February 15, 2011
District 125 Board of Education President Bruce Lubin read aloud a statement on behalf of the Board at its monthly meeting on Monday, February 14. The statement addressed concerns that had been raised by members of the public at the past two Board meetings. Here is the complete statement:
District 125 Board of Education Statement - February 14, 2011
During the past two monthly Board of Education meetings we have heard comments from community members who have expressed either concern or appreciation for certain things happening at Stevenson High School. Though we appreciate the words of encouragement and support, tonight, we wanted to respond to the concerns that have been raised to the Board of Education and the specific requests that we have been asked to consider.
As we all know, District 125 has a long record of solid financial and investment decisions that support the educational mission and vision of the high school. In addition to being included on the Illinois State Board of Education Financial Recognition rating list for five of the last six years, District 125 is one of only a handful of school districts in the state that has a AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s, which is given in part because of the wise financial decisions we made in December and previous Boards have made in the past. To be precise, only 10 of the approximately 816 school districts in Illinois had a AAA rating as of December 2008. This highly selective and regarded rating reduces interest costs that must be paid by the District on money it borrows. This Board of Education and previous Boards have been judicious and thoughtful in the spending of taxpayers’ dollars. The decisions we have made over the years have led to the extraordinarily positive financial evaluation of Stevenson High School. We do, however, recognize that this is a changing world and that what we have done in the past is not necessarily a map for the future.
With that in mind, in December, the Board of Education held its annual Levy Hearing. The setting of the levy is a process that nearly all taxing bodies go through each year. The Board approved an increase in the levy of 2.7% and immediately passed a resolution returning at least 100% of any increase in taxes from the prior year so that there would be no net increase in SHS overall taxes this year. Several community members spoke out against approval of an increase in the levy at the December meeting even though the net result of our actions will be a net reduction of 1% in the average taxpayers Stevenson portion of their real estate bill. The difference between not increasing the levy and increasing the levy and abating any increase is that under the latter approach, the Board retains the flexibility to levy the abated amounts in the future. All districts in Illinois are significantly limited in their ability to access funds for their school districts and students. In fact, the State of Illinois continues to be more than $2,000,000.00 behind in payments to District 125. Illinois law restricts our ability to increase our levy to the lesser of CPI or 5%. Aside from passing a taxpayer referendum, we have no other way to access funds for our students’ education. Had the Board of Education not passed the levy, we would significantly handicap our long-term financial planning process. In these scary financial times, when both State funds and federal funds are at risk we must maintain our flexibility to get through these continued rough waters.
Regarding our fund balances, we maintain a fund balance of 31% of our operating costs as of July 1, 2010, that balance is only six percent more than the State of Illinois minimum recommended balance. Many school districts across the State have had to borrow money, at great cost, these last several years to make payroll because they do not have adequate reserves. Our fund balances are an insurance policy that we can always pay our bills and our staff on a timely basis no matter what additional cuts in funding the State might make. Additionally, in four out of the past five years we have abated — that is, returned to taxpayers — a portion of the tax levy. Because the Board voted to abate any increase in the levy, for nearly all residents of District 125, if a property tax bill increases, it is not due to a tax levy from District 125. To date, we have discovered no other school district that has approved a rebate of 100% of any tax levy increase.
In addition to comments raised regarding the District’s abatement of taxes, we also heard concerns related to some of the readings in the Communication Arts Division curriculum. Specifically, we heard complaints regarding the short story "The Casual Carpool" and the inclusion in the text of a homosexual character. Amidst a number of other events in the story, this character contemplates the use of a sperm donor to start a family with her partner. Other community members criticized texts selected by the Communication Arts Division, including the book Flamingo Rising
We believe that it is important to understand that texts and readings are not selected in an arbitrary or capricious fashion or on a whim in the Communication Arts Division. Rather, texts and readings are selected in a deliberate manner utilizing articulated and clear criteria that promote the school and division vision statements, the stated curriculum goals and objectives, and the District’s social and emotional learning targets. Curriculum teams utilize a criterion driven protocol and subject all texts to a thorough review process that helps them continually reflect upon the curriculum and to determine how best to support and assess student learning. Texts and readings are selected and utilized to help students develop important academic skills of questioning, critical thinking, understanding, communication and social emotional learning skills such as social awareness, understanding of diversity, and tolerance.
Our curriculum teams constantly reflect upon each text’s use and the extent to which the text assists students in attaining specific learning objectives. While the Board remains committed to protecting the best interests of our students, we do so realizing that protecting students and educating them is not best accomplished by censoring the curriculum and limiting student’s exposure to the issues and ideas that are shaping the world around them. Access to a variety of texts and readings serve the important purpose of introducing students to the diversity of experiences and ideas that they will encounter throughout their four years at Stevenson and life after high school.
While there is always opportunity for improvement and refinement, this Board remains confident that the process by which texts are reviewed and included in the Communication Arts Division and across the curriculum is sound. Our students benefit from the inclusion of a variety of texts and readings that represent the nuances of life experience and critical thought that serve our students well in an increasingly diverse world. In the case of Flamingo Rising
, which is read by juniors, is a highly recognized Ballantine Reader’s Circle Text and has been nominated for the Pen Faulkner Award. The District also provides two alternative reading choices for families that have concerns about the book.
At the January Board meeting, a community member suggested that the Board form a Parent Curriculum Committee to review and approve curriculum and texts and report monthly during the Board of Education meetings. While a great school can and does encourage parental involvement, it is important to remember that more than 90% of our teachers have master’s degrees in education and/or their content area and they have had significant experience, training and coursework in developing and implementing curriculum. Our academic divisions and curriculum teams engage in substantive professional development and reflection that uniquely qualifies them to attend to issues of curriculum development generally and text inclusion specifically. While we encourage parent involvement in all aspects of the learning process at Stevenson, given the professional nature of curriculum, exacting State standards and outcomes, and the thorough text selection process and professionalism of our teachers, we respectfully decline the request that was made during the January Board of Education meeting for a Parent Curriculum Committee to review and approve curriculum.
The culture of Stevenson High School has long been an inclusive one in which parents have and continue to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education. In fact parental involvement is by all criteria the number one element in a great school. There are many opportunities for parents to be involved in the education of their students here at Stevenson High School and we encourage parents to do so. For example, each month our Superintendent, Principal, and Assistant Principals invite parents to a morning breakfast and coffee meeting to discuss their ideas on how to improve the educational experience for all of our students. In addition, we have numerous opportunities each month for parents to become involved and learn more about their students educational experiences, and we have more than fifteen different parent’s organizations that are purposefully designed to engage parents in the life of the Stevenson High School community.
Stevenson High School is one of only a handful of schools to win the United States Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award four times, we have won the New American High School Award, we have been recognized by every national education association as one the best high schools in America, and the former national Secretary of Education has described Stevenson as "the most recognized and celebrated high school in the country." We believe our professional educators have been doing a wonderful job and they are in the best position to help us continue our strong tradition of academic excellence.
As a Board of Education we have appreciated hearing the suggestions for improvement and the ideas that have been forwarded to us. As always we are open to new ideas on how to improve the academic and co-curricular experiences of our students. As a Board of Education we are extremely proud of all the wonderful accomplishments of our faculty and students and we will continue to be relentless in pursuit of our mission of Success for Every Student.