlike focus on closing the achievement gap."

Schiller accused the governor of ignoring facts and distorting data to make the board look hapless.

Though Blagojevich said in his speech that reading scores of Illinois children were dismal, Schiller said student performance on standardized tests has never been higher and noted that Illinois got high marks in a recent national survey for its system of learning standards and state assessments.

Blagojevich's criticism of the many board rules and of a management system that targets only 46 cents of each education dollar into the classroom also was misleading, Schiller said. The rules were written to comply with laws passed by the General Assembly, Schiller said. Most of the non-classroom spending is used for school construction and support services such as buses, counseling, testing and school maintenance, he said.

Some suburban school administrators said it was wrong to blame the board for spending problems when local school boards make most decisions about how to use school money.

"I just cannot see the [state board] as the villain here. I've never seen the agency as an obstacle," said Pat Masterton, an assistant superintendent in Addison School District 4.

Supt. Jerry Brendel of Woodridge District 68 said the board is far from perfect, but he thought Blagojevich's attacks were excessive.

"He had an agenda, and his agenda was to get rid of the state board," Brendel said. "And he used inaccurate data. Personally, I'm skeptical. I don't see where these gigantic savings are going to come from."

- - -

Details of Blagojevich's education plan

The governor asked lawmakers Thursday to overhaul the state's education bureaucracy, a move that could redirect $1 billion over four years into classroom instruction, he said. Here are key points:

- Shift all administrative powers and duties from the Illinois State Board of Education to a new Department of Education under his control.

- Streamline 2,800 pages of administrative rules required for teacher certification and for school districts to carry out various education programs.

- Form a statewide purchasing center to let school districts buy products from state-designated suppliers and negotiate lower prices. Also, a statewide benefits-purchasing center would be formed to negotiate better prices for school employees' health insurance.

- Provide $500 million to build schools for the coming budget year, but cut construction costs by 5 percent through various measures.


Flunking out the bureaucrats 

Chicago Tribune Editorial, January 16, 2004

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's state of the state speech Thursday focused on education, and his centerpiece for reform was to gut the semi-autonomous State Board of Education, which controls more than $6 billion in education spending. The governor wants to reduce the 593-employee state board to a shell and give its duties to a Department of Education that would be under his control.

There was a time when Blagojevich's bid would be seen as nothing but a political power grab. Some will still see it that way. But Blagojevich has a chance of pulling this off, for one reason: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was handed control of the Chicago public schools nearly a decade ago and he showed that a CEO model--with final accountability resting with a top elected official--could be a vast improvement.


What Blagojevich is talking about may not be as dramatic as the Chicago takeover. The reformers in Chicago had an even tougher mission: fixing a school system that was once declared the worst in the nation by Reagan-era Education Secretary William Bennett.

The State Board of Education hasn't really been asked to fix many problems. Trouble is, it seems to create many problems. Blagojevich likened the agency to "an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy," and he was on the mark.

The state board was handed responsibility to create an innovative teacher training and certification plan--and failed, leaving thousands of teachers at risk of losing their jobs.

The board ignored warnings that school cafeteria food had been contaminated by ammonia--leading to the indictment last year of two board employees.

When data collection flaws showed up in last year's student achievement exams, they were ignored until reporters wrote about them.

The board routinely complains that its budget gets squeezed--but it paid two lobbying firms a total of $1.4 million over the past four years.

It has 20 in-house lawyers and access to the attorney general's office--and still spends $1 million a year on outside legal counsel.

The evisceration of the State Board of Education was one of a slew of ideas Blagojevich tossed out in his speech. He wants to assume responsibility for education, and he set his own bar. He said the management changes under his plan, which include consolidation of local school purchasing and employee benefits management, can save more than $1 billion over four years.

So let him have it, and voters can hold him to the promise.

There were complaints that Blagojevich made no reference to changing the tax structure that funds education, something many educators, and this newspaper, have supported. But the fact is that tax reform--shifting school funding from local property taxes to the state income tax--has been met with the suspicion that much of the money would be lost to the education bureaucracy while failing to benefit schools.

All told, more than half of education spending in the state goes to items unrelated to classroom teaching--a percentage significantly higher then in comparable states such as New York, Blagojevich said.

This is a chance to prove the state can handle the responsibility for efficiently funding schools--a chance to make a stronger case for reforming the school tax structure.

Blagojevich is going to find resistance. There's no status quo like the education status quo.

The vote from this page is to buck the status quo and give his ideas a chance.


Lawmakers agree on education 

But some wish governor had addressed other issues, too

By DOROTHY SCHNEIDER and ADRIANA COLINDRES of Copley News Service, January 16, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Most Peoria-area legislators agreed Thursday with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's contention that the state's education system needs changing, but some thought he should have covered more issues in his annual State of the State address.

"I'm disappointed that I didn't hear anything about the state of the state," said Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria. "He didn't talk about the budget. He didn't talk about the shortfalls that we're having where the revenue is not coming in.

"I thought this was going to be the state of the state on how we're doing right now," he added.

The governor spent most of the speech outlining his plan to create a Department of Education, which would be accountable to his office and the Legislature, unlike the current State Board of Education.

During his speech, Blagojevich's call for action was met with loud applause from both Democrats and Republicans.

"I think a Department of Education elevates education to the level it should be and would make it more accountable to the Legislature," said Rep. Donald Moffitt, R-Gilson.

Moffitt and Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, were mentioned by name in Blagojevich's speech for past efforts to initiate education reform. Brady proposed a constitutional amendment last spring to eliminate the State Board of Education and create a new Department of Education.

"Many of the provisions he called for, I support," Brady said. "He did a very good job of outlining it. He was a little harder than maybe I would have been on the state board."

Blagojevich made it clear he believes that problems with Illinois' educational system are largely the fault of the board, lawmakers said.

"Well, the villain of the day today was the State Board of Education," said Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.

Leitch and other legislators said they look forward to seeing the details of the proposal because they see a need for reform in the education system.

Sen. George Shadid, D-Peoria, said he agrees with the governor that education should be a top priority.

"However, there is certainly enough blame for everyone involved, which includes governors, legislators, school administrators, teachers and parents," said Shadid. "But the time has come to stop this 'blame game' and for all parties to sit down and put aside their differences and concern ourselves with educating the children of Illinois."

Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton, said: "It's very frustrating that our management system of education in the state is so fractured without real accountability."

At one point during Blagojevich's speech, the governor picked up a stack of papers that he said were 2,800 pages of the board's administrative rules. He referred to them as a "bureaucratic nightmare."

But Rep. Ricca Slone, D-Peoria Heights, said many of those regulations are based on legislative or federal requirements.

Some legislators said they wanted to hear from the governor about issues besides education.

Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said the governor did not address the economic problems of central Illinois.

"We the jury, the people of central Illinois, we don't know what he's going to do for us," Mitchell said. "The verdict is out."

Moffitt said economic stimulus is very important in his district because the recent closure of the Maytag plant in Galesburg left the area with 20 percent to 25 percent unemployment.

"If we're going to improve our schools, it means having jobs that a person can raise a family on that attract people with school-age children," Moffitt said. "That's the only way we are going to maintain our schools."


Schools chief: I've got bull's-eye on my back 

By Copley News Service, January 16, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - State School Superintendent Robert Schiller said Thursday that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's harsh criticism of the State Board of Education was a display of "politics and power" that does nothing to help financially struggling schools.

"Nothing that was said (in the governor's State of the State speech) addresses the issue that we've got 80 percent of our school districts with deficits," said Schiller. "What we've seen here is a focus being placed on politics and power and not the focus for the public to address how do we provide equity of funding for 4,000 schools."

Since Blagojevich became governor a year ago, he has made it a practice to direct unfavorable comments toward specific people or entities, Schiller said. The governor's targets have included former Republican Gov. George Ryan, Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White and the General Assembly.

"Go through the cycle of the whole year," Schiller said. "Today (Thursday), because I'm the CEO of the state board, I had the bull's-eye on my back."

The State Board of Education hired Schiller in July 2002 to serve as Illinois' chief educational officer. He has a three-year contract that pays $225,000 a year.

In the speech, Blagojevich accused the State Board of Education of not spending money wisely when it comes to educating schoolchildren.

But Schiller said the governor placed an inappropriate level of blame on the agency.

"We don't make decisions at the State Board about what percentage of money goes to the classrooms for instruction or for administration. The local school board members do that and the legislators," he said. "I do not, in any way, shape or form, as a representative of the state board, determine how the money is used."

He said the governor has good intentions in wanting to make the education system better, "but I think he's relying on advisers who are misinformed or ill-informed or purposely providing a slanted point of view."

The State Board of Education shares the governor's desire to see student test scores improve every year, Schiller said.

But he added: "How you improve education is research-based, it's systemic and it's sustained. It's not an initiative du jour. It is not randomly selecting initiatives."

Earlier in the week, Schiller said he thinks Blagojevich is trying to shift attention away from the issue of "wholesale school finance reform," which could be achieved by raising state income or sales taxes.

Blagojevich recently has said he will push proposals that would send a book every month to every Illinois child under the age of 5, require high school students to perform 40 hours of community service before graduation and get rid of junk food in school vending machines.

"If you're not ready politically or economically to address the substantive issue, then you create the alternative reality," Schiller said. "You roll out ... initiatives of book of the month, the community service, no sugar in the schools, good nutrition, parental responsibility, read to your kid, et cetera, et cetera."

The 1970 Illinois Constitution created the State Board of Education, and if the governor wants to change the board, he should "give the people of Illinois the opportunity to determine if their constitution should be changed," Schiller said.

"As I understand it, the governor wants the legislature to do a back-door revision of the Constitution, to take away the privilege of the people of Illinois of having a State Board of Ed that is controlling and directing and responsible for education," Schiller said. "I will continue doing my job, advocating for what our schools need, administering the schools in the districts as necessary."

Janet Steiner, who chairs the State Board of Education, said she was "shocked and awed" by the governor's speech.

"I refuse to get into a battle publicly, like Mr. Blagojevich has chosen to do with us," she said. "I was very saddened, though, and disappointed and hurt that I was never, ever called (and) never talked to the governor."

"I was just as astounded as everyone else. I'm very upset by that."

At least one public school superintendent was not sure Thursday what to think of the governor's proposal to take away the State Board of Education's administrative responsibilities.

"I've never known it any other way," said Springfield School Superintendent Diane Rutledge. "Our experience with the State Board in Springfield has always been very positive."


Gov attacks schools board, seeks hand in new agency 

Teachers unions approve of the overhaul; lawmakers are skeptical.

By AARON CHAMBERS and ANTHONY WATT, Rockford Register Star

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich called Thursday for the creation of a state agency that, once under his control, would direct Illinois education dollars and policy.

The Chicago Democrat used his State of the State address to launch a brutal attack against the State Board of Education, which now has that responsibility, and propel his drive for fresh bureaucracy.

He told a joint session of the General Assembly that his proposed state Department of Education would restore accountability — to the governor and the Legislature — and local control over education.

The governor likened the State Board of Education to a “Soviet-style bureaucracy” that “isn’t accountable to anyone for anything” and should fall like the “Berlin wall.”

Blagojevich appoints members of the State Board of Education, under Illinois law, and the board members pick the state schools superintendent.

“Our local school districts could do a lot better if they were set free from the bureaucratic dictates of the Illinois State Board of Education,” Blagojevich said, “and instead were allowed to make more decisions at the local level and rely more on their own common sense.”

State Schools Superintendent Robert Schiller and several lawmakers said Blagojevich, whose first year was marked by constant tension with the Legislature, had simply found a new adversary.

“Somebody has to be identified,” Schiller said. “Today, the state board was identified.”

“If he wants to pick on the state board instead of members of the General Assembly, I think that’s good for everybody,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

Cross added, “We’re all big men and women. If he wants to pick on us, that’s fine.”

The State Board of Education has long been a whipping post for Illinois governors and legislators who complain that the body is inefficient and not accountable.

Rockford Mayor Doug Scott, a former legislator who attended the address, said widespread displeasure with the board probably would help the governor’s plan.

“He’s managed to pick out something in the state board that has a lot of disfavor on both sides of the aisle,” Scott said. “So it is likely that it could gain some significant legislative support.”

The governor capped his 87-minute speech with a news conference, at which more than a dozen lawmakers and the presidents of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Association — the state’s major teachers unions — proclaimed support for the plan.

The governor said he did not yet know how much money his plan would save. But if the plan is successful, he said, “we’re confident we can find at least $1 billion that we can shake from that bureaucracy” at the State Board of Education.

He said he was “cautiously optimistic” that his plan would pass.

But some legislators were not so quick to embrace the plan.

Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, said the governor’s plan failed to defer to local interests. “Whenever possible,” Wait said, “let the locals figure it out.”

Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called the plan a diversion from the greatest problem facing education in Illinois: The disparity of funding between districts.

“Once again we found another way to avoid dealing with the core issue: How we finance public education in the state of Illinois,” del Valle said. “That issue is not addressed at all in this plan.”

Blagojevich discounted the most commonly circulated proposal for balancing this disparity — an increase in the personal income tax to offset the burden on property-tax payers, who cover the bulk of education spending. He maintains that he will not raise the state income or sales taxes.


Educators give address mixed marks 

Some like the governor’s ideas but not the approach.

By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORDIf the governor’s buying, students at Barbour Language Academy chimed in to tell Rod Blagojevich exactly what sort of books they like.

The governor, in his second State of the State address, outlined Thursday an ambitious reading initiative: Mail a book a month to every child in the state from birth to age 5.

Verkita Hatter, 10, likes books about fictional kindergartner Junie B. Jones.

Classmate Demitrius Moore wants adventures. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next,” the 9-year-old said.

The governor’s 90-minute remarks, which focused largely on education, made some local folks happy and others concerned. At length, Blagojevich accused the Illinois State Board of Education of failure.

State Superintendent Robert Schiller sat in the crowd of dignitaries at Springfield’s Capitol as the governor accused the board of bureaucracy, financial waste and red tape that “handcuffs our educators and shortchanges our children.”

In Loves Park, Regional Office of Education Assistant Superintendent Don Morrison knows Schiller’s pain. The regional offices narrowly escaped the governor’s ax last year. “This year I guess it was ISBE’s turn,” Morrison said.

Education problems are enormous, he said: “It’s easy to take a simple approach and point a finger.”

The governor wants to replace the board with a department of education falling more directly under his control. Now, the governor’s most direct hand over the board is appointing members.

For Belvidere Superintendent Don Schlomann, the speech’s highlight was talk of continued state support for school construction. Schlomann’s growing district will have a $54.5 million referendum on the March ballot to build schools.

Schlomann hopes his district could be eligible for as much as $30 million from the state. He knows it’s a long journey from the fanfare of a State of the State address through the Legislature.

In Rockford, Barbour Principal Martha Medina focused on academics in the speech: books to children, recruiting teachers and funding for reading specialists.

Barbour is a magnet school with a language immersion program. Medina struggles to find bilingual teachers. Across the state, Blagojevich said, 1,400 teaching positions went unfilled this year.

He proposed a task force to look at recruiting nontraditional teachers.

Barbour also would benefit if Blagojevich can secure a reading specialist in every school that has failed to make adequate academic progress two years in a row. Medina has juggled funding this year to hire three Title I teachers to provide small-group reading instruction to students.

“Things don’t give you quality education. People do,” Medina said.



“We would enjoy some benefits. (The governor) indicated one of the reasons he wanted to do that was to help streamline the process. I think that helps all school districts, including ours. I think it’s a good, bold move from him, and I think it will get some legislative support.”

— Mayor Doug Scott

“There are a lot of rules and regulations that are burdensome that could be eliminated by implementing legislation immediately instead of waiting for a whole new agency to be established, which could realistically take two years.”

— Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford

“I don’t like Washington and Springfield dictating what local school boards should do. (The school boards) are elected by the people and are much more in tune to the community.”

— Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere

“It’s going to be an interesting process going forward.”

— Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland

“I am very concerned about some of the initiatives I have heard today, especially when we talk about the initial cost of some of those issues. ... The governor came up with a lot of good ideas that in good fiscal years would be great, but I really do not know how we’re going to fund them.”

— Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Sycamore

“This governor wants to spend money that we don’t have. To introduce new proposals that are going to cost money just seems ridiculous when our revenue still is below our needs to fund the existing programs that we have.”

— Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo

“The focal point has to be on the students, and every dollar we can generate as legislators should go on our kids.”

— Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford

“The governor had very good points, and that is the basis. We need to start a dialogue about the complete overhaul of the education system.”

— Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica


Blagojevich blasts ISBE 

Urges office of education accountable to governor


Calling the Illinois State Board of Education "an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy," Gov. Rod Blagojevich used his State of the State address Thursday to recommend gutting the agency and creating a new Department of Education directly under his control.

By doing that, Blagojevich said, over the next four years nearly $1 billion can be redirected from the education bureaucracy to direct classroom instruction.

"The Illinois State Board of Education has failed in its mission," Blagojevich told a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly. "It's a burden to the taxpayers. It's a drain on local schools. It's an albatross to our principals and teachers. It's not helping our children."

In his nearly 90-minute speech, Blagojevich made no mention of how he wants to deal with other issues such as crime, economic development or human services. At a later news conference, he said he will address other matters throughout the spring legislative session.

Blagojevich delivered a blistering attack on the ISBE as the primary cause of Illinois' scholastic problems while not mentioning underfunding of schools or disparities between rich and poor school districts.

"I have never seen a governor lay an atomic bomb on one issue like Gov. Blagojevich did in his speech," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale.

The Democratic governor called the state board "clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money, it dictates policy, and it isn't accountable to anyone for anything."

Even though $20 billion is spent on education each year in Illinois, Blagojevich said, too many students do not meet standards in reading and writing skills, and too many students are ill-prepared to handle college classes without remedial work.

"The State Board of Education's penchant for constant interference, its ever-changing rules, its ever-growing number of regulations, the crushing amounts of paperwork, handcuffs our educators, and far worse than that, shortchanges our children," Blagojevich said.

At more than 2,800 pages, the board's administrative rules take up more space than the King James Bible, the Torah and the Quran combined, he said, adding, "This is a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions."

Blagojevich denied that his plan is a power grab.

"What this is, is a shifting of power away from an unaccountable bureaucracy and shifting it to local school districts, to principals, to school administrators and to teachers and parents," he said.

The governor said a Department of Education under his control could more efficiently administer programs, and 40 percent of the state board's nearly 600 employees could be eliminated.

The agency would not be eliminated, though, because that would require an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. Instead, the downsized agency would focus on education policy, and direct administration of education programs would fall under the newly created Department of Education.

Blagojevich also said that money can be saved by creating a central purchasing unit to buy school supplies, by centralizing benefits such as health insurance, and by creating "regional administrative service centers" that can perform accounting, auditing and bill-paying duties for schools.

Immediately after the speech, Blagojevich held a news conference and was joined by a number of lawmakers from both parties, as well as the presidents of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association. All voiced support for the governor's plan.

But while that kind of support will be crucial to changing the state's education bureaucracy, it does not mean Blagojevich's plan is a done deal.

"It's always the governor's prerogative to give a speech," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. "The speaker's view is that the governor controls the process now."

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said he needs more time to review Blagojevich's proposal, but cautioned "it's not going to be easy."

"To repeal a lot of laws that the legislators have passed over the years is most difficult," Jones said.

"It's pretty hard to argue with a lot of what he said, but obviously the devil is in the details," said House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego. "Last year, (former Gov.) George Ryan and the General Assembly were the whipping posts. This year, the state board is going to be the whipping post."

Cross said Republicans also want to know how any money saved from dismantling the bureaucracy will be channeled to schools.

"One of the things that concerns me is making sure that there is a fair distribution of money, that it is not all geared to the city of Chicago," Cross said.

Blagojevich said it hasn't been determined how the savings will be divided among schools.

Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson said his members have long talked about streamlining the State Board of Education. Watson, of Greenville, said lawmakers also could consider electing the state school superintendent.

Although Blagojevich focused most of his attention on the education agency, he reiterated other components of his education plan for this year. Those include:

Providing free books for all Illinois children until age 5. Children would get one book per month under the program that costs $26 million.

Reviving the Project Success initiative created by Gov. Jim Edgar that was ended by Ryan. The program uses schools to help connect families with social services such as preventive health care.

Requiring all high school students to perform 40 hours of community service as a condition of graduation.

Banning the sale of junk food and soda in schools.


National Youth Leadership Council Applauds Governor Blagojevich's Proposal On Community Service for Students 

Thursday January 15, 5:20 pm ET

ST. PAUL, Minn., PRNewswire -- The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), a pioneer in youth leadership initiatives since 1983 and the national champion of service-learning, applauds Governor Rod Blagojevich's proposed requirement for Illinois' high school students to do community service potentially tied to academic content. The proposal, which will be part of the governor's state of the state address, would demand 40 hours of service from students and create a foundation to administer a $6 million program to prepare teachers and schools that could be paid for out of general revenue.

The essence of service-learning addresses a dual purpose: educating America's K-12 and college-age students through thoughtful and practical service, while at the same time benefiting the communities in which those young people live. Currently 64% of public schools are engaged in community service, and 32% are engaged in service-learning, as defined as curriculum- based, with clear learning objectives, meeting community needs over a period of time, and including strategies to assist students in learning from the service experience.

In addition to promoting the concept and implementation of service- learning in schools throughout the United States, NYLC is engaged in a partnership with State Farm, a company based in Bloomington, Illinois to develop a system for collecting data on service-learning, and create much- needed annual reviews of the state of service-learning. This project will be a key way to publicize the progress of service-learning as a strategy to promote academic achievement and citizenship. State Farm and NYLC are involved in other service-learning projects directed at US schools which will be launched in February, 2004.

"I extend my congratulations on Governor Blagojevich's foresight to provide the youth of Illinois with opportunities for community service. Such opportunities can instill values of caring and citizenship, helping young people cross the bridge into adulthood as contributing members of a democratic society," states James Kielsmeier, president of NYLC. "To ensure that the benefits of community service are realized, research has shown that good supervision, preparation and follow up activities are essential. Moreover, service integrated with academic content -- a school reform strategy called service-learning - has proved successful in many schools -- including a number of Illinois schools that are nationally recognized."

Service-learning more directly connects schools with service by integrating it into the academic curriculum. Studies show that effective service-learning has positive impacts for all involved: it improves student academic achievement and school engagement, school climate and teacher retention and promotes positive school-community relationships. Information on service-learning, including NYLC's annual national survey of service-learning practice, Growing to Greatness, is available at . This report measures the national scale and scope of service-learning and profiles the service-learning activities of particular states and national organizations.

NYLC has been at the center of community service and service-learning program and policy development since 1983. They convene the annual National Service-Learning Conference -- last year 2700 participants, 50 states, 20 countries represented, and have offered teacher training across the nation as national provider for the Corporation for National and Community Service' s Learn and Serve Program.

For interviews with Jim Kielsmeier on service-learning and the impact on Illinois schools, contact Megan McKinnon at 651-999-7353.


Duncan Cautious On Gov’s Schools Plan 


On ’Talk to the Schools’, WBBM Newsradio 780, January 16, 2004,

(Chicago) -- Chicago Public Schools chief executive Arne Duncan is being cautious with his comments about Governor Blagojevich's plan to, essentially, do away with the state Board of Education and create a state Education Department.

On WBBM's "Talk to the Schools" program, Duncan says state Schools Superintendent Robert Schiller has been a "great friend" to Chicago schools, but understands the governor's desire for more control over the state's schools, comparing it to the City of Chicago's takeover of schools in 1995...

The governor believes he can get more money into classrooms by cutting one-billion dollars in spending he says is currently being wasted by the state Board of Education.

Duncan says the tremendous progress Chicago schools have made since '95 would not have happened without the mayor taking over, but Duncan says the real issue here is the state of Illinois' poor record in funding public education...



Local lawmakers skeptical of governor's plan 

By Chris Rickert, DeKalb Daily Chronicle City Editor

DeKALB - Republican lawmakers expressed varying levels of skepticism about the sweeping changes to education proposed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich during his State of the State Address Thursday.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, pronounced himself "very pleased" to hear the governor put so much emphasis on reforming Illinois' education system, adding that a lot of his proposals "make good sense."

Still, like Republican state Sen. Brad Burzynski of Sycamore, Pritchard worried about where the state would find the money to fund new initiatives, some of which include buying a book a month for every child until he or she enters kindergarten and offering breakfast at school for poor children.

He claimed there remains a $1.3 billion hole in last year's budget because strategies proposed by the governor for bringing in revenue - such as selling off state buildings - have not worked.

"We've got to have the money in hand before we spend it," he said.

Joe Wiegand, a DeKalb County Board member challenging Pritchard in the March primary, said Blagojevich spoke of making fundamental changes in the state's education bureaucracy that "we're all supportive of."

But he had doubts about handing over control of that bureaucracy to the governor's office in light of a culture in Springfield that historically has included no-bid contracts and a tendency to take care of one's friends with state money.

"He's actually calling for more central planning and more central purchasing," Wiegand said.

He pointed out that the largest cost in public education is personnel, and said that the only way to reduce it is through school choice - allowing private companies or consortiums of public schools to compete for students and education dollars.

Democrat Bob Brown, who will try to defeat either Pritchard or Wiegand in November, said he was generally supportive of Blagojevich's plans to centralize purchasing of school supplies to get lower prices, for example, or to consolidate districts' accounting and auditing tasks.

It might be better to replace Blagojevich's proposal to buy books for young children, he said, with a program that would allow people to donate their old books to children who need them.

"I'm glad that education is now a top priority for the governor and his administration. I would have liked to hear him say a little bit more about higher education," said the former fund raiser for Northern Illinois University.

In a press release, Burzynski questioned the value of Blagojevich's plan to require high school students to complete 40 hours of community service in order to graduate.

"On the surface it sounds great, but you have to have organizations who have the ability to oversee the volunteers," he said. "It creates a burden on them and many will have to say no because they do not have the manpower to oversee so many volunteers."


Area lawmakers, educators cautious 


An aggressive plan to eradicate the Illinois State Board of Education provoked mixed reactions Thursday from metro-east educators and legislators -- everything from cautious optimism to down-right indignation.

"He's taking the bull by the horns with this and, sink or swim, he's going to take this dinosaur on," said state Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville. "We've tweaked education ever since I've been here, but this is probably the first meat cleaver taken to it."

Blagojevich's plan, announced Thursday in Springfield, called for the elimination of the state board and its "old, Soviet-style bureaucracy." It is "clunky and inefficient" and "failed in its responsibility to lead education," the governor said.

Blagojevich didn't address situations where the state board has ordered state control of local school districts, such as in East St. Louis and Venice.

"If he's not satisfied with the state of education in Illinois, he's got to be just sickened by the state of education in East St. Louis," said Richard Mark, chairman of the state's East St. Louis oversight panel.

Mark and most metro-east legislators said they support the governor's assertive proposal, but local educators were quick to point out that a failing education system isn't solely the fault of the state board.

"I think it's awfully narrow to lay the failure of the entire educational system at the feet of ISBE," Belleville 201 Superintendent Brent Clark said. "There have been multiple contributing factors."

Said Highland Superintendent Jim Burgett: "If you take an agency and continually deflate its authority, remove its financial resources, cut the number of people... and do not facilitate good communications with that agency, I think you're setting it up for failure."

The Illinois legislature has been looking to pare back the state board for several years. It cut the agency's staff from 1,300 to around 500 in the past five years alone, Granite City Superintendent Kenneth Perkins said, but few legislators before called for its outright elimination.

"The tone of the speech was pretty harsh, personal and mean-spirited, but the attitude of dismantling the State Board of Education and trying to do something about the bureaucracy ... is something I can support," said Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville.

Said state Rep. Steve Davis, D-Bethalto: "This is my 10th year up here and every year is the same story with education: more money, more money, more money. I'm certainly open to do something to change the way its working.

"(Blagojevich)'s either going to be a hero or take the brunt of it if it doesn't work."

Other initiatives announced Thursday included plans to:

• Spend $26 million to give a book each month to every child under age 5.

• Ban soda and junk food in school vending machines.

• Ease the process by which teachers become state-certified.

• Expand the Early Childhood Block Grant to send 25,000 more at-risk children to preschool.

While those programs may be nice to see in metro-east schools, some local educators took a more practical approach. "For me it's a wait-and-see proposition until he presents the real education budget in February," Edwardsville Superintendent Ed Hightower said.


Area educators divided over ISBE proposal 

By Teresa Black and Liza Roche, Courier News Staff Writers

ELGIN — Local educators on Thursday gave mixed reviews to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's State of the State message that puts education — and the transfer of power away from the Illinois State Board of Education — on the front burner of his reform efforts.

Despite working for the ISBE, Kane County Regional Superintendent Clem Mejia said that Blagojevich's address gives him solid footing as "an education governor."

"I'm a Republican, but I'm an educator first," he said. "I agree with everything that he said, and that's based upon 34 years in the system.

"Parents and teachers feel the bureaucracy along their neck and they pass that along to me," Mejia said.

In his annual address Thursday, Blagojevich said the ISBE, which operates separately from the rest of state government, should be reworked into the overall state system.

Blagojevich's plan avoids changing the state's constitution by reducing the board to a think tank to study education policy. A new department of education would take over the board's current responsibilities. The governor said the reorganization could lead to substantial cost savings and better service for the state's 892 school districts.

"I could easily see the department of education and 22 or so regional offices under the governor," Mejia said.

'Compliance police'

Created about 30 years ago, the ISBE's charge was to be a "super school board" that focused on policy, research and development, said the regional superintendent.

"But what has evolved over time has been a compliance police," he said. "It has become really more difficult to even do what we do here at this level."

Mejia said the governor's proposal is a good first step, but other educators said the ISBE is not the cause of the state's educational problems.

Although Blagojevich criticized the ISBE for requiring too much paperwork, Community Unit School District 300 Superintendent Kenneth Arndt said bureaucracy at the agency has improved over the past decade.

"The number of employees have been significantly reduced," Arndt said. "Also, I think we have a very effective state superintendent."

Elgin School District U46 Superintendent Connie Neale said she doesn't have a strong opinion on whether the ISBE should be dismantled.

But the services at the state level need to be maintained or strengthened, she said.

"The bottom line is that any district in the state has to have the assistance and the resources," she said.

Neale, who worked in Texas and Kansas before coming to U46, said she doesn't find Illinois' educational system more bureaucratic than those in other states.

"But there's been a lack of consistency, continuity — the things districts need for support," she said.

Funding not addressed

The issue of school funding reform was noticeably absent in the governor's speech, a topic promoted by some educators to reduce reliance on local property taxes.

"We have a state funding problem," Arndt said. "We do not have a state governance problem."

District 300 sent a letter to the governor this fall urging him to call a special session on funding reform.

Meanwhile, education initiatives Blagojevich touted Wednesday received mixed reactions locally.

One proposal was to provide children age 5 and younger with dictionaries and books each month at a $26 million cost.

"It takes a parent or an adult to really teach a child," Arndt said. "You cannot legislate good parenting."

Arndt said he would like to see more state or federal help in hiring additional teachers, and he welcomed Blagojevich's idea of adding more reading specialists to struggling schools.

But Neale said such proposals make her wonder how they'll be funded.

"There's only one pot of money," said Neale, adding that when it comes down to state projects, or those by individual districts, she opts for local control. "Reading specialists would be great, but how are you going to get the money to do that?


Local reps agree with governor in principal 

By DAVID HOTLE of The Register-Mail, January 16, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Area legislators gave a lukewarm response to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's State of the State address in which he called for education reform, including the formation of a cabinet-level Department of Education.

Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, agrees education should fall under the rule of the state as a way of making the governing body accountable. Still, as he says, the devil is in the details.

Moffitt will not support legislation to create the department on top of the State Board of Education. Blagojevich criticized the board as being weighed down with bureaucracy. Moffitt is concerned if the department is created, it would just add another layer of bureaucracy.

"The governor needs to have people that are accountable to him," Moffitt said. "The way the State Board of Education is run, there are several layers of insulation between the state superintendent and the people."

He said the current superintendent, Robert Schiller, is the most responsive. Other superintendents have not been responsible at all, he said.

Other items Blagojevich called for, including mandatory community service for students and a ban on junk food sales, Moffitt believes should be left to individual districts.

"We trust our school boards and school administrations to make some very important decisions," he said. "I think we can trust them to decide what is put in vending machines."

"The governor has an ambitious agenda, especially in terms of education," said Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria. "Many of his ideas have merit, but we need to know how he plans to pay for them. With budget deficits again projected to be $2 billion, we have a lot of work ahead of us to set some realistic spending priorities."

Risinger says he hopes Blagojevich doesn't plan to pay for the programs with last year's sources of revenue - hiking more than 300 fees and taxes.

Rep. Rich Myers, R- Macomb, agrees changes are needed to the State Board of Education, but he disagrees with the level of criticism of the SBE.

"I think the condemnation was overdone," Myers said, noting the idea of a cabinet-level department of education originally was proposed by former Gov. Jim Edgar. It died in the Legislature.

He agrees more money should be put into the classrooms. To that end, he does not agree with several other requirements Blagojevich promoted, such as a book a month for students.

"I think we should get the money into the classrooms before we worry about that," he said.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Quincy, could not be reached for comment.


Governor's school pitch splashy, but deeply flawed 

Peoria Journal Star Editorial, January 16, 2004


Gov. Rod Blagojevich painted the Illinois State Board of Education as an enemy of the state's students, parents and taxpayers Thursday, calling for a substantial stripping of its regulatory powers in favor of a new agency that would be more accountable to him, the Legislature and their constituencies. Forgive the variation on the old saying, but is it possible Illinois educators have seen the enemy, and it was the speaker?

In his State-of-the-State address, the governor harshly denounced the State Board. He drew allusions to "an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy." He labeled it "an organization that exists more for the benefit of its own administrators than for ... children," an "albatross" guilty of "constant interference" that "handcuffs our educators." He accused its employees of "wasting the people's ... hard-earned money" on "high-priced contracts with "lobbying ... and public relations firms." In short, the agency does little well, said Blagojevich. "Even the Berlin Wall eventually came down," he said, and so must the State Board.


We'll give Blagojevich his due on one score: he knows how to make a splash, and this one may again land him on the front pages of America's major newspapers. He makes good points about public education being plagued by way too much paperwork. We too get tired of educators' insistence on "more money" as the answer to their every problem. He's right, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has achieved some successes since taking over his city's school system in 1995. Blagojevich isn't the first governor to toy with this idea.

But allow us to take issue with him on several others. First, he repeatedly claimed that only 46 cents of every Illinois school dollar ever gets to the classroom. That is astounding, and we question its basis and its validity. Even he confessed that a significant percentage of that 54 cents he attributes to administration goes to the likes of "school social workers, lunches and buses." Does he want to eliminate those?

The governor trashed the Illinois School Code as "a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions," longer than the Bible, Torah and Koran put together. Yet he conveniently ignores the fact that it was the Legislature, not the State Board, that made those burdensome rules law and ordered their implementation. Does he really believe the Legislature as Super School Board would be better?

We're all for trimming bureaucracy, for finding budget savings through consolidation of services and for greater local control. So why then would the governor have two educational bureaucracies (since he wouldn't outright abolish the current State Board, to avoid constitutional problems)? And why then did he in this same speech propose a number of new, local-control-robbing state programs and mandates?

Some may make sense, like creating regional purchasing centers to help cut costs for supplies and employee benefits. Others should have local educators scratching their heads. For example, Blagojevich's Childhood Hunger Relief Act would require schools to serve breakfast. He plans to order daily exercise for kids. He would force high schools to make community service a condition of graduation. There's even a no-soda-pop mandate. Won't some bureaucrat have to issue guidelines and require paperwork to prove compliance? Many of these have a significant price tag, in a state facing a potential $2 billion budget deficit.

If this governor only ends up trading an old bureaucracy for a new one - or worse, adding a new one - while squandering a lot of time, resources and hope in doing so, what's the point? Even his $26 million plan to put a book a month in every preschooler's household will require a bureaucracy to administer it, won't it? His speech's length alone - more than an hour and a half - doesn't bode well for someone who professes a desire to streamline government.

Meanwhile, this governor again asks little of local educators. Want inefficient? How about eight elementary districts feeding a separate high school district in Limestone Township? Mandating unit, or K-12 schools districts, now that would be revolutionary.

Finally, we believe Blagojevich is fundamentally wrong in his analysis that Illinois schools are largely failing from the top down. Does it really make much difference to the third grader sitting in a Peoria classroom whether a superintendent answerable to a board, or a director answerable to the governor, is calling the state's educational shots? No, what ails public education in the Land of Lincoln and everywhere else starts from the bottom up, with parents who send their children to school grossly unprepared to learn and who do not support that endeavor. Perhaps the governor has an answer for that.

"It would be easy to keep the current system in place where no one blames us," Blagojevich said. "Easy, but wrong." And that's just it. At first blush, this is a play at the margins, an all-too-easy, all-too-simple solution to a very complex problem. It's a gimmick.


Educators jabbing at governor's school fix, Blagojevich plan flawed, critics say 

By Stephanie Banchero and Tracy Dell'Angela, Tribune staff reporters, January 18, 2004

Gov. Rod Blagojevich contends that Illinois school districts could save tens of millions of dollars annually if he controls the purchasing of their supplies. But many local school officials say they already can buy through an agency he oversees, but they don't because it isn't worth it.

That is just one of many flaws critics say they have found in Blagojevich's ambitious plan to overhaul the state's education apparatus by stripping authority from the State Board of Education and shifting it to a new Cabinet level agency under his direction.

Blagojevich used his annual State of the State address to the legislature last week to rail against the state education agency that he called unresponsive, wasteful and a "Soviet-style bureaucracy." In blunt language, he blamed the board for a host of problems, including limited dollars flowing into classrooms, lagging student test scores and an avalanche of rules and regulations that has buried school administrators.

But a wide cross-section of school officials around the state said that the case against the board that Blagojevich laid out is riddled with distortions and displays a lack of understanding about who is responsible for making sure school money is spent wisely and children are learning.

In making his case that the board was incompetent, Blagojevich said only 46 cents of every school dollar in Illinois is used on classroom instruction. But school spending priorities are set by local district officials and not by the board, critics pointed out.

Blagojevich attacked board bureaucrats for writing 2,800 pages of rules that districts are required to follow. But the rules were composed only to enforce laws mandated by the General Assembly, the critics stressed.

Another broadside from the governor involved the recent release by the board of school report card data that was marred by 34,000 errors and led to the erroneous declaration that hundreds of schools were academically deficient. The errors, however, were made by local school districts, not the board, which simply compiled the data it received.

Blagojevich also blasted the board for paying the top 8 percent of its staff an average salary of $90,000 annually. The governor failed to mention that the average salary for the top one-third of his staff was $90,351 per year, state records show.

Some school administrators predicted that the governor's program would weaken local control of schools, cost districts money, create more bureaucracy and do nothing to benefit children.

`Power trip'

"I think the guy is on a power trip," said Greg Merrill, principal of Kankakee's Mark Twain Elementary School, who predicted the proposal would do nothing to streamline the state education bureaucracy.

The state board oversees an $8 billion annual budget and sets broad educational policies on student testing, teacher certification and curricula matters. The nine members of the panel, all gubernatorial appointees, select the state superintendent of education. All of the current members were in place when Blagojevich took office.

On Friday, Blagojevich told the Tribune editorial board that his plan would allow more money to flow into classrooms, enabling schools to boost student performance on achievement tests.

"In the current form there is a barrier to being able to reform and make schools better," he said. "And until we make a dramatic change with the state board, that barrier will continue to exist."

Blagojevich contends he can save schools $500 million over four years by setting up a centralized purchasing system, which would leverage buying power to negotiate steep discounts on everything from glue to automobiles. But the state already offers such a service to districts through the Central Management Services Department, which Blagojevich oversees.

Most districts, however, do not participate in the program because they find it more expensive to buy small-ticket items, such as paper, pens and pencils. Additionally, many school officials say they prefer to spend local property tax dollars to support local businesses.

Michael Rumman, director of Central Management Services, said schools don't participate mainly because the program is designed for bulk purchases. The new program, he said, would offer deals in smaller quantities. Still, Rumman acknowledged that the governor's $500 million savings claim would be realized only if nearly all of the state's 891 districts participated and each one was able to lop 5 to 15 percent off the cost of buying supplies.

Many local school officials say they aren't convinced.

"History has proven that state purchasing agreements haven't proven the most efficient," said Donna Baiocchi, executive director of Ed-Red, a group that represents 110 districts in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties. "I don't see how we're going to redirect a half a billion dollars when you're talking about Elmer's glue and pencils."

There is a strong tradition of local control of schools in Illinois, and the governor said his program would not upset that despite several aspects that would require or encourage the pooling of functions.

District officials decide how much they will spend on schools and where they will spend it. They pick their own textbooks. They select their own reading and math programs. And they decide how long the school day will be.

The state board has limited power and serves mainly to implement state and federal laws and dole out state and federal money.

Blagojevich dwelled on figures that show that less than half of every school dollar goes to classroom instruction. But he brushed over other data that show a large portion of the rest--31 percent--is dedicated to services like busing, testing, health and psychological services, counseling and social work, curriculum development and library services--functions that many consider vital to school operations.

More than 9 percent of school spending goes toward school construction and repairs.

"If the money is not going into the classroom, it's not an Illinois State Board of Education problem," said Pat Masterton, assistant superintendent in Addison School District 4. "What it comes down to is this state does not fund education."

Rules required by legislature

Blagojevich also blamed the board for imposing so many rules it had created a "bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions." But the board is required to write the rules by the General Assembly. When legislation was passed about the use of student protective eye gear, for example, regulations had to be drafted to implement the law.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), while keeping mum on Blagojevich's reforms, said the over-regulation charge by the governor was a bum rap. "One of the things the governor talked about--the 2,800 pages of rules and regulations--is all part of laws passed by the legislature," Jones said.

Board officials acknowledge that their operation is not flawless and concede that mistakes were made in some of the areas that the governor cited in his indictment of the agency.

Blagojevich took the board to task for failing to safeguard the health of students by allowing ammonia-tainted chicken to end up on school lunch tables in 2002. Board employees knew the poultry was foul but did little to stop its distribution. The board took no action until a Tribune investigation revealed the problem.

As for the recent report card debacle, board officials may not have been responsible for the errors but did not act quickly to correct them after they were discovered. Only after news reports surfaced about faulty information in numerous report cards did the board allow districts to make corrections, a process that could take months.

"We will acknowledge that our hands are not totally clean," said Ron Gidwitz, a member of the State Board of Education and its former chairman. "We acknowledge we made mistakes. We are not perfect."

Blagojevich had an uneasy relationship with the board even before he took office last year. While he was running for office, the board in 2002 appointed Robert Schiller as the state superintendent even though Blagojevich had asked it to defer action until after the election.

Schiller said Friday that he has never had a lengthy conversation with Blagojevich, though he has tried. He said he has sent countless e-mails to the governor's staff, hand delivered letters and made many phone calls over the last year.

"I wanted to talk to him about the state of education in Illinois, and I wanted to share my thoughts and get his thoughts," Schiller said. "But there was silence on his end. To be honest, I'm not sure his staff was sharing with him our efforts to meet."

Health plan stirs concerns

The state's top educators also are worried about the governor's plan to create a state-run $1-billion-a-year health plan for all current and retired school employees.

At present, districts manage and fund their own health care programs for current employees, but the benefits for retired employees--except those from Chicago--are covered by the state. The governor's plan, supported by teachers unions, would shift the costs for retired employees' health benefits to local school districts.

Glenn "Max" McGee, the former state superintendent of education who now runs Wilmette's elementary schools, criticized the health plan, despite his ringing endorsement of Blagojevich's overall reforms. "I don't think it will be good for teachers," McGee said.

As part of the reform package, the governor also floated a plan that would require schools to offer breakfasts if at least 40 percent qualify for free or reduced meals. About 300 schools in 100 districts would be affected. The federal government would pay for the food, but districts argue it would cost them far more than the $1 million the governor has set aside for the program.

"You'll have to hire personnel who will have to pack the breakfast, be on duty when children are eating. Someone will have to clean up afterward," said Amber Harper, superintendent of Leepertown School District 175 in central Illinois. "We are talking personnel costs."

Schiller said he plans to stay out of the fray while lawmakers and educators debate the governor's plan.

"It matters not that we are under siege," he said. "We must carry on with the business of educating children. My job is to lobby for our children and make sure we do everything for them that is humanly possible."



Some say Blagojevich went too far in criticism 

By KEVIN MCDERMOTT, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 17 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Like some of the earlier targets, Robert Schiller got a smile and a handshake just before he was put against the wall.

Schiller, Illinois' state school superintendent, was greeted by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the Illinois House chamber Thursday in the same way that Blagojevich greeted the dozens of other state dignitaries who'd come to listen to his second annual "State of the State" speech: With smiles, small talk and the one-on-one warmth that has become the Chicago Democrat's trademark.

But minutes later - specifically, by Page 9 of the speech - no one was smiling. Certainly not Schiller. He sat directly in the front row (surrounded by hundreds of fellow state officials and countless more Illinoisans watching from their television sets), as Blagojevich, in often-sarcastic wording and tone, all but blamed Schiller personally for the failure of Illinois schools.

"There is no one single villain, (but) the problem clearly begins at the top, with the Illinois State Board of Education," said Blagojevich. As Schiller watched, stony-faced, Blagojevich proceeded to savage Schiller's agency for more than an hour, comparing it to "an old Soviet-style bureaucracy" and "the Berlin wall"; calling it unaccountable and wasteful; deriding it as "a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions."

"I had a bulls-eye on my back," a stunned-looking Schiller later complained to reporters.

But given Blagojevich's emerging political style, Schiller said, "somebody has to be identified as the villain."

This time, it was about the educational system. But some say Blagojevich's approach to other topics during his first year in office - including political enemies, state workers, and most of all, the Legislature - employs an unusually potent political strategy of . . . well . . . name-calling.

Legislators spend money "like drunken sailors." State employees left over from the previous administration are "wasteful bureaucrats" and "cronies." People who complain that Blagojevich is dedicating too much governmental attention to Chicago are "whiners and complainers." Former Gov. George Ryan epitomized "the worst political scandal in Illinois history." The Legislature (controlled by Blagojevich's own Democratic party) represents "the failed politics of the past."

"The intention is to have somebody to attack," said state Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, who was angered by Thursday's speech despite his own concerns about the performance of the State Board of Education. "I agreed with him on some of the issues . . . but I just felt like the tone was completely out of line.

"He does this," Luechtefeld added. "He does it to us in the Legislature, he does it to other groups. Somebody else is always the bad guy, and he's always the guy on the white horse who is going to save us all."

Blagojevich's defenders say he is merely living up to his central campaign pledge: To shake up and reform an entrenched state government in which both parties have become far too comfortable with power.

"What you're seeing is a governor coming into a system that hasn't been working, and offering direct, honest criticism," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Cheryle Jackson. "It's not personal. Maybe some find it kind of stunning because they haven't heard it in Springfield for the last 30 years."

Speeches like last week's might seem especially odd to people who have spoken one-on-one with Blagojevich, whose style in such settings is as warm and friendly as his speeches are merciless. After Blagojevich's "drunken sailors" comment last year, for example, he appeared genuinely surprised by reporters' suggestions that some of his allies in the Legislature might take it personally.

"In his mind, I think he separates what he says in public from how he treats people in private," said Mike Lawrence, acting director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a former aide to ex-Gov. Jim Edgar. "He thinks he has to do this (in his speeches) to achieve his goals."

Lawrence noted that all modern governors have had to criticize fellow politicians from time to time. "When you think back on it, Ryan had disagreements with legislators, Edgar had disagreements . . . but Blagojevich seems to be more confrontational with his rhetoric," Lawrence said. ". . . There is a question about the tone of his criticism. You can make your case without vilifying your opponent."

Public appeal

Blagojevich supporters like state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, say Blagojevich's political style, uncomfortable as it might make some, is an integral part of his method of appealing directly to the voters. If political politeness falls by the wayside, they say, perhaps it should.

"He has to make his case directly to the general public," Hoffman said. "That's what he was doing (with last week's speech). That's what he's always done." Added Jackson, Blagojevich's spokeswoman: "To get to change and reform, you have to give an honest assessment. The truth can sometimes be harsh."

In any case, Blagojevich's take-no-prisoners style of public speaking seems largely to have worked. He spent most of his first year in office last year publicly lambasting the Legislature, and was rewarded by cowed lawmakers who gave him a state budget with pretty much everything he asked for in it. A recent media poll show he still enjoys strong public support.

"So far, it's worked for him," said Luechtefeld, the Okawville Republican. "(But) I have to believe that over time, that kind of way of doing business is going to catch up to you. Time will tell."


Area lawmakers agree with speech 

By Kurt Erickson, Pantagraph, January 18, 2004


SPRINGFIELD -- In grade school, it's called "show and tell."

On Thursday, in the midst of his second "State of the State" speech, Gov. Rod Blagojevich stopped speaking in order to retrieve an 18-inch stack of paper from behind the podium.

The 2,800 pages of school rules and regulations were a visual example of why the governor wants to remake the state's education bureaucracy.

"Every minute teachers waste filling out forms is time they could be spending preparing themselves to educate their students," Blagojevich said.

It was just one example the governor pointed to as he launched his attack on the Illinois State Board of Education.

As Blagojevich begins his battle for control over the state's schools, he knows he's not alone.

Central Illinois lawmakers mostly agree with his plan. Many educators agree the system can be reformed. And polls show the public largely won't argue with a governor who makes education a priority.

His fight will come mostly from the 500-employee agency that has been in place since 1970.

But in laying out his case for reform, the governor offered ample evidence that things must change.

For example:

• Problems with school cafeteria food inspections were linked to 42 illnesses by students in Will County.

-- Despite the state's fiscal crisis, the State Board of Education renewed a $240,000 lobbying contract with a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm headed by Republican Haley Barbour.

-- Although the board has 20 attorneys on its staff, as well as representation from the Illinois attorney general's office, the agency spends $1 million on outside legal counsel.

-- The state board has some of the highest paid bureaucrats in state government, topped by state schools superintendent Robert Schiller's $225,000 salary.

-- And a recent round of school report cards, meant to show how schools are performing, were riddled with errors affecting an estimated three-quarters of all Illinois schools.

"To sum it up," Blagojevich railed in his speech, "the Illinois State Board of Education has failed in its mission."

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said the governor is on the right track -- a rare statement for someone who previously has locked horns with the Democratic governor.

For more than three years, Brady has been introducing legislation that would abolish the constitutionally created board of education, arguing that it wastes money and is not accountable to lawmakers and the governor.

"The State Board of Education is an independent nine-member board that oversees and administers the many programs and policies affecting Illinois students in public elementary and secondary schools," Brady said. "Their duties can be carried out in a more cost-effective and accountable manner in a new Department of Education."

Larry Daghe, who was elected last year as the regional schools superintendent for McLean, DeWitt and Livingston counties, also agrees that the State Board of Education could be operated more efficiently.

But the longtime educator said some of the problems were created by the General Assembly and past governors.

For example, Daghe points out that the rules and regulations Blagojevich held up Thursday were crafted in response to laws approved by lawmakers.

"You shouldn't point a finger at something you helped create," Daghe said.

Schiller responded similarly.

As part of his plans, the governor wants to create several more programs, such as one that would require high school students to complete 40 hours of community service as a condition of graduation. That program alone likely would create at least 30 more pages of regulations, Schiller said.

Daghe also said many of the rules are in place to make sure that taxpayer funds are being spent correctly.

"People want to know where their dollars are going," Daghe said. "People want accountability."

The agency also has been hit with staff cuts, resulting in local school districts having a harder time getting their questions answered in Springfield.

"The state board was too fat," Daghe said. "Now, maybe they are too lean."

Although Blagojevich received modest accolades from most lawmakers for his proposal, legislative leaders hint the governor's task will be tough.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said the governor failed to address the issue of inequities in the state's school funding formula.

And he said he doesn't want to change for change's sake.

"I don't want to shift one bureaucracy to the other," Jones said.

In the House, Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said there are other pressing issues facing the state, including medical malpractice, property-tax relief and transportation.

"There are some things that weren't said," Cross said.

In any case, lawmakers have time to mull over the situation. The General Assembly doesn't meet again until Feb. 3.



Education plan 'right issues, the wrong target' 

Gov. Blagojevich's criticism is misplaced, leaders in field say

By JOHN O'CONNOR of The Associated Press, January 17, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - While giving Gov. Rod Blagojevich high marks for some of the initiatives in his State of the State Address, education experts say his withering attack on the State Board of Education was misdirected.

The quasi-independent education body Blagojevich wants to make into a Cabinet agency answerable to him should not be blamed for all of the ills he described, educators and business leaders said.

"It's the right issues, the wrong target," Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, said of complaints about how education money is spent.

Others pointed out that while Blagojevich vowed to cut endless bureaucracy in a new Department of Education, it is the Legislature and governor - not the school agency - that create the laws that must be carried out.

And Blagojevich still would have to wrestle with ever-increasing federal regulations regardless of the agency's form, they say.

One of the key points Blagojevich hit was that only 46 cents on the dollar actually makes it to the classroom. The state board said it's closer to 80 cents when counting support services and buildings needed for classes.

Mays said local districts decide how to spend the 38 percent of school funding that the state provides. Districts also control the rest of the money, which comes mostly from local property taxes.

"The state board has been the straw dog in this issue," Mays said.

Rare is the lawmaker, teacher or parent who hasn't had frustrations with the state board, with its frequent turnover in superintendents and routine changes in policies and procedures.

The board, Blagojevich said in his speech, "is like an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy. It's clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money."

In fact, Blagojevich said the board only knows how to ask for more money, not propose innovative ideas.

That's not the view of Maggie Janssen, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Pontiac. Along with hundreds of others, she spent months in the mid-1990s working with the board to craft new learning standards that all schools now follow.

State assistance to help teachers match their lessons to the standards - which are the basis for statewide testing - ended when the Board of Education's budget was cut, Janssen said. Teachers continue the work for free, she said.

"We've picked up so many things on our own the last few years, we can't do it anymore," Janssen said. "Finances are the issue, more than what you are going to do about the state board."

Blagojevich's audience of legislators laughed and clapped Thursday when he held up a foot-high stack of papers - 2,800 pages, he said - of agency rules that schools must follow.

But the rules Blagojevich pledged to whittle down came in response to the Legislature and the governor. The board has to write rules for virtually every law in the 820-page school code, state Superintendent Robert Schiller said.

One of Blagojevich's proposals Thursday - a requirement that high school students perform 40 hours of community service to graduate - probably will require 30 pages of new rules, he said.

Once an agency of more than 800 employees, the state board has cut its staff by one-third in the last 18 months. Half of its 495 employees are paid with federal funds, agency spokeswoman Karen Craven said.

Even if Blagojevich takes it over, he'll still need a large staff to deal with federal requirements, said Timothy Shanahan, director of a literacy center at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

He praised the governor's plan to hire reading specialists for low-performing schools.

And Blagojevich's $26 million proposal to give a book a month to every child from birth to 5 drew kudos from Keith Anderson, whose Homework Hangout in Decatur provides after-school tutoring and GED instruction.

Parents are "going to be in the privacy of their own home," Anderson said. "There's going to be no one around to embarrass them as they attempt to read these books, better educate themselves and prepare their children."


Reaction cool on education plan 

By ANNE COOK, Champaign News-Gazette, January 17, 2004


BEMENT – Area educators say they support some ideas introduced by Gov. Rod Blagojevich Thursday, but most don't see his program as a panacea for the ills plaguing state education.

They also question the value of Blagojevich's proposal to put education overseers in the governor's office, making the independent Illinois State Board of Education virtually powerless.

"I don't think eliminating the state board is a particularly good idea," said Darrell Stevens, superintendent of the Bement school district. "There's a good reason the writers of the (state) constitution wanted independence for the board. A lot of education's problems now are a result of cuts in their department and the difficulty of implementing contradictory, ineffective and inefficient mandates from the Legislature signed by the governor."

Gene Amberg, superintendent of the Urbana School District, said he has never heard a State of the State address that's so focused with such strong rhetoric.

"In some cases, education needs reform, but shifting the bureaucracy isn't the best solution," Amberg said. "This looks like shifting the bureaucracy. To be fair to the state board, many of the mandates we're dealing with don't come from them."

"I think it would take a constitutional change to put education under the governor's auspices and it takes a long time to amend the constitution."

Amberg also said he doesn't think that idea will fly with state legislators.

Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver also urged state residents to be patient.

"My concerns are about financial resources and also that, as he embarks on changes, we understand that it's going to take time before we see results," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight. It could take three to five years, probably five, before we see results across the board.

"I hope as he restructures, he takes the time to involve people who have been a part of the process at the state level," said Culver, referring to state board personnel. "They know the history and have the experience. To shut them out would be a huge mistake."

Blagojevich attacked the state board for many shortcomings, citing its administrative and regulatory failures and blaming it for the fact that Illinois is ranked among the lowest states in the nation in terms of education spending in the classroom.

His proposal would strip the state board of all administrative powers and responsibilities and shift them to the governor's office, reducing the board to think-tank status. It's not clear what legal changes that action would require. Amberg said he's waiting for more clarification from Springfield.

Last year, the administration recommended dissolving the Regional Office of Education structure, but that idea went down in flames.

Todd Pence, superintendent of the St. Joseph school district, said it's hard to tell how Blagojevich's ideas will play out.

"We need to see numbers," Pence said. "It's hard to tell where everything will end up."

He's especially concerned about the attack on the state board and implications for local control of education.

"There's some bureaucracy and waste there, but you find that in any state agency too," he said. "I don't see how you can hold the state board accountable for the problems in education. To say the state will determine what's best for us might be arrogant. "

"It's clear that he's not going to be sitting with a staff and making isolated decisions, but will get involved with those in the field to make new programs and improvements, and I'm glad to hear that," Culver said. "Any time you involve people at the grass roots, you enhance the quality."

Culver also commended Blagojevich for being willing to assume the responsibility and accountability for education in the state, a commitment he hopes will take the governor's office a step farther.

"It leads me to believe if he's accountable, he's going to provide districts with the resources they need to deliver high quality education," he said.

Other area superintendents said they want to find out a lot more about how the state plans to pay for the reforms. Last year, state payments to schools were delayed while the Blagojevich administration debated what to do about the fiscal crisis, rumors abounded that schools wouldn't get all their money and that experience has made administrators cautious.

Amberg, for example, is still waiting for funds from Springfield approved in the Ryan administration to build extra classrooms at overcrowded King School.

"I think it sounds like a great deal for all schools, but the problem is, will he have the money to do it?" said Steven Hamilton, superintendent of the Atwood-Hammond school district, of Blagojevich's program.

Hamilton liked his proposal that 40 hours of public service work be performed by every high school senior as a requirement for graduation, but with a reservation.

"It's a fantastic idea, but the $10,000 they propose to give each high school to coordinate the program isn't going to do it."

Amberg doesn't oppose that idea, but he's not sure it should be made a responsibility of the schools.

"Teaching children about volunteerism is really a family activity," he said. "To create a requirement may cause more problems than it might solve. I like the notion, and a lot of high schools require it, but my concern is if kids are forced into it, it's unlikely to be beneficial. Volunteerism should come from the heart, not a mandate.

"Who would evaluate it, decide whether the public service was appropriate and whether the students actually did it? I suspect that idea will create a cottage industry of its own."

Amberg likes the governor's commitment to early childhood education, but he has a lot of questions about his proposed ban on soda and junk food from school vending machines.

"None of us want kids to be obese and sick, but the junk food mandate will cause additional work and policies," he said. "There are mandates in this program."

"It's difficult to be against some of these proposals, but what bothers me is instead of talking about funding issues that have plagued schools for 50 years, we're talking about these new proposals," Stevens said. "We're talking about issues not central to what schools need."

He cited his district's situation as an example of issues that should be addressed. Last year, the Bement board made drastic cuts in personnel to address budget shortfalls. Members also looked at consolidation with the Hamilton's district, their neighbor, because of declining enrollment.

"The new district would have a budget of $6 million and enrollment of about 900 students," Stevens said. "The state's paltry incentive to consolidate: $500,000 over four years. That's woefully inadequate. You're asking people to close buildings. And last year the governor tried to cut the incentive. That put a chill into what should be a strong effort to provide incentives for consolidation. You're asking people to do a lot."

Other Blagojevich proposals that caught educators' attention included:

   – Imagination Libraries, a program that would send 12 books a year to every preschool child in the state expected to cost $26 million if every child in the state participates.

   – Project Success, a program created by former Gov. Jim Edgar and eliminated by George Ryan that links families with state agencies to help their children succeed in school. Cost: $5 million.

   – Reading Specialists, a $15 million program that would put reading specialists in every school that has failed to make adequate yearly progress based on youngsters' test scores and has been placed on early academic warning.

   – Expansion of the Illinois Tech Prep Program to prepare students for vocational careers. It currently costs the state $5 million.

"We need more information," Amberg said. "We need the state board's services, and we need to know what will happen if it's dismantled. No one's happy with the reams of paperwork, and if those processes are streamlined, that would be wonderful."

He also endorses Blagojevich's plans to form state purchasing centers to buy supplies and equipment at bulk prices negotiated by the state and to form a benefits purchasing center to negotiate and reduce insurance costs for districts.

"These ideas, capitalizing on economies of scale so everyone pays the lowest possible price for their gallons of Elmer's Glue, are interesting," Amberg said.

He said there are no easy answers and he's expecting interests in Springfield to start forming battle lines at the Statehouse immediately.

"Accountability in education is a very emotional issue," Amberg said. "We all want children in Illinois to perform better and numerous experts have various ideas about how to accomplish that."



Schools leery of governor's plan 

Districts face loss of some authority

By Tracy Dell'Angela, Tribune staff reporter, January 17, 2004

To make his sweeping education reforms work, aides to Gov. Rod Blagojevich Friday acknowledged local school districts likely must cede control over construction and employee health plans while also shouldering new costs for retired teachers' medical coverage.

Many local school districts are focusing on these elements of his proposed education reforms, despite the initial attention over his plan to strip power from the State Board of Education and create a new Cabinet-level education agency under his control.

Blagojevich told lawmakers Thursday that the package would eliminate waste and free up money for districts to spend on classroom instruction.

Yet the loss of local control--while increasing the burden on local property taxpayers--raises questions about the governor's savings claims and his ability to sell the program to lawmakers.

In a 90-minute meeting Friday with the Tribune editorial board, Blagojevich said he is convinced his proposals will save local school districts so much money they will enthusiastically embrace them.

But leaders of many districts had the opposite reaction, arguing the governor's plans will create a burdensome new state bureaucracy and will ultimately raise local education costs.

"We want more local control, not less," Blagojevich said. "We want a less oppressive entity over local school districts, not more. We want more choices for local school districts, not less. And we are counting on human nature. ... We think they will volunteer in large numbers and choose to do this."

Yet critics of the plan say it's galling for the state to start exerting authority over local schools--ostensibly to cut costs--when so little of the money that funds public education comes from the state.

"As school administrators, we've been hearing all the things we've been doing wrong for the past 20 years," said Pat Masterton, assistant superintendent of Addison School District 4. "What it comes down to is the state does not fund education ... and now they want to tell us how we should be spending our money.

Though the proposals would clearly affect suburban and Downstate districts, it was not clear whether Chicago schools would be required to relinquish the same authority.

One of the reforms' most controversial aspects is the forming of a state-run health plan for school employees, both active and retired, that would cost $1 billion a year. It would serve at least 130,000 teachers, 40,000 dependents and about 22,000 retired teachers who now buy health insurance from the state.

Local districts now manage and pay for their own health-care programs for employees. Some districts are self-insured, some have created regional health-care cooperatives and others buy a variety of programs from private health insurance companies. But suburban and Downstate districts do not now have to pay for retired teachers' health benefits, an amount that totals $250 million a year statewide. That cost is borne by state funds, payroll deductions from active teachers and premiums paid by retirees.

Under the Blagojevich plan, the state's responsibility for that cost would shift to local districts--an idea pushed hard last year by the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, two large unions that backed Blagojevich's 2002 campaign.

Union leaders have argued that a centralized health-care system would fix an insurance program for retirees that is financially shaky, in part because the state has not been adequately funding it. A health-care proposal similar to Blagojevich's surfaced in the legislature last spring but died in committee after strong opposition from school districts.

A state task force appointed by former Gov. George Ryan studied the issue and concluded a centralized program would be difficult to carry out because "local control over the active teacher medical plans would be removed." And depending on the level and types of benefits offered, these centralized programs could end up costing districts millions of dollars more and result in dramatic year-to-year increases in health-care costs, the study found.

But Blagojevich estimated that his centralized program would save local districts $80 million to $180 million a year.

Two of his top aides said these savings can be realized only if all suburban and Downstate districts are required to take part. Brenda Holmes, the governor's deputy chief of staff for education, said the plan would not allow districts to "opt out."

Still, Michael Rumman, director of the state's Department of Central Management Services, added that school districts would get a choice of health programs to offer employees.

"What we're simply saying is we'll negotiate different types of plans, create a menu for you, then you're free to choose whatever level of coverage you deem appropriate within your school district," Rumman said. "I think the savings are going to be very compelling in that area."

Supt. Jerry Brendel of Woodridge District 68, a former president of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials who studied the health-care issue in depth, said the governor's plan is misguided and his cost estimates are flawed.

"His projected savings were totally wrong," he said. "Local school districts would no longer have control over our care benefit package. We will no longer have the option of being self-insured. These are touted as cost savings, but it will end up costing the districts more."

A state lobbying organization that represents 110 school districts in suburban Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties said any reform that strips local districts of authority will face resistance. And the state has only to look to its neighbors, Michigan and Wisconsin, for proof that a statewide health insurance pool for school employees is neither streamlined nor cost-efficient, said Donna Baiocchi, executive director of the Ed-Red school advocacy group.

The state's new proposal for managing school construction projects also was greeted with skepticism by many local school leaders. In announcing his reform plans, the governor said they would offer schools more flexibility in the way they spend state construction grants and save them up to $160 million over four years in project-management costs.

What he didn't make clear initially was that the savings would be realized only if districts turned over the management of all major school construction projects to the state Capital Development Board, which would charge a flat 1 percent of the project's total cost. School districts now manage their own projects or hire outside contractors, and state grant rules let them set aside up to 6 percent of construction costs to cover management.

In Elk Grove Township District 59, Supt. Robert Howard said he's skeptical about turning over control of these projects to the state.

"That would be a major concern. It really rests with local control and decisions," he said. "One concern is would there be a boilerplate model for all local districts?"


A governor's learning curve 


Chicago Tribune Editorial, January 18, 2004

Last March this page published a harsh assessment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's first months in office. He deserved it. His administration was disorganized and he had made some terrible hiring decisions. In tone and substance, far too much emphasis was being placed on public relations and far too little on the details of governance.

The Blagojevich administration still struggles with some problems. It often is slow to communicate with lawmakers and constituencies. It fails, sometimes, at the follow-up that marks a professional organization.

But the governor is mastering a learning curve, a substantial one at that. He has recognized some of his early errors, he has used the power of his office to his advantage, and his administration can mark its first year as a success.

Blagojevich couldn't help but benefit from the contrast with the corrupt and profligate administration of former Gov. George Ryan. One of the most significant achievements of the new governor's first year is the ethics reform package he signed on Dec. 9. The new law is intended to disrupt the cozy, cash-and-carry world of legislators and lobbyists in Springfield. Lawmakers thought they could get away with another feint at ethics reform, but Blagojevich rejected a weak bill they sent to him. The legislation he ultimately signed is tough because he forced their hand.

To his credit, Blagojevich believed that his core campaign promises meant something, including a promise not to raise state income or sales taxes. And though some Democrats may bristle at that, it did force the state to make a serious effort at spending restraint as it worked out of a $5 billion budget hole.

Blagojevich used a word that hadn't been heard in Springfield since former Gov. Jim Edgar left office. Blagojevich said, "No."

Case in point: The legislature was in one of those frenzies where, as the late Secretary of State Paul Powell liked to say, you could "smell the meat a-cookin'." Lawmakers had jumped on the negotiations over a gambling bill as a chance to haul in more money, make more cronies wealthy and fund more state spending. Blagojevich cut off the negotiations. He said there would be no gambling bill. Springfield was stunned.

No, that was not business as usual.

Blagojevich doesn't have many friends in Springfield these days. In part because he will say "No," in part because he seems to relish opportunities to remind us of how often he has saved us from the lawmakers' most craven political instincts. The governor should have the confidence that the public will recognize and reward those actions. He doesn't need to rub the lawmakers' noses in it with quite such zeal.

But he still should follow his instincts, and lawmakers would be wise to recognize that in most clashes they've had with the governor, he has been right. They haven't curbed the urge to spend like drunken sailors. They haven't recognized that the culture of corruption in this state is an affront to the people who put them in office. They haven't recognized that every time they whine that the governor doesn't spend enough effort on their care and feeding, his public standing ticks up another point.

Blagojevich still makes mistakes, usually when his political instincts fail to match his reform rhetoric. The most glaring was the unseemly rush to sign legislation designed to give telecommunications giant SBC an advantage over its competitors. That was business as usual.

But after a poor start the administration has produced some pleasant surprises. The most pleasant is that Blagojevich has shown more discipline on spending and more focus on changing the bloated and corrupt operation of state government than we expected.

He will need to stay disciplined. Early projections are that the state will face a $2 billion deficit for 2004-2005. The state will not be able to resort to some of the one-time fixes it used to balance the budget for this fiscal year. The state should not resort to dumping more taxes and fees on business to make ends meet.

One of the drawbacks of success is that expectations rise. Last year, as they hustled to produce their first spending plan, Blagojevich and his budget director, John Filan, made a promise: Give us a year to dig into how the state operates, they said, and we'll truly transform government.

OK, year's up.


Local educators laud state funding ideas 


Zhanda Malone, Edwardsville Intelligencer, 01/17/2004


Governor Rod Blagojevich's State of the State Address Thursday garnered positive reaction from local education leaders.

District 7 Superintendent Ed Hightower praised the governor for working to improve education funding.

"First, I want to commend the governor, as well as local legislators, on their extreme hard work on the budget and local education," Hightower said.

Hightower said it is obvious that Blagojevich cares about education.

"His (education) incentives are positive," Hightower said.

Hightower said he is waiting to see what the governor's plans are for special education funding.

"I'm concerned and will take a wait-and-see attitude on the special education funding," Hightower said. "That's where a bulk of the funding occurs."

Hightower declined to offer comments on Blagojevich's plan to replace the Illinois State Board of Education.

"I have no comments on that at this time," Hightower said. "I have to hear more about his plans for replacement."

Hightower was also pleased to hear that Blagojevich would like to like to increase funds in school construction program.

"I think that's a positive sign, particularly because we are lobbying very strongly to continue the construction program," Hightower said. "The program helps ease the burden off of taxpayers."

Madison County Regional Superintendent Harry Briggs was able to hear the governor's State of State address in person.

"I was was invited by the governor to attend," Briggs said. "I support the governor an his initiatives."

Briggs said he is pleased to hear that the governor wants to reinstate and expand "Project Success," former Gov. Jim Edgar's program that pairs parents, community leaders and service providers to identify and meet the needs of local students.

"The Project Success was a very good program," Briggs said.

Briggs also said he was happy to see the governor address the issue of making sure students have more healthy foods available.

"I believe we need to get sodas out of the schools and bring in healthier alternatives like fruit juice and water," Briggs said.

Briggs said his office is looking forward to working with Blagojevich.

"I am willing to work with the governor to resolve some of the education issues," Briggs said.


Blagojevich begins well on education 

Decatur Herald & Review Editorial

The current elementary and secondary education program in Illinois isn't working.

So, Gov. Rod Blagojevich should get high marks for taking a bold step in Thursday's State of the State message to change the system. While the solutions offered during his 90-minute address were neither complete nor perfect, the speech did serve to raise the profile of a serious issue that must be addressed.

Blagojevich's made the Illinois State Board of Education the scapegoat for education's woes in the state, saying they operated like an "old, Soviet-style bureaucracy."

That may seem like an overstatement, but consider these facts: The state board was given the responsibility to create a teacher training and certification plan -- and failed. The board ignored reports that data collection flaws showed up in last year's student achievement tests until reporters started writing about them. The board has spent $1.4 million hiring lobbyists over the past four years and spends $1 million a year on outside legal counsel, despite employing 20 in-house lawyers and having access to the attorney general's office.

Despite that spending, the board consistently complains about its budget being squeezed.

The state board of education is one of the primary reasons that less than half of the state's spending on education is directly related to classroom teaching.

Fire the state board? We think they've earned it.

Blagojevich's proposal, however, stops short of doing away with the state board. He says he wants to keep them around as a sort of think tank to explore long-term educational issues. Eliminating the state board would require a constitutional amendment, and Blagojevich may not want to take that task on quite yet. But he should. This bureaucracy should not be allowed to linger.

The governor wants to replace the state board with a Department of Education that reports directly to him. The governor believes he can create a department that is better and less costly than the current system. That's a fine idea.

Then the voters can hold the governor responsible for the education of our children.

The governor's education plan, while bold in respects to the state board of education, was disappointing in two other aspects.

The governor proposed 16 initiatives during his speech. By our count, only five -- hiring more reading specialists, training teachers to incorporate different backgrounds in their teaching, eliminating physical education class waivers, preventing dropouts and expanding an existing program that helps students move into vocational programs -- will have a direct impact on classroom teaching. The others include some money-saving ideas worth considering and some school/social programs that are questionable. The issue in Illinois is student achievement, and the governor should have addressed more initiatives to directly improve those results.

The governor also ignored the "big elephant" on the table -- school funding. True school reform won't occur until Illinois switches to a funding system that more equitably distributes money across the state. We've stated many times that the money spent on education is adequate, but it's unevenly distributed.

Blagojevich may well be thinking that in order to change the school funding program, he first needs to fix the bureaucracy so more tax dollars are finding their way to the classroom. That's a solid plan, and the governor should be encouraged to take that stand.

While there are a host of issues facing Illinois, the governor spent the majority of his speech talking about education. There's nothing wrong with that. Blagojevich has made it clear that the education of the state's children will now be the number one priority of his administration.

The governor's speech is a good starting point to solve a problem that has been ignored for too long. His bold ideas are worthy of serious consideration.


ISBE only a fraction of school problem 

Editorial by Tom Martin, Editor, Galesburg Register-Mail, January 18, 2004

Gov. Rod Blagojevich put all his political eggs in one explosive basket Thursday in his State of the State address. Blagojevich spent most of his 90-minute speech talking about education and how he wants to strip the Illinois State Board of Education of regulatory powers.

To make his point, he held up the 2,800 pages of ISBE regulations. Further, he said only 46 cents out of every dollar spent on education in Illinois actually go toward classroom instruction. The rest goes to administration. He said the ISBE is bloated and ineffective and is the primary cause of the state's scholastic problems.

Blagojevich proposes to reduce the ISBE to a think tank, eliminating 40 percent of the ISBE's employees. He would create a Department of Education, under his direction, to administer education programs. Eliminating the bureaucracy and waste would save at least $1 billion, according Blagojevich.

The inefficiency of the ISBE could be seen recently in the Chicago Tribune's analysis that found 34,261 errors in 2003 School Report Cards. Those mistakes led to 368 schools being listed incorrectly as failing.

Blagojevich is not the first point to problems with the ISBE. Former governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan made similar claims. Edgar even proposed a constitutional amendment to create a Cabinet-level Department of Education whose leader he would appoint. The proposal died. Edgar faced a Democratic House and Republican Senate.

Blagojevich, a Democratic governor, is working with a Democratic House and Senate. That, along with this being an election year, could help the governor accomplish much of his plan.

According to a State Journal-Register story, University of Illinois political professor Kent Redfield said the election year gives Blagojevich leverage. He is "going to get chunks of this, no question about it," Redfield said. The governor may take control of some of the ISBE's programs.

State School Superintendent Robert Schiller, who was wearing the bull's-eye Thursday, said nothing the governor said addresses the issue of school deficits. Eighty percent of the state's schools have spending deficits, he said.

Along with having a clear agenda, Schiller has a point. Many of the state's schools, including several in the Galesburg area, are broke and falling deeper into debt. Property taxpayers continue to pick up a larger share of school funding, which creates inequities between the rich and poor school districts. Education in Illinois is not equal, and the funding formula contributes to the problems. That issue has been discussed by politicians year after year with no success. Too much is at stake. Any proposal would instantly create regional political enemies.

Blagojevich stayed away from the issue of school funding. And while his plan to dismantle the ISBE is bold and has merit, the education problems in Illinois run deeper than the ISBE.

Blagojevich should remember the Legislature created those regulations that the ISBE adminstrates. Through the years, the Legislature has piled on the requirements. A checks and balances system must oversee every new mandate. Therein lies the need for paperwork and addition of layers of bureaucracy to do the paperwork.

A change in structure will not accomplish what a change in philosphy would. Giving school districts more money and allowing them to operate with fewer mandates should be the goal of any educational change.

Still, Blagojevich deserves credit for proposing to attack bureaucracy and waste. Shaking some of that administrative money free for local school districts will help. -


Education reform: While it won’t solve all the problems, governor’s proposal deserves serious consideration 

Quincy Herald-Whig Editorial, January 17, 2004 

GOV. Rod Blagojevich has unveiled a sweeping plan to overhaul the state’s education system that deserves serious consideration.

The cornerstone, as presented in his State of the State address Thursday, is a proposal to shift authority for oversight of the state’s school system from the semi-autonomous Illinois State Board of Education to a new Department of Education accountable to the governor.

Under this plan, the ISBE would focus on long-range planning and research while the new department would take over day-to-day management and policy responsibilities.

The ISBE was created in 1975 after the 1970 Illinois Constitution shifted responsibility for elementary and secondary education from an elected superintendent to an appointed board.

The board, which appoints the state superintendent, consists of nine members appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate. Members serve six-year terms.

Blagojevich says this relative autonomy, designed to insulate education policy from political interference, has instead fostered poor performance and a lack of accountability. He notes, for example, that the board’s 2003 Report Cards contained nearly 35,000 errors affecting 75 percent of the state’s schools.

Blagojevich prefaced his lengthy criticism of the ISBE as an inept and costly bureaucracy by noting that “there is no single cause” for the state’s failure to provide a better education for its children.

He warns that establishing the new department will not solve all of the problems in our schools and improvements will not come overnight.

He is right. No amount of bureaucratic shuffling and reorganization will solve problems arising from inadequate funding and the impact of societal issues on classroom performance.

Efforts to address those issues must continue, regardless of what may become of the governor’s current proposal. Failure to do so will only extend the long and sad litany of the state’s educational shortcomings that the governor outlined.

He lays much of the blame — some of it unfairly — on the ISBE and cites numerous examples that he says show it to be “an old Soviet style bureaucracy” that is part of the problem rather than the solution.

While the governor makes a compelling argument, it cannot be known without seeing the detailed legislation whether his proposal in all its aspects should be adopted.

There are certainly risks in a plan that, while promising accountability, could give special interest groups greater influence over educational policy and politicize what should be a neutral arena where the needs of children are foremost.

Still, the governor is right to focus at this early stage of his administration on the need to improve the quality of education in Illinois. His call for fundamental change includes change at the top — and that cannot be casually dismissed with so much at stake.

This is a serious proposal that deserves serious and careful consideration.


Fitzgerald hits schools plan 

Sun Times, January 20, 2004

Gov. Blagojevich's plan to put school construction contracts under state control is ripe for corruption, Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) warned Monday. The idea is merely "a way for him to raise money from construction contractors'' who would profit from new state contracts to build schools, Fitzgerald said Monday. The proposal poses "an enormous increase in the possibility for corruption'' and "it's a bad idea,'' the outgoing Republican senator said. Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the governor's plan would put the issuance of such contracts under the state's Capital Development Board, which has strict standards for bidding and awarding contracts. Those rules should ensure that jobs are awarded based on the best bids, not political favoritism, she said. In addition, Ottenhoff said, the idea should reduce construction costs and relieve districts of the burden of overseeing the management of construction projects.


Governor's book idea latest chapter in excess 

Pantagraph Editorial, 1/20/04

If a program to mail books to the home of every Illinois child from birth to age 5 really would improve statewide literacy, it might be worth the estimated $26 million in Fiscal Year 2005 that its primary proponent, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, says it would cost. But we are not convinced.

Moreover, even though the program might help many children, we are not convinced it is the most effective use of the state's limited financial resources.

Blagojevich is promoting the program with Senate President Emil Jones. It would not require specific legislative approval. However, the Legislature does have to approve the governor's budget, from which funding would flow.

The idea is to send each newborn home with a book and continue mailing books monthly for five years -- a total of 60 books. The objective is to get children into the habit of reading early and reach families that might not be regular library visitors. But without a commitment from parents to read the books with their children, how will it work?

Besides, it isn't the state's job "to offer every child a personal library" -- as Blagojevich described the program.

Parents would have to sign up for the program and pick books from a list provided by Dolly Parton's Imagination Libraries, which would administer the program. Any new parent could participate, even people who can afford to buy their children books every week.

Money could be better directed to bolstering programs at libraries, particularly reading programs aimed at pre-schoolers. Such programs might even include sending a book home with a child.

Since 1988, the public libraries in Bloomington and Normal have been putting together packets for the parents of children born at BroMenn and St. Joseph's regional medical centers. The packets include a board book, a list of suggested books and audio materials, parenting tips and child development information. Such programs should be applauded and encouraged in other communities, too.

But the state should focus on its primary responsibility: education, including libraries. Leave the feel-good programs to someone else.


Look Around, Guv, There's Waste Everywhere 

Opinion by Jim Muir, Southern Illinoisan, Jan 20 2004

One day last week I found myself an hour from home and doing what I always do when I'm bored and driving -- I fiddled with the radio looking for something to entertain me.

Cruising the AM dial -- that's what guys who are 50 do -- I happened upon Gov. Rod Blagojevich's second State of the State address that was only moments away from beginning. What better way to amuse myself, I thought, than to listen to the governor tell us how good we've got it and how much better things are going to be during the coming year.

So, I settled in to listen and perhaps even learn a few things about what might happen during the current legislative session. If you're thinking that I'm easily entertained, you're exactly right.

Approximately 15 minutes into the speech Blagojevich started talking about his desire to see changes, drastic and sweeping changes, in the Illinois State Board of Education.

The deeper Blagojevich got into the speech the sharper his criticism became about the board. At one point he likened that body to a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" that was "clunky, inefficient and unaccountable." And those were some of the nicer things he had to say.

As I drove on the governor continued to lambaste the State Board of Education and every time I thought he was about to change gears and move a different direction he would come up with a fresh set of facts to justify his call for a complete overhaul of the education system. Blagojevich even used props, dragging out a two-foot-high stack of papers he said represented the rules and regulations the board imposes on school districts.

Some of the points the governor made were sobering, like the fact that Illinois taxpayers spend $20 billion annually on public schools and only 46 percent of that goes directly for instruction. That's sad.

According to the governor, Illinois ranks 16th in the nation in the amount of taxpayer money raised per student, but a miserable 40th in bringing those funds back to the classroom. That's even sadder.


For the entire one hour drive home, on and on the governor went, railing on the State Board of Education and at the same time calling for the creation of a new Department of Education that would answer specifically to the governor's office and the General Assembly.

In the end, I thought Blagojevich made some valid points but I also thought his speech bordered on overkill. The governor spent 70 minutes of his 90-minute speech blasting and embarrassing the board.

In fact, after listening to the speech it would seem that in the governor's mind all the ills, misspending, patronage and bureaucracy in the state of Illinois centers around the State Board of Education.

Some of us know otherwise. It seems that the governor is speaking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to doing away with "business as usual" in Springfield. On one hand the governor can kick the board of education around, but turn his head to the number of political patronage jobs that have been created during the past year.

While hammering throughout his first year in office about the need to slash the state payroll, Blagojevich hired a dozen people, mostly Democratic campaign operatives, to act as community liaisons for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The dozen new hires, each with a job title of local agency liaison, make $622,300 in combined annual salaries alone. Adding in fringe benefits pushes the cost to more than $800,000. Let me add in an observation here. Any time a person has a job that contains the word "liaison" in the title, it's a pretty good bet that person doesn't have a real job.

And speaking of doing away with bureaucracy, seven of the new hires contributed $7,500 to Democrats, including $2,550 to the governor. At least one of those hired also volunteered for the Blagojevich campaign last year. Who says doing volunteer work doesn't have some rewards?

IDOT officials said the liaisons' duties are to meet with local officials and talk to local community groups about specific road projects and the way state road funds are disbursed.

At the same time IDOT announced about the 12 new liaison positions, it also announced that the state has hired several public relations firms to perform some similar educational duties. One firm will be paid $2.2 million over four years to publicize the reconstruction of an interstate near Peoria. Some of the contract costs with that firm caught my eye and included $27,000 for "message development," $46,000 for "identifying groups for speaking opportunities," $25,000 for writing news releases and $17,000 to write newspaper opinion pieces and letters to editors.

And then of course there is the $1.7 million wildflower project that is also under the direction of IDOT. This beautification program, which is the brainchild of first lady Patti Blagojevich, is doling out funds throughout the state to plant wildflowers. I love flowers, but on the long list of needs in Southern Illinois, wildflowers are near the bottom.

I'll bet if the governor would look around Springfield, that is when he's there, he would see that there are other agencies beside the State Board of Education that are also "clunky, inefficient and unaccountable." But will we have to wait for his next State of the State address to learn what he's doing about it?


Board of Ed says Blagojevich used 'props,' twisted facts  

By Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times


Besieged State Board of Education members Wednesday accused Gov. Blagojevich of using phony "props'' and twisted facts to attack the state board and deflect attention from a school funding gap that lawmakers have refused for years to fix.


In their first public meeting since Blagojevich skewered their agency in his State of the State address, all eight board members -- including the board's four Democrats -- expressed everything from serious reservations to outright anger at the governor's plan to put the bulk of the state board's responsibilities under his control.


Republican board member Gregory Kazarian contended that Blagojevich concocted "props" to illustrate his charge that the state board created red tape of "biblical proportions'' in writing a State School Code that was longer than the King James Bible, the Torah and the Quran combined.


State board officials charged that the 1-1/2-foot version of the School Code Blagojevich pointed to dramatically during his Jan. 15 address had been printed off the Internet, creating hundreds of extra pages with only a few words on them.


Kazarian and others said the board merely writes rules, based on laws passed by the Legislature. The school code is only 790 pages "if you buy it in the bookstore,'' Kazarian said.


"[Blagojevich] created a prop,'' Kazarian said. "He just decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story. ... The focus of the governor is a red herring and unsubstantiated by the facts.''


Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff conceded later that the School Code Blagojevich had used was printed off the Internet, but added: "I'm not sure how that's phony. That's how many people would access the information.''


Even "700 pages is still a great deal for schools to have to wade through,'' Ottenhoff said. In addition, she said, every law "doesn't necessarily need 100 pages of interpretations and requirements and forms. That's what we've seen and that's what is part of the problem.''


Asked why Blagojevich didn't just get a bound School Code from the Springfield library, Ottenhoff said: "I suppose we could have. It doesn't change the argument.''


After their attacks, board members took a break so state Education Supt. Robert Schiller could hold a press conference.


Schiller ripped into the governor, charging that "education was being hijacked by politics'' and that Blagojevich's plan did nothing to improve education in Illinois. The governor's "headline-du-jour'' approach was a "red herring'' to deflect attention from the state's serious education funding problems, Schiller said.


Board members raised similar points Wednesday, and added that they feared putting the board's responsibilities under Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, would shortchange Downstate kids, strip school districts of local control over their own spending and rob local businesses of the economic engine that schools provide.


Democrat Judith Gold said she worried what would happen if Blagojevich was replaced someday with "a right-wing governor. Stranger things have happened.''


Board member Janet Steiner, a Democrat whom Blagojevich appointed board chairwoman, said afterward she was "shocked'' Blagojevich did not tell her in advance of his plans.


"I was totally blindsided,'' Steiner said. "I thought he would give me a heads-up and he didn't at all.''


Ottenhoff said the governor's proposal would finally make one person accountable for the state's education system, and allow districts to save money by pooling their purchases. In reaction, Ottenhoff said, the state board "has done everything but accept responsibility and come up with ideas for making the system work.''



Legislators assess governor's speech 

By Karen Berkowitz, Pioneer Press


Area legislators Friday offered different perspectives on the stinging rebuke of the State Board of Education that was delivered by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last Thursday in his State of the State message.


Speaking of the governor's speech during a "legislative outlook" breakfast, state Rep. Julie Hamos, D-18th, said it reflected a now-familiar style in which Blagojevich seeks out an enemy to vilify.


"As a legislator, it feels like he finds convenient enemies and then focuses his attention on those enemies," said Hamos, during the legislative breakfast of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.


When Blagojevich assumed office last January, "we (in the Illinois General Assembly) were the enemy and he treated us like he was the outsider and we were the insiders" practicing business as usual, Hamos said.


In the fall, Blagojevich took on Washington, D.C., Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mounting a campaign to purchase lower-cost pharmaceuticals from Canada.


"He did a good job of raising those issues, but it was the convenient enemy of the moment," Hamos said.


According to press reports, Blagojevich used his 86-minute State of the State address last Thursday to assail the State Board of Education as an "unwieldy monolith" and a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in need of reform.


He called on lawmakers to shift the administrative powers and duties of the State Board of Education to a cabinet-level department under his control.


"I don't know whether the State Board of Education has anything to do whatsoever with whether any child can read," said Hamos, who also deemed it unfair to blame the State Board for the share of education spending that goes into the classroom, when so little of that money comes from the state.


"I am not standing up for the State Board of Education, because I don't think anybody does," she said. In fairness, though, of the $20 billion that is spent on education throughout Illinois - much of it coming from local property taxes - the State Board of Education spends less than two-tenths of one percent to administer the programs the state requires.


"Can they do it with fewer than 2,800 pages of rules and regs? Maybe. They did reduce their bureaucracy from 700 to 500 in just the last couple of years."


State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-9th, said State Education Superintendent Robert Schiller is an "unwanted heirloom" that the Blagojevich administration inherited from predecessor George Ryan. The State Board, under Ryan's direction, appointed Schiller during the final months of the administration rather than work with an interim superintendent and defer the appointment to the next governor.


Bad to worse


"People often feel more comfortable with their own hand-selected team in place," Schoenberg said. "By the nature of the personalities involved, the relationship (between Blagojevich and Schiller) went from bad to worse in a very short period of time. That is what precipitated" the remarks that some have interpreted as "excessive criticism."


U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th, said the governor's proposal to bring education under the umbrella of his administration means he is also assuming responsibility for the results.


"The fact that he is moving the problem inside the administration means he is setting himself up to be accountable for the outcome, which actually may lay the groundwork for real reforms that yield real results," said Schakowsky, speaking to an audience of 75 at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1818 Maple Ave., Evanston.


"What he is saying is that now - like Mayor Daley in Chicago - I am in charge of the state's schools and there will be a price to pay if it doesn't result in real changes. That may lead to something more dramatic."


Said Schoenberg, "I don't think any of us appreciate how burdened the schools are by the lack of federal commitment from the Bush administration in funding the No Child Left Behind legislation.


"One thing I took away from the address was a tacit acknowledgment that because the federal government is squeezing the state's harder in health care and education, we have to find a way to get it done," Schoenberg said.


"But blaming the Bush administration outright is not necessarily the best course of action for (Blagojevich) while he is working to forge a bipartisan coalition."


Hamos said she did not envision tax reform during Blagojevich's first term because of his stated pledge to not raise taxes.


"What is going to come out of the No Child Left Behind Act is that so many schools will be on the underperforming list that it might drive a crisis in the future," Hamos said.


Schakowsky had just returned from Iowa where she was stumping for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean in the days leading up to that state's caucuses on Monday.


Moderator Jonathan Perman, the chamber's executive director, asked whether "Illinois would matter come mid-March," given the "front loading" of the primary schedule with states carrying large numbers of electoral votes.


Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th, who was involved in U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt's 1988 campaign in Illinois but is supporting Howard Dean in 2004, said, "I would hope a state this big, in the middle of the country, would play a role in presidential politics, but we are two weeks too late in the calendar to be one of the pivotal states."


Small groups


The breakfast afforded those in attendance an opportunity to meet with lawmakers in small groups to hear their thoughts on such topics as the federal deficit, immigration, public transit, work-force housing, tollway financing, health care for small business, property tax classification and county budget reforms.


Suffredin said there is fear that the reassessment in Chicago will bring a "revolution" in September 2004, when Chicago homeowners receive the second installment of their 2003 property tax bills.


Suffredin said the assessment increases reported by his Rogers Park constituents during a series of meetings ranged between 20 and 150 percent. The tax bills are scheduled to arrive less than two months before the 2004 November election.


The Cook County Assessor has been lobbying the Illinois General Assembly to enact a 7 percent annual cap on assessment increases to soften the blow. The proposal has sparked a raft of counterproposals, amendments and questions that could snag the measure during spring session, the commissioner said.


"If the General Assembly doesn't act, I think (the Cook County Board) will take some action using its home rule powers to try and make some adjustments to clarify some of the inadequacies of the current system," Suffredin said.


Belvidere reception warm for governor, cool for plan 

Students complain that his education plan lacks specifics.

By Carrie Watters, Rockford Register Star


BELVIDEREThe Arnold Schwarzenegger joke fell fairly flat. The reference to TV star Lizzie McGuire won some smiles and nods. The first words out of his mouth — nearly an hour late — brought rousing cheers.


“I came all the way from Chicago to tell you a couple of things. My favorite colors are purple and gold,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich told nearly 2,000 teens Wednesday in the Belvidere High School gymnasium.


Blagojevich was there to tout his education plan, a complex subject for teens. He wants to replace the independent Illinois State Board of Education with a state agency directly under his control. At one point, he joked that he pumped his muscles, a la the California governor, hefting a 2,800-page rule book from the state board.


Whenever he seemed to lose his audience, he’d throw in jokes or references to musical groups or pop culture. He proclaimed himself the only one of Illinois’ 40 governors to watch every episode of the Disney Channel’s “Lizzie McGuire.”


The teens greeted him warmly as he shook hands with kids in the lowest bleachers before his speech. Signs sprinkled in the crowd read “Governor B, Welcome to B-Town” and “Rod 4 President.”


Not that the hour in Belvidere was all a pep rally. After his address, Blagojevich was ushered into a classroom for a press conference that included reporters for the high school paper, The Buccaneer. Other local media packed the room, but Blagojevich gave most of his time to two students and a parent.


Adam Stark, 18, told the governor that he planned to be a father one day and wanted to make sure his children had top-notch teachers. He was worried that Blagojevich’s efforts to ease the certification process could put unqualified teachers in the classroom.


Don’t worry, Blagojevich responded. By making it easier for them to be certified, they would have more time to be better teachers.


One parent wanted to know how an agency under his direct control would be less bureaucratic. Blagojevich told her that elected officials would be held accountable by voters.


Blagojevich recited a list of state board failings, including poor student achievement across the state and inefficient bureaucracy. The governor has been particularly critical of 93 pages of bureaucracy required for teachers to maintain certification.


“The problems begin at the top with the State Board of Education,” Blagojevich said.


The state constitution in 1970 provided for a board that was independent of party politics. The board is appointed by the governor, and that board appoints a state superintendent.


“The idea was noble,” Blagojevich told students. “But the idea hasn’t worked.”


The governor, who is in his second year, also pushed other initiatives unrelated to his bid for systematic overhaul. Sixteen-year-old Jessica Losure didn’t laugh at all the governor’s quips as she tried to follow the talk. And she didn’t buy Blagojevich’s no-junk-food dictate.


“We need a little junk food to get us started,” Jessica said.


Rebekah Kumar, 16, had mixed feelings as she headed back to class from the rally.


“He threw out a lot of stats when he was talking,” she said, “but he didn’t explain what he was going to do about it.”



School board, Blagojevich do battle 

By Nicole Ziegler Dizon, Associated Press, St. Louis Post-Dispatch


CHICAGO - The State Board of Education began an offensive Wednesday against Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to gut the agency, calling it a political power grab that ignores the most basic issue facing Illinois schools - inadequate state funding.


As Blagojevich flew from one end of the state to the other to rally for his plan to dismantle the board, its members tried to poke holes in the education plan the governor outlined in last week's State of the State address.


"This is about power," state Superintendent Robert Schiller said. "It's about politics. It's not about addressing issues of the day: How do we help schools have the adequacy of funding, the equity of funding so they can move forward?"


In his State of the State speech, Blagojevich likened the board to an "old, Soviet-style bureaucracy" and said he could save $1 billion over four years by moving its duties to a Department of Education under his control. The board is an independent agency with members appointed by the governor.


"The choice here is very simple. If you're satisfied with the state of education in Illinois, then leave the system the way it is," Blagojevich said Wednesday during a rally at Belvidere High School, near Rockford. "But if you're sick and tired of hearing about how Illinois children are falling behind, failing tests or dropping out of school, then join us."


The governor says his plan would save money by eliminating many administrative jobs, cutting fees for school construction and consolidating the purchase of health plans and school supplies at the state level rather than the district level.


Members of the State Board of Education spoke about the governor's proposals before beginning their regular meeting in Chicago. They also brought in supporters, from local superintendents and business groups to a representative of the Spanish government, to talk about the good work they do.


Some board members said they feared the governor's plans would take decision-making power away from local schools. They also said elimination of a board split by law between Democrats and Republicans could politicize school issues.


"To me, it just seems like a loss of accountability and usurping local control, and we're very concerned about that," board Chairwoman Janet Steiner said.


Others took issue with some of the governor's claims, such as his oft-repeated reference to the "2,800 pages of rules" created by the board to govern local schools. Board member Gregory Kazarian said that was true only if the rules were printed 10 words to a page, and he added that the Legislature and Congress write the laws the rules are meant to enforce.


"They just decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story," Kazarian said.




Philadelphia bans soda sales in school 

Items compiled from Tribune news services, January 16, 2004

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA -- Philadelphia officials have banned the sale of pop in public schools, a move nutrition experts said Thursday would help guard children against obesity.

The Philadelphia School District decided late Wednesday to end the sale of carbonated soda in vending machines and lunch rooms. Starting July 1, schools must sell fruit juice, water, milk and flavored milk drinks instead.


New York banned soda as well as candy and sweet snacks from vending machines last year.


Schools turning $$ back to feds 

Data also show state is sitting on $42 million

By Jennifer Toomer-Cook, Deseret Morning News

As Utah schools ask for more money, they are turning back hundreds of thousands of dollars to the federal government and sitting on $42 million for No Child Left Behind and other programs, state and federal data show.

The state last September failed to spend, and therefore lost, $228,000 in federal funds for schooling refugees, State Office of Education data show. In previous years, it let expire more than $235,000 in charter school start-up funds.

The state also is sitting on $42 million — 9 percent of the federal education dollars coming to the state, a Bush administration report shows — intended for elements of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, widely criticized as being underfunded.

But Utah education officials say the reports are misleading. They have until September 2004 to spend the $42 million. And the money they turned back was so specifically earmarked that they couldn't meet the regulations.


"We don't need to spend all the money immediately . . . and we're going to use every dime," state associate superintendent Ray Timothy said. "We wouldn't be going after those dollars and receiving those dollars unless we intended to use them. The only reason we would send it back is if we have to."

The reports add to controversy over No Child Left Behind.

NCLB requires all students to read and do math on grade level by 2014. It also requires all schools have what it calls highly qualified teachers, among other rules.

But some members of Congress, presidential candidates and teachers unions say the Bush administration hasn't given states enough money to reach those standards. In Utah, Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, is sponsoring a bill to eschew NCLB requirements and the more than $100 million they bring, because of money — budget crunchers are tallying costs — and local control issues.

But the Bush administration questions the outcry.

It reports states are sitting on $5.75 billion in federal education dollars, including those for NCLB. States also failed to spend another $124 million before the funds expired last year, The Associated Press reports.

Republicans on the House Committee on Education & the Workforce cited the reports last week in announcing hikes in No Child Left Behind Title I aid for high-poverty schools.

"We are pumping gas into a flooded engine," committee chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a prepared statement.

Federal funding isn't like having money in the bank. Schools can't get it until after they've spent it.

Schools must spend federal allotments, earmarked for disabled students, incarcerated youngsters and others, within a certain time.

For instance, districts have 27 months to spend NCLB money, NCLB coordinator Laurie Lacy said. They seek reimbursement once they pay for programs and activities.

Some districts might be planning summertime teacher training, for instance. So it's no surprise $42 million in federal dollars has not yet been claimed, state officials say. And they promise it will get used.

But sometimes, it doesn't.

Utah failed to spend more than $130,000 in federal money for charter schools in fiscal 2002, and $105,000 in fiscal 2001, state data show.

State charter schools planning coordinator Patricia Bradley said fewer people applied to set up charter schools than the State Office of Education anticipated when it requested the federal start-up money. In 2000, for instance, no new charter schools opened. And just five — three fewer than anticipated — opened last fall.

So when charter schools do start opening, the state education office tries to juggle federal funds, awarding schools the oldest money first. Also, federal rules say schools should use the money for things the state doesn't cover, like building libraries or new computers, and not their greatest hardship: buildings and rent.

"I think it was our best judgment in trying to award oldest money first in hopes . . . that would allow us to expend it and not lose it," Bradley said. "But that's always somewhat of a best-guess kind of scenario. We have money coming in under that grant now, predicated on our estimates of schools being approved, some of which just didn't happen in our first years."

The reports have met with controversy from state education bosses nationwide. But Timothy sees their silver lining.

"The positive thing is, because this has been brought to our attention, we need to be watching that closely so we don't let any of that lapse," he said. "We intend to use every penny to help students."


Education experiment heads for Extinction

AP, January 19, 2004 

NEW YORK -- A 35-year-old experiment in neighborhood control of public schools will end this spring when New York City's 32 elected school boards are replaced by parent councils chosen mainly by PTA officers.

The change -- a pillar of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's overhaul of the city's troubled public school system -- mirrors a national trend away from elected school boards in urban school districts.

"What's happening in New York is just continuing this momentum of Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and Detroit, where we've seen the abolishment of an elected board and giving the mayor more control over the district," said Todd Ziebarth, policy analyst with the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

The change from school boards to parent councils in New York was enacted by state lawmakers and approved last month by the U.S. Justice Department.

Under the old system, elections were held every three years for 32 community school boards in the five boroughs. The boards had the authority to hire and fire principals and superintendents until 1996, when the state Legislature stripped away much of their power.

The switch away from locally elected boards is among several sweeping changes Bloomberg has championed since taking office two years ago.

Bloomberg wrested control of the schools from the now-defunct Board of Education and hired former federal prosecutor Joel Klein as chancellor. The two have established a uniform curriculum for all but the highest-performing schools, created a Leadership Academy to train principals, and put measures in place to end "social promotions" -- graduating underachieving students.

Political sway

Under the new system, nine of the 11 members of each council will be chosen by the officers of school parent associations or parent-teacher associations. The other two will be chosen by the borough presidents; there will also be a non-voting student member.

As in other cities, some New Yorkers welcome the change as an overdue reform of a patronage-plagued system, while others decry the loss of voting rights and neighborhood control.

"It's a sad day when you take away the ability of the public to vote," said Rodney Saunders, a member of school board in the Bronx borough.

With 1.1 million pupils, New York City's public school system is twice the size of the nation's second-largest, Los Angeles. When the community school boards were created in 1969, the goal was to move decision-making away from the central Board of Education and place it with community members presumably in better touch with their children's needs.

Race was a factor, too. The school system had white leaders and a largely black and Hispanic student body at the time; activists hoped the elected school boards would reflect the ethnic makeup of their communities.

Over the years, many of the boards were accused of being little more than patronage mills, appointing school officials based on political connections rather than academic credentials. In the worst cases, board members were convicted of plundering funds.

"There was a feeling that the school boards had become mostly political launching pads for people who had agendas that were not necessarily the interests of public education first," said state Assemblyman Steven Sanders.

But supporters of the community school boards -- which still exist in lame-duck form until the new councils are selected in May -- say corruption has been the exception, not the rule.

"In every type of government body you're going to have one or two people that may be corrupt," said City Councilman Robert Jackson, who served on a school board in Manhattan for 15 years.


In Some Schools, It's One Teacher, One Student 

By SAM DILLON, New York Times, January 19, 2004

ROCK RIVER, Wyo. — Tucked high up in the snow-swept Laramie Mountains sits a public school with just one young teacher, Rebecca Rodgers, and her lone student, Joe Kennedy, a seventh grader.

Cozy Hollow Elementary is the best way Wyoming authorities have found to educate Joe, whose family owns a hardscrabble cattle ranch. The nearest larger school lies 40 miles down a gravel road that blizzards often render impassable.

"It was awkward at the beginning," Mrs. Rodgers said, so much so that when classes began last fall Joe was not sure whether to raise his hand to ask questions or just speak up. Mrs. Rodgers urged the latter.

"Now it feels pretty good," Joe said. "There's nobody else to bug us."

Cozy Hollow Elementary is unusual but not unique, although nobody seems to track precisely how many single-student schools there are across the nation. Wyoming has three, Nebraska six, Montana two. North Dakota has one.

The challenges of educating students in rural states from Maine to Alaska are enormous. They include attracting young teachers to truly remote places, supervising their work and finding ways to prepare students like Joe, raised in isolation, for the bustle of college campuses.

The tiny school at Cozy Hollow, about 100 miles northwest of Cheyenne, is one way educators teach children who live on far-flung ranches and Indian reservations. Wyoming, America's least populous state, is experimenting with other strategies, too. Flush with revenues from rich coal and gas reserves, the state has spent $24 million to install instructional video cameras in each of its 76 high schools, Trent Blankenship, Wyoming's superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview. The state hopes the cameras can help bring advanced courses like calculus and astronomy to schools that may have only a few dozen students, Mr. Blankenship said.

But for all the technological advances, flesh-and-blood elementary teachers like Mrs. Rodgers, 23, are still a critical link in the educational chain.

Just out of teachers college, she keeps the school day businesslike when it begins sharply at 8 a.m., after Joe has fed the horses, walked past the corral to the school and taken his seat. She marches him through a traditional schedule of 45-minute periods, with the early morning devoted to the three R's.

Mrs. Rodgers lives with her husband, a graduate student in astronomy, in a trailer attached to a second trailer that serves as Joe's classroom, but this is not home schooling. She is a certified public school teacher; her annual salary is $25,720. Joe must pass the same standardized tests that bedevil urban students.

In the Albany County No. 1 School District in southeastern Wyoming, the job of supervising Mrs. Rodgers's work falls to Charles Cashman, principal of the 120-student Rock River School, who set out the other day in his 1998 Chevy Blazer for the 40-mile trip to Cozy Hollow. A few miles down a two-lane blacktop, he turned east onto a gravel road leading through sagebrush and grasslands rising toward the Laramie Mountains.

Test scores show that the individual instruction at tiny rural schools is extremely effective, Mr. Cashman said, eyeing a herd of Black Angus as a golden eagle soared overhead.

"But you better hope you get a match between the student, teacher and family, because if you don't, it can be miserable," he said.

At midjourney, Mr. Cashman used a two-way radio to call ahead, announcing his visit. "KT216 to the Kennedy ranch, Joyce or Gene, can you hear me?" he asked.

He could not establish contact, and an hour later he pulled into the ranch and braked to a stop in front of the school. Inside he found Mrs. Rodgers and her student seated across from each other, engrossed in a math lesson. Joe correctly calculated the height of a tree, based on the length of its shadow.

"Good job, that's awesome," Mrs. Rodgers said. "Now let's go for some geography."


Ninth Grade Key to Success, but Reasons Are Debated 

By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, New York Times, January 18, 2004

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.With the rising use of standardized exams to measure school performance, ninth grade is becoming a watershed moment at many schools across the country.

Increasingly, educators say, students at risk of failing pivotal tests commonly given in the 10th and 11th grades are being held back, sometimes more than once. Frequently, such students become so discouraged that they drop out.

The impact of the trend is evident in a significant nationwide bulge in students enrolled in ninth grade and a tripling of the attrition between the 9th and 10th grades over the last 30 years, according to a report by Walter Haney of Boston College.

"The implications are not only dire for these individual students, but dire for society at large," Dr. Haney said in an interview.

The report, "The Education Pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000," compares school enrollment data by grade from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics. It found that four-year high school graduation rates steadily rose in the early 1980's, but declined in the 1990's.

The slide occurred just as President Bill Clinton and Congress ushered in the school accountability measures strengthened in the No Child Left Behind Act, and set a national goal of raising the four-year graduation rate to 90 percent by 2000. Instead, the share of on-time graduations declined by four percentage points, to 74.4 percent in 2000-01 from 78.4 percent in 1991-92, according to Dr. Haney's study.

The report calculates that while 3.4 million students were enrolled in the eighth grade in the 1996-97 school year, 871,000 of them failed to graduate from high school in four years. If the graduation rate of the early 1990's had remained unchanged, 135,000 more of those eighth graders would have left high school with diplomas in hand.

Dr. Haney contends that the overall decline in graduation rates is a result of two trends: increasing course requirements and growing demands that high school students pass specific standardized tests, commonly called exit exams, to receive a diploma.

"The benign explanation is that this whole standards and reform movement was implemented in an ill-conceived manner," Dr. Haney said.

John Robert Warren, a professor of education at the University of Minnesota, said he agreed with the basic findings in Dr. Haney's report but not with Dr. Haney's conclusions. Dr. Warren contended that falling graduation rates could be due to changing demographics.

"The two things we really know contribute to dropouts are poverty and recent Hispanic immigrants," he said. He said the declines also have to do with a dwindling commitment among politicians and the public "to making sure that every kid has access to a decent education."

To Steven Orel, director of the World of Opportunity Adult Education program here, the competing explanations — poverty, the pressure of standardized exams and a readiness to write off the most difficult students — are all true.

Three years ago, 16-year-olds started showing up at his G.E.D. program, then run by the Birmingham Public Schools. They were carrying documents saying they had just "withdrawn" from Woodlawn, the local high school. The cause? "Lack of interest," according to the forms signed by Woodlawn officials.

"Kids were coming to us within a week or a month of leaving high school," Mr. Orel said. "It defied logic to me: Why were these kids coming to me if they lacked interest?"

Mr. Orel enlisted the support of Virginia Volker, a Birmingham school board member, who learned that some 522 students, or 5.6 percent of the high school student body, had similarly "withdrawn." They were told to leave school after Feb. 15, when the state calculates reimbursement levels based on enrollment, but before April, when they would have taken the Stanford Achievement Tests, and could have dragged down their school's scores, Ms. Volker found.

"A lot of our parents are poor and overworked, and they didn't object," Ms. Volker said.

A spokeswoman for the Birmingham public schools, Michaelle Chapman, said that it was not the prospect of poor test scores that caused the withdrawal of so many students. At least some of the students involved, whose records the district examined, had missed more than 100 days from school, she said, and would not have passed anyway.


Schools or Pencils: A Fund Disconnect 

With daily classroom needs often underfinanced, the separate budgeting for construction can produce facilities that are lavish by comparison.

By Kristina Sauerwein, L.A. Times Staff Writer

For students at a few new public schools in Southern California, it's hard to believe there's a state budget crisis.

Freshly built campuses boast multimillion-dollar amenities, such as college-style gymnasiums, wireless computers, art galleries, and theaters with stadium seating, high-tech special effects and indoor-outdoor stages.

Even as administrators scramble to find money for supplies, textbooks and other necessities, they say these big-ticket perks confer community bragging rights, help recruit and retain the best teachers and encourage students to excel in academics, sports and social activities, giving them an edge in college and scholarship applications.

"We have the best new stuff," said Lauren Fougere, 16, a sophomore at Chino Hills High School, which opened in 2001.

The 1,800-student campus takes pride in a state-of-the-art theater that would be envy of many communities, as well as professional-level equipment for classes in ceramics, culinary arts, computer sciences and multimedia.

"We have plush seats," Fougere said of some classrooms, and students can watch demonstrations on a kitchen island resembling those seen on TV cooking shows.

"It doesn't seem like there are budget problems here," Fougere said as she and her friends ate onion-scented dishes of pasta carbonara they had cooked in a classroom stocked with a convection oven, six stoves and restaurant-quality grills.

Fougere took another bite, then reconsidered.

"I guess we do feel the budget a little," she said. "We used to have more cooking labs, but the budget is more restricted."

Chino Hills Principal James Moore said he has mixed feelings about these first-class amenities because he has to scrounge for the money to buy the supplies needed to keep them running, whether it's flour, ceramic clay or theatrical props.

The dichotomy exists because schools such as Chino Hills get their money from two distinct sources: one for books, pencils and other day-to-day expenses, which is subject to the whims of the state economy and California Legislature; and a second for school construction, which comes mostly from special state and local bond measures approved by voters.

The two pots of money are not allowed to mix, so even if the construction of a new school is completed under budget, the leftover money cannot be used to buy textbooks or other daily necessities.

Chino Hills High, which opened in 2001, cost more than $71 million to build. The school was frugal with the basics, Moore said, leaving money left over for top-of-the-line features such as the theater and student kitchen. "You only get a certain amount to start a school, and once the money is gone, it's gone forever," Moore said. "You wouldn't want me to buy a 1990-style school. Twenty years from now, this school will look old, and another neighborhood will have a new school."

But Moore said frustration arises at the prospect of having to cut about $16 million from the Chino Valley Unified School District's annual budget because of the state's budget mess. That could require skimping on classroom supplies, leaving positions unfilled and, possibly, laying off teachers.

"With budgets so tight, I do wonder about maintaining" and buying materials for the theater and other perks, Moore said. "It might be difficult to support."

Many argue that school districts statewide should have more flexibility in how they spend their money. If needed, construction funds should be allowed to cover basics, such as replacing antiquated books, said K. Lloyd Billingsley, an education expert for the Pacific Research Institute, a public policy nonprofit organization in San Francisco.

"An extravagant gymnasium is nice, but how many students are going to make a career out of athletics?" he said. "It's not the building that teaches kids."

Billingsley noted the example of the Belmont Learning Complex near downtown Los Angeles, one of the city's densest areas. Work on Belmont began in 1997 but was halted three years later because of potential environmental hazards.

"Plans for the school included all the bells and whistles," including 80,000 square feet of retail space, Billingsley said of the unfinished $286-million campus. "Not one child has been educated there."

In May, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to complete the project, the most expensive school construction project in state history. The decision was applauded by many education experts and parents who say overcrowding and dilapidated surroundings hurt academics.

"We have students who have to wake up at 5 a.m., stand in front of their neighborhood school and wait for a bus that takes them away to another school," said Jim McConnell, chief facilities executive for the 740,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District. "It's better for them to attend their neighborhood schools."

The district, the state's largest, buses an estimated 16,000 students because there's no room for them at campuses near their homes. Los Angeles Unified needs to build 200 new schools to reduce crowding, McConnell said.

On the March ballot, the district will ask voters within Los Angeles Unified's boundaries to help pay for new campuses with a $3.8-billion school construction and repair bond.

On the same ballot, voters statewide will decide on a $12.3-billion state bond to build or improve school and college campuses. That proposal is separate from a $15-billion bond measure on the same ballot aimed at keeping the overall state budget afloat.

"You have to look at a school as a long-lived asset, an investment in the future," said Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, a consulting firm that works with most of the state's more than 1,000 school districts. "The facilities enhance the learning."

At some new schools, parents have complained because districts skipped the perks and provided the absolute minimum.

"They felt like money was wasted," Bennett said. "They felt like what their children got was inadequate."

State-of-the-art school facilities also help keep students competitive with those from other states.

"I don't think California has anything to apologize for in terms of spending too much on any part of education," Bennett said.

At Colony High School in Ontario, the large Thunderdome gymnasium was a factor in persuading the Inland Empire's best teachers and coaches to work at the campus, which opened last year. "It brings enthusiasm," Principal Jim Brodie said.

The Thunderdome helped lure Jerry De Fabiis, a prized Inland Empire coach, to head the boys basketball team.

"It looks like a big college gym," he said. "It's a great opportunity to work here."

The gym includes parquet floors, an all-glass entryway, a trophy room, a mezzanine and two regulation basketball courts. The campus also has a large, 13-foot-deep pool that it shares with the community.

Athletics and other activities benefit students socially, personally and academically — especially students who must meet a certain grade point average to participate and who don't want to lose those amenities, Brodie said.

"Students come for the football and stay for the reading," Brodie said.

He paused. "It would be nice if it weren't a challenge to buy supplies."


In Fighting Stereotypes, Students Lift Test Scores 

By MELISSA P. McNAMARA, New York Times, January 20, 2004

Girls and low-income minority students are more likely to improve their scores on standardized tests when they are taught ways to overcome the pressures associated with negative stereotypes, according to a new study of seventh graders.

Despite decades of national attention, standardized test results continue to show gender and race gaps in achievement. Some educators say these disparities, including girls' lower math scores and the lower reading scores of minority and low-income students, are a result of anxiety-inducing stereotypes. A new study suggests that arming students with the means to overcome that anxiety may reduce those disparities.

The study, which was published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology in December, was conducted by Dr. Catherine Good, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Columbia, Dr. Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of psychology at New York University and Dr. Michael Inzlicht, a postdoctoral fellow in N.Y.U.'s department of applied psychology.

"One of the biggest pictures our research tells is that performance is so much more psychological than anything else," Dr. Aronson said.

In the study, college students acted as mentors for 138 seventh graders from Del Valle Independent School District near Austin, Tex., which serves a largely low-income population. The mentors encouraged the students to view intelligence as a faculty that can be developed or to attribute their academic difficulties to their new educational environment. At the end of the year, students took statewide standardized math and reading tests.

To test which method worked best, the researchers randomly assigned the seventh graders to one of four groups. The mentors taught one group of students about how the brain processes information. Another group was taught that all students faced academic difficulty in the transition to junior high school but that most overcame these challenges.

The mentors gave both messages to students in the third group. Then, the standardized test performance of these three groups was compared with the performance of a fourth group of students, who received information only about the dangers of drug use.

The girls who were taught that intelligence developed over time scored significantly higher on the standardized math test than girls in the fourth group. Similarly, the minority and low-income students who were told that they could overcome challenges and achieve academic success scored significantly higher on the standardized reading test than students in the fourth group, the researchers found.

The students who received both messages registered comparable gains. Students who were told about drug use experienced no gains.

The findings suggest that if minority and low-income students receive positive messages about their ability to learn and succeed academically, they are less likely to conform to stereotypes they believe others have of them — poor reading ability in the case of minority students and inferior math skills in the case of girls — when taking standardized tests.

The researchers note that standardized test scores may be poor predictors of future academic success. But they say that encouraging adolescents to attribute academic troubles to their situation rather than to their shortcomings can meaningfully increase student achievement.

This is encouraging, the researchers say, because it demonstrates a successful way to stem the spiral of self-blame, anxiety and underperformance that many adolescents experience.

Researchers say their findings could lead schools to adopt programs to remedy stereotype-based underperformance as students move into junior high school.

"The key is for students to think that change is possible," Dr. Aronson said. "Kids who believe intelligence is malleable are not demoralized and succeed."


Filling superintendent jobs gets tougher 

Scottsdale position possible exception

Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic, Jan. 20, 2004 

SCOTTSDALE - Scottsdale is one of a handful of Arizona school districts looking for a new school superintendent.

Resignations or retirements in recent months have led many school districts to launch searches to fill their top slot.

Districts looking for new leaders include Dysart Unified, Madison Elementary and Cartwright Elementary, among others. Scottsdale is the latest district to announce an opening.

Scottsdale Superintendent Barbara Erwin announced last week that she is leaving June 30 to take a job as superintendent of a school district in St. Charles, Ill.

Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said the number of superintendent searches taking place is about average for the state.

Not as many people are interested in the job as five or 10 years ago, said Roger Short, who conducts superintendent searches for the Arizona School Boards Association. More administrators are satisfied to stay assistant superintendents or principals because of the increasing pressures of tight budgets and accountability.

"It takes a very special person to be superintendent in this day and age," said Short, who is a former superintendent.

That said, the Scottsdale district is an attractive job, he said, because of its large size and reputation for academic excellence. In addition, the district is no longer under the intense scrutiny of the Arizona Attorney General's Office for bid rigging and state Open Meetings Law violations that it faced in the late 1990s.

"The waters are somewhat calm there," Short said, "and it makes it easier for someone to come in."

Scottsdale School Board President Sandra Zapien-Ferrero said she expects the board will get more applicants than when it conducted its last superintendent search in 1999 and early 2000.

"Dr. Erwin came in at a very difficult time," she said.


SD2 board kills spring break for ’05, ’06, ’07 

By JOHN FITZGERALD Of The Billings Gazette Staff (Lee Enterprises)

With their hands tied by state and national testing requirements, School District 2 trustees agreed Monday to approve school calendars that do away with spring break in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Trustee Katharin Kelker was hopeful, however, that the state Board of Public Education will do away with the required Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test of Educational Development. If this happens, the rigorous testing schedule students face in March and April may ease up enough to allow a spring break.

The vote to approve the schedule was 8-0, with trustee Judith Herzog absent.

The calendar for this year remains unchanged. The calendar for next year substitutes a spring break with several three-day weekends sprinkled throughout the winter and spring. The 2005-'06 and 2006-'07 calendars do the same.

The ITBS/ITED tests are required by the state. They must be taken within a three-week window in March. Then comes the Montana Comprehensive Test Assessment, required by the federal government as part of its No Child Left Behind initiative. This also has a three-week window.

The three-week windows are necessary because both of these tests cover six subjects. Both require schools to offer re-tests for students who miss any of the original six tests. Then re-tests have to be offered for those who missed the first re-tests.

Lorrie Wolverton, a sixth-grade teacher at Eagle Cliffs Elementary, is a member of the district's Calendar Committee. She said the committee considered moving spring break to February, but decided that was too close to winter break. Committee members also considered a break late in April, but decided it wouldn't make sense for students to take a break, then come back for one month before school ends.

Kelker said that bound by strict state and federal test requirements, the Calendar Committee found the best solution it could. She said the high schools have to begin planning now to schedule the next school year, so the board had to act.

However, she said the Board of Public Education might consider shifting its test requirements to meet the federal test requirement, which would eliminate the need for the ITBS/ITED. If that happens, the board could ask the Calendar Committee to reconvene and redraw the schedule, she said.

Trustee Gene Jarussi asked Superintendent Rod Svee if the Board of Public Education could act quick enough to affect next year's schedule. Svee said he didn't know.

Trustee Conrad Stroebe asked what the penalties would be if the district ignored the tests. Svee said depending on which test was ignored, the district would lose federal or state money, which makes up the bulk of the district's income.

Stroebe asked if teachers felt there is too much testing. Svee said teachers have told him there is.

“It reminds me of a talk I had with a rancher at a meeting recently,” Svee said. “He said that if all he did was weigh his cows all the time, they'd never get fat.”

Parent Jane McCracken addressed the board, saying the lack of a spring break was onerous for teachers and students. She said the district may have to review its 10-day absence policy for high school students because parents will take students out of school for their own break.

She also asked the board to look into the policy of two sets of early out days - one for elementary students and one for middle and high school students.

“You'll have many kids going to an empty home,” she said. “The facilities for occasional day care in Billings are not great. A lot of us rely on high school students to baby-sit, and when you don't have an early out on the same day, it creates problems for families.”

District Operations Officer Dan Martin said one of the reasons the days were split is because buses can't transport all the students at the same time.


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