As I’ve talked to people, especially those outside our district about what I’m doing, people ask the question, Why? What do I want to accomplish?
I’ve alluded to at least an aspect of why in the 2/28 letter. Some of the concerns started in July 2018 when the new elementary principal was hired, and the first I heard of it was when the board meeting was announced to vote on it. Other concerns have come from discussions with teachers, who feel they are being devalued by our district administration. As I started to get involved in board meetings and paying attention to what the school administration says, “transparency” was a word that I kept hearing over and over. The way the board and administration talked about it gave me the impression that being more transparent was a favor to the community, not something that was required.
That started my quest to understand the laws and regulations around School Boards. Since around December 2018, I’ve slowly been researching, learning, listening, trying to compare and resolve the differences in what I understood the OMA to mean and the actions of our District. I’ve discovered the actions of the district are not even meeting the minimum standards required under the OMA.
Ms. Taylor recently published an article in the Heyworth Buzz that announced the district is implementing new web based service to help manage board meetings. I was in a couple of the sub-committee meetings listening to board discussions and watched the demo by the vendor of their product. At its basic level, this software is enabling the district to easily publish agendas and meeting minutes within the timelines required by the OMA. I am looking forward to this, as anything that enables our administration to focus more of their time on efforts that improve the education we provide vs just keeping track of red tape is awesome.
Board members have been discussing how to increase transparency and community engagement during board meetings. They’ve talked about letters or information they can share about “gee-whiz” numbers. They want to find better ways to highlight the awesome contributions that every member of our School District make to our children’s education and well-being.
But the board and administration is responsible for spending 66.38% of the property taxes I pay as a property owner in a rural area and I have 5 kids spread across the elementary and jr/high schools in our district. Just because it’s hard, is not a reason to not provide the transparency we are entitled to as taxpayers and parents today.
Board members have taken training to understand OMA. The superintendent is supposed to complete the training annually. That training helps them understand the basics of what their responsibilities are, and the penalties for not making sure it’s complied with. When I provided a document detailing how the district has been violating OMA, the steps that should be taken correct them and asked to have a conversation, it’s largely ignored, transparency reduced, and the violations got worse.
Our board takes an oath to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office of member of the Board of Education of Heyworth Community Unit School District #4, in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the laws of the State of Illinois, to the best of my ability.” (see section 2:80 in the Board Policy Manual below) Based on the evidence I’ve collected so far, our board members are not living up to that oath.
So what do I want to accomplish? I want to have a School Board and Administration that I can have confidence in. I want to have a School Board that we may not always agree with their decisions, but we can have confidence that they are legally and ethically discharging their duties that they have volunteered for, and we have elected them to perform. I don’t have that confidence in our board today.