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U46, D300 school districts, unions react to passage of ed reform bill

Updated: June 16, 2011 12:28AM



SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House Thursday overwhelmingly approved and sent to Gov. Pat Quinn a major education-reform package that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan heralded as “truly remarkable.”

The measure, which passed the House 112-1 with one member voting present, could give school districts new powers to oust poorly performing teachers and impose new obstacles to teachers strikes.

“Illinois has done something truly remarkable, and every state committed to education reform should take notice,” said Duncan, Chicago’s former public schools CEO.

“Business, unions, educators, advocates and elected officials all came together around a plan that puts children ahead of adults and paves the way for meaningful education reform. For some time now I have been saying that tough-minded collaboration is more productive than confrontation, and this is the proof,” he said.

Elgin School District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres said Friday the state’s second-largest school district, following Chicago Public Schools, also was pleased the legislation was done “the correct way.” And he added it had sent its appreciation to state representatives Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, and Keith Farnham, D-Elgin.

“Senate Bill 7 puts the needs of kids first, which is where we should all be focused,” Torres said. “It also puts onus on administrators to ensure fair and equitable evaluations.”

That collaboration is what makes Kathy Castle, president of U46’s Elgin Teachers Association, “cautiously optimistic,” she said Friday.

And those evaluations are what gives some pause to Kolleen Hanetho, president of Local Educators Association of District 300.

Administrators can dock teachers for using sick days on the new evaluations, she said, which made her worry for the women teachers who make up 85 percent of LEAD and take the majority of sick days to care for children. They also can call back first-year teachers before more experienced teachers if they’ve ranked those teachers more highly on evaluations, she said.

“In an individual building, a principal could do that to try to get rid of someone. In a cynical world, a district could do that to save costs,” she said.

But, Hanetho said, “I do think there really are changes that are good for the organization and education as a whole, and we realize change is part of every profession.”

Quinn has expressed support for the package, which now heads to the governor’s desk. His spokeswoman Annie Thompson said the governor intends to review the legislation, which associates predicted he would sign.

Thursday’s vote came despite last-minute opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union, which balked at language that increased the voting threshold needed for city teachers to strike to 75 percent and did an end run around a pending CTU dispute involving layoffs before a state education panel.

The CTU, Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers all had been part of the negotiations on the original education reform bill, according to Hanetho. She said she had seen the version of the bill that passed the Senate, but not any revisions made in the House.

The bill’s lone opponent in the House was Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, a CTU ally who argued that it was unfair to make it more difficult for city teachers to strike than their suburban and downstate counterparts.

The measure would empower school districts to use performance, not strictly seniority, in determining teacher layoffs and impose first-ever performance benchmarks for teachers to gain tenure.

Under the legislation, tenure would be granted only if a teacher had attained two “proficient” or “excellent” ratings during the last three years of the four-year period required for tenure. And the timeline for dismissing a tenured teacher would be shortened in Chicago and elsewhere.

Sarah Kedroski, associate superintendent-elect of Community Unit School District 300, said the Carpentersville-area district already uses a “rigorous process” and “research-based model” to evaluate its teachers. The district will have to learn a little more about the legislation to see how it will fit into its current model, she said.

And Torres said U46 is looking forward to working with its teachers and union to put the legislation in effect.

“Once it is signed by the governor, the heavy lifting begins. Many processes will need to be reviewed and changed, as we have all become accustomed to rehiring teachers based on seniority, not performance,” he said.

“It is a good problem to have.”

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report.



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