Millburn superintendent praises SB 1 as ‘step in the right direction’
While controversy over Illinois' public education funding bill has centered largely on the friction between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Springfield Democrats over what Chicago Public Schools (CPS) would get, other provisions in the 500-page bill have gone relatively unnoticed.
Senate Bill 1, which was sent to Rauner on Monday after passing the General Assembly two months ago, has been criticized because it would change the way funds are distributed to schools and divert tax dollars away from suburban districts to financially strapped CPS.
However, under the bill, the state would impose guidelines on schools’ day-to-day operations, including determining employee-to-student ratios, the number of teachers a school should hire to teach art and music, and the amount schools should spend on technology.
Lake County Gazette reached out to Millburn School Superintendent Jason Lind to get his take on SB 1 and the guidelines proposed in the bill.
Q. What are your thoughts on SB1?
A: I am in strong support of SB 1. While I understand that it is not a perfect solution for all schools, it is certainly a step in the right direction. SB1 will improve the distribution of funds into communities across the state that are most in need.
Q. There are a number of guidelines included in SB 1. Which one(s), if any, stand out the most to you?
A: The funding for instructional coaches is of particular interest, along with many of the staffing recommendations.
Q. Do you believe the state should be mandating all of these things?
A: I don't believe that this bill is mandating any staffing. This bill is providing funding for staffing levels that have shown to have a positive impact on student learning. Schools will receive funding for staffing, but schools can choose to staff at these levels or not.
Q: How would the mandated staff-to-student ratio impact staffing decisions in your school district?
A: I have not read any language in the bill that mandates any staff-student ratios. It is my understanding that the bill provides adequate funding for certain staffing levels at each grade level; however, local districts can determine how to distribute the funds. I have interpreted a similar model to how my mother taught me the value of money during back-to-school shopping: She gave me enough money to buy three pairs of Lee jeans, adequate gym shoes and about five new shirts. The money was then mine to distribute. If I wanted the more expensive Levi's, I had to either fork over my own money, only by two pairs, or skimp on the shirts. The choice was mine on how to distribute, but I was only given money to support a basic level of clothing.
I think some school districts will need to adjust their staffing somewhat because of the local accountability that this would create. This bill lays out a general idea of how a highly functioning school is staffed. If I let my primary classes go up to 25, but I have two gifted teachers for every 200 students, I would need to answer to my community for this decision.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: The devil is always in the details .... I believe SB1 is a step in the right direction. I believe it will increase local accountability and transparency. I believe it will create more equitable funding. Perhaps Chicago is getting a benefit out of it? I am not well-versed on CPS funding. I am concerned about giving ALL our students a shot at going to an adequately funded school.