Sent: Friday, May 14, 2004 3:26 PM
Subject: Weekly Message from State Superintendent Robert Schiller 5-14-04

Good afternoon,


At face value the compromise on a Department of Education announced by Senate President Emil Jones, Senator Miguel Del Valle and Governor Rod Blagojevich satisfies the requirement to maintain a State Board of Education set forth in the Constitution. But it still guts the intent that the board be comprised of a non-partisan body of people who will be an independent entity of the Governor.


Just this week - the Governor admitted that an effort to reconstitute the board would be "ripe for politics and gridlock and more bureaucratic morass, not less, and no accountability."


Then his tune changed. Suddenly the board concept equates to accountability?

The at-will language regarding board appointments that allows the Governor to fire and hire members at his pleasure ensures that an independent thinker – a person who might actually put children and our schools’ needs above political agendas – would surely be a short-termer.


As the board and I remarked back in January, this Governor’s plan for education is not about improving our schools, about driving achievement, about increasing student performance, this is about control of the system.


Clearly, this is about politics.


This new “accountable board” I suspect is exactly the politically right type of accountability that he desires. And, I suppose it also provides the right type of political cover so that when we don’t see test scores improve, he can just point his finger at his board and then dispose of them. Or an even more frightening thought, is that with a few changes to formulaic definitions, suddenly we have the illusion that there is more money going to the classroom, fewer schools in financial duress and less schools in corrective action.


Again – this is not about accountability – this is about control.


Two crystal clear examples of this include the proposed demise of the Public Information and the Legal Departments. Our legal department has saved the state countless dollars by ending outside contracts and keeping legal matters in house. Our attorneys on a daily basis advise local school board members, parents, superintendents and administrators on legal issues important to them. Their answers always reflect the law. Our Public Information Department provides similar assistance beyond answering the dozens of calls from the press daily, they also field thousands of calls monthly from parents and administrators and route them to the area where there answer can best be found; they direct them to resources available on the ISBE web site; they make everything that the State Board  does available through the web site; they readily make resources available from ISBE on the web site; they save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars by producing educational CD-ROMs; and they promote our quality programs and teachers.


Wipe both those divisions out and the ultimate result is that the public will no longer receive straight answers only programmed answers reflecting the Governor’s message.


My concern, and one echoed by several board members, is that there will be limitless boundaries for his control as it may affect local districts. And, while that will surely undermine Illinois choice to have a local control state, no one will know about it, because his appointees will not speak contrary to the Governor, and local school districts will likely be quieted for fear of losing the little amount of state funds that they receive.


I still believe in the board structure – and I reiterate that, at face value, this plan appears to maintain it. But any continuity through the appointment of members, any independence placed with the board, any ability of a state superintendent to truly advocate for the needs and wants of districts are surely absent in this plan.


People criticize education for being too bureaucratic and encourage the concept that it be run like a business. Well, anyone knows that a corporate board of directors is a group of people from the outside who are independent of the Chief Executive Officer, appointed to provide independence and oversight: This plan is certainly contrary to that. Independence and democracy of the board structure would surely be lost, and appointees would be mouthpieces to articulate specific talking points that illustrate unwavering support for the Governor. The role of advocacy will be out the door.


All of us are certainly pressed with the decision of how we want education governed in this state. I believe we want something better than this plan and there are plenty of people on both sides of the fence.


The legislature repeatedly through this session has done a remarkable job of discussing this issue and members have succinctly and impressively articulated your concerns. I would hope that at this hour, with just a few weeks to go, you read through the proposed amendment and contact your legislator to again give them the input that they need in making the best decision for your district and our state.


Robert Schiller

State Superintendent

  of Education



Also included in today’s message:

  • New Expenditure Threshold for OMB Circular A-133 Audits
  • FY 2004 State & Federal Grant Amendments and Project Extension Requests
  • Reading Improvement Block Grants sent
  • Legislative Update
  • Do you know an outstanding educator?
  • State Police Request for School Site Information
  • News Clips


New Expenditure Threshold for OMB Circular A-133 Audits

The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has implemented revised standards for audits of state and local governments under Circular A-133, Audits of States, Local Governments, and Non-Profit Organizations.  OMB has raised the federal expenditure threshold that determines eligibility for sub-recipient (school administrative unit) A-133 audits from $300,000 to $500,000 effective for fiscal years that end after December 31, 2003.  Questions regarding the new threshold can be directed to Kim Beachy, Division of Funding and Disbursement Services at 217-782-5256.


FY 2004 State & Federal Grant Amendments and Project Extension Requests

Many state and federal grant projects are approaching a June 30 end date for obligating FY 2004 grant funds.  Please be aware that per ISBE fiscal policy, all state and federal project end date extension requests and final budget amendments must be received in the agency no later than 30 calendar days prior to the end date of the project.  However, due to the fact that the May 30 due date falls on a weekend, ISBE will honor requests through the end of business on Tuesday June 1, 2004.  For a current and complete reference of all ISBE fiscal policies and general grant procedures please refer to the State and Federal Grant Administration Policy and Fiscal Requirements and Procedures located at


Check The Mail – Reading Improvement Block Grants

The FY 05 Reading Improvement Block Grant Application will be mailed to school districts today.  The application has a submission due date of June 15, 2004. 


Elementary district, unit district, charter schools and elementary lab schools providing instruction in grades k-6 are eligible. Because funds are limited to kindergarten through sixth grade, high school districts are NOT eligible.


We encourage district personnel to read the documents carefully in order to complete their submission in a timely and accurate manner. Included with application are a handbook and a Q & A document. While there are no additions to the rules that apply to the grant this year, it is important to read the application and performance reporting responsibilities carefully. 


Several school districts actually forfeited funds by not completing the required performance report. The fall disbursement of the grant is contingent on receipt of the performance report and demonstration of progress. More information on ways to prevent this and meet this requirement can be found in the handbook.


We hope the handbook will help rectify this situation in FY05, and that this will prevent any schools from forfeiting funds or help us to quickly redistribute the money to eligible schools.


We will also be including projected allocations with the application, but the final allocations will be based on legislative appropriation.  We will notify each district in writing of its final allocation.


For assistance in completing the FY05 Reading Improvement Block Grant application, or for any questions related to the Reading Improvement Block Grant, please call the Curriculum and Instruction Division, 217/557-7323.


Legislative Update

The following bills passed both chambers of the legislature last week and will be sent to the Governor for final action:


SB2769 is designed to ensure that every student takes the Prairie State Achievement Examination prior to receiving a high school diploma.  


SB2918 creates a new graduation incentive program.  It increases the compulsory school age to 17 (with exceptions) and creates incentives for school districts to recover dropouts.  The proposal also provides possible reimbursement for dropouts who wish to attend vocational training programs offered through the community college system, or approved vocational training programs.        


SB3091 would allow a joint agreement made up of school districts, or a regional superintendent of schools on behalf of programs operated by the regional office, to apply for a waiver or modification of mandates.


SB3109 requires the State Board of Education to establish a system to provide for the accurate tracking of transfer students. It provides that the system shall require that a student be counted as a dropout in the calculation of a school's or school district's annual student dropout rate unless the school or school district to which the student transferred sends notification within 150 days to the school or school district from which the student transferred documenting that the student has enrolled in the transferee school or school district.                                                                            


HB5562 amends the Charter Schools Law of the School Code. It would allow the Chicago Board of Education to designate attendance boundaries for no more than one-third of the charter schools permitted in Chicago if the Board determines that attendance boundaries are needed to relieve overcrowding or to better serve low-income and at-risk students. It would also allow students residing within an attendance boundary to be given priority for enrollment, but prohibits them from being required to attend the charter school.


SB2360 creates a student achievement improvement grant program to provide two-year grants to school districts on the academic watch list and other school districts that have the lowest achieving students.


SB2362 would ensure the recent tax amnesty funds received by many school districts will not be included in calculation of available local resources.


SB2810 changes certain formats used to elect school board members.       


SB2732 would establish, subject to appropriations, a three-year technology immersion pilot project to provide a wireless laptop computer to each student, teacher, and relevant administrator in a participating school and implement the use of software, on-line courses, and other appropriate learning technologies that have been shown to improve academic achievement and specified progress measures.  It provides that the State Board of Education shall select 7 (instead of 8) school districts to participate in the pilot project, one located in the City of Chicago, 3 located in the area that makes up of the counties of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, and that portion of Cook County that is located outside of the City of Chicago, and 3 located in the remainder of the State.  The bill is identical to HB4944 which has also passed both houses.


Do you know an outstanding educator?

Illinois is fortunate to have a cadre of distinguished teachers and principals.  These educators are often considered for membership on advisory board and task forces, as well as candidates for special recognition programs.  Recommendations from individuals and administrators such as you help identify educators who are, or will be, of great value to your community and state, and who may also ultimately receive prestigious recognition. 


Do you know of a relatively new educator that is illustrative not only of our state, but the nation’s best?  Whose lessons provide models for others? Who distinguished him/herself above and beyond established top-quality professional in many of our schools?  We are seeking information on talented individuals who are building level personnel with a minimum of five years in education.  They are typically classroom teachers, as opposed to specialists, and are recognized by peers and supervisors as unique in their growth.  Occasionally, a principal or specialist is considered.  Previous recognition is not required.  In fact, of special interest are educators who are outstanding but have not received other recognition.


Please visit and provide CONFIDENTIAL, succinct and specific information regarding one to three candidates.  All questions must be answered.  Please include a one-page narrative with the form that addresses how the candidate meets the criteria mentioned in this letter. Complete information may be mailed to:


                                                Ann Keran

                                                Illinois State Board of Education, S492

                                                100 North First Street

                                                Springfield, Illinois  62777-0001


Recommendations must be received by June 15, 2004.  Please call Public Information at 217/782-4648 if you have questions.


State Police Request for School Site Information

The Illinois State Police is compiling school information from every public and private school in Illinois for the development of a web/CD program accessible by police and fire personnel only.    They are requesting copies of both the public and private school site plans for all schools in Illinois.  This programs platform will enable police and fire to have school site plans immediately available to better respond to any type of situation.  To make data entry manageable and consistent, they would like to get the following information:

1.   School district list of all schools, addresses, and phone numbers for each school

2.   Clearly labeled site plan, emergency plan, or blueprint, 8 1/2 X 11 copy, for each school building in the district.  Include parking lot information if available.

3.   District and County name on the front of the envelope containing the plans and district information.


Please send information to:

Sergeant Michael Ross

500 Iles Park Place, Suite 102

Springfield, IL 62718

Phone: 217-782-3735



This weeks clips are located at