3 Naperville-area school districts tell legislators they’d like input on such issues as length of class days and pension reform


What state lawmakers do in Springfield can significantly affect schools back home that are striving to maintain their commitment to excellence and innovation.

That’s the message the leaders of three school districts representing 60,000 students told their legislators Friday morning

School board representatives and the superintendents from Wheaton-Warrenville District 200, Naperville District 203 and Indian Prairie District 204, all located along the Interstate 88 corridor, hosted their fourth legislative breakfast at Naperville North High School to update representatives on their top concerns and give recently elected legislators a primer on issues facing schools.

Indian Prairie Superintendent Karen Sullivan said defining what constitutes an instructional day is one subject of mutual interest facing the three districts.

The funding reforms approved by the state in August 2017 not only made sweeping changes to education funding, but repealed the school code that required a school day to be at least five hours.

In an effort to correct the issue, Sen. Suzy Glowiak, D-Western Springs, said the state’s’ Senate Education Committee, of which she is a member, approved a bill reinstating the old rule defining a school day as five hours.

Sullivan said the three districts prefer something more flexible.

Schools offer so much more than classroom-based teaching, such as internships, job shadowing, independent research, work-based learning and online instruction, Sullivan said.

“All those things don’t fit into a neat, five-hour instructional day,” she said.

Sullivan added that parents seem to want that flexibility, particularly in light of this past week, when students were off school for three days because of the weather.

District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler said another area where local schools are feeling repercussions is from the state’s efforts to prevent school districts from spiking teacher salaries at the end of their careers as to boost their post-retirement pensions.

Last year the state lowered the 6 percent limit on the end-of-career raises to 3 percent. Schools giving teachers more than a 3 percent raise face paying a penalty to offset the higher pension costs.

Schuler said because of staff shortages, teachers often are asked to substitute internally or assume extra responsibilities as coaches or activity sponsors.

Annual contractual raises for longtime teachers accompanied by the stipends from the added work can put teachers over the 3 percent threshold, causing a district to face penalties, he said.

Districts can’t tell veteran teachers to stop taking on extra work because that would be age discrimination, and he said often school districts don’t know when teachers are retiring because they don’t give several years’ notice.

The District 200 leader said he’s willing to sit down with legislators to help come up with a system in which districts aren’t penalized in those instances.

District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges urged the lawmakers to think about how a piece of legislation might affect schools. If they’re unsure, he said, legislators can give any of the three superintendents a call.

Bridges said he appreciates the calls or texts he receives from Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville.

Wehrli, who represents residents in all three school districts, said he relies heavily on the superintendents for advice. “You are the industry experts,” he said.

Bridges said he understands the need to shift the cost of teacher pensions from state to school districts. On that issue, he supports a plan through which districts can slowly climb a ladder instead taking on pensions all at once, he said.

“We can come to a reasonable solution together,” he said.


Twitter @SbakerSun

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via Naperville Sun

February 3, 2019 at 08:08AM

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