Who Is In Charge

14 education bills only need Gov. Pence's signature

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Vada Schafer, a student at Shepherd Community Center's preschool, is pleased with the clown she colored in during a visit by Gov. Mike Pence in 2014.

As the Indiana General Assembly finished the first half of its 2014 work at the end of January, Chalkbeat was tracking 43 education-related bills had passed either the House or Senate.

Two more education-related bills — one on guns at school and another on athletic concussions — were added to our list in February. Of those 45 total bills, here’s where we stand today: 14 have been passed by both the House and Senate and are headed to Gov. Mike Pence for his signature, 19 passed the Senate and House and have either been assigned or appear headed to a conference committee and another 12 did not advance and are dead for this session.

Lawmakers have until this Friday, March 14, to iron out the differences between bills passed in the House and Senate and to approve the final versions of any remaining bills.

Here’s a look at where the education bills all stand:

BILLS THAT HAVE PASSED

These bills have passed both the House and Senate, with both houses agreeing on the same version so they will not need to to a conference committee. They only need Gov. Mike Pence’s signature:

  • School safety division. Senate Bill 344 would establish a school building safety division within the Indiana Department of Education.
  • Complexity index. Senate Bill 363 would make changes to the way school poverty is calculated for some school districts.
  • Veterans to teachers. Senate Bill 331 is designed to ease the transition from military service to teaching.
  • Voucher special education. Senate Bill 282 would send extra special education funding to private schools when students in special education use vouchers to attend them.
  • Allergic reaction injections. Senate Bill 245 allows school districts to keep EpiPens and administer them if needed.
  • Charter school accountability. Senate Bill 205 would limit charter school contracts to seven years and requires sponsors to close schools that don’t meet minimum standards. The bill also establishes a means for determining if schools stay in state takeover.
  • State fair absences. Senate Bill 114 would allow excused absences from school for children participating in the state fair.
  • School resource officers. Senate Bill 85 would allow grants for law officers in schools to be used for training the officers and requires them to be employed by a law enforcement agency.
  • Bond refunding. House Bill 1340 would allow for bonds to be refunded when schools consolidate.
  • Bus out of service order. House Bill 1303 would provide for additional notifications if a bus is ruled out of service during inspection.
  • Student athlete health awareness. House Bill 1290 aims to educate coaches and others of the risks of sudden cardiac arrest for athletes.
  • Career and technical diploma. House Bill 1213 would create a new career and technical diploma.
  • School transfers. House Bill 1079 would allow the siblings of a student who has transferred from one district to another to have preference for making the same transfer.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1064 would create a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana.

BILLS THAT ARE STILL IN PROCESS

These bills have passed both the House and Senate, but amendments mean the versions differ. One side of the legislature can agree to the other side’s version. Or the bills can be considered by a conference committee, made up of members of both the House and Senate, to work out the differences. The final versions then must again be passed by the House and Senate. These bills have either already been assigned to a conference committee or are expected to be:

BILLS THAT ARE DEAD

These bills did not advance:

  • Cursive writing. For the third consecutive year, a bill passed the Senate requiring schools to teach cursive handwriting, and for the third straight year it died without a vote in the House on Senate Bill 113.
  • Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 would have made highly rated teachers who took jobs at D- or F-rated traditional public or charter schools eligible for extra pay.
  • Various education matters. Senate bill 284 included several education provisions, mostly dealing with issues of unions and their contracts.
  • School bus safety. House Bill 1042 would have allowed traffic cameras on school buses.
  • Athletic participation. House bill 1047 would have allowed virtual charter school students to participate in sports at their local public school districts.
  • Teacher preparation program. Senate Bill 204 would have required teacher education programs to submit data about their graduates to the Indiana Department of Education and establishes a rating system. A similar bill, House Bill 1388, passed the House and Senate and is headed to a conference committee.
  • Music curriculum. Senate Bill 276 would have required schools to assure music is part of the curriculum, including ensembles.
  • School bus driver physicals. Senate Bill 278 would have required school bus drivers to undergo physical exams.
  • Winter holiday traditions. Aimed at protecting Christmas traditions, Senate Bill 326 would have permitted schools to teach about winter holidays and use holiday symbols.
  • Expanded background checks. House Bill 1233 would have required school employees receive an expanded background check every five years. It was defeated in a floor vote by the Senate, 24-23.

 

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”