Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
Broken links:If you encounter links that no longer lead to the desired article, it's still often possible to retrieve them. Most of the linked items include a sentence or more from the original. Copy a section of that text, and type it into Google surrounded by quotes. More often than not, Google will find the article at a revised location.
-- Kevin C. Killion, writer, editor and webmaster


Complete Information for the Community

Checklist of Public Information

    Government school districts are public bodies whose inner workings should be visible to all residents, taxpayers and education consumers. Two powerful tools are available for residents who want to learn about their school districts, namely, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act.

    The Illinois Loop believes that this is only a start. To be truly operating in full candor, a school district should not be waiting for citizen petitions. The following important information should be available up-front, on the district's website as well as readily available for public inspection on-site:

        Board Policies: The collected "board policies" of the school district, including administrative procedures, should be readily available in print and online. In some states this is required by state law. (About 40 Illinois districts have their Board Policies available here.)

        Detailed curriculum standards.
        Syllabus for each course
        Identification of specific textbooks and other major curriculum and instructional materials, by grade and subject
        A list of textbooks and instructional materials used in the district, revised annually by administrators under the Superintendent's direction.
        Anyone may inspect any textbook or instructional material in person, with reasonable rules established for dates and times of access.
        Statement of commitment to intellectual diversity in hiring
        Statement of commitment to balance in treatment of controversial issues

        Results on state tests
        All group and summary tabulations of any standardized tests taken that go beyond the required state tests (e.g., Iowa Test of Basic Skills)
        Percent distribution of teacher-assigned letter grades

        Statement on prohibition on district business with contributors to election or referendum campaigns (pay-for-play).

      Budget and Spending
        Detailed budget (not merely the very brief outline that is required by the state)
        The district check register, showing all payments

        Complete CV for key administrators, including the superintendent and assistant superintendents, curriculum directors, and school principals. These are the people who run your children's school. You should be able to read information on who they are.
        Contracts with key administrators
        Salaries and bonuses of key administrators
        Negotiated union contracts
        Teacher salary schedule
        District's Master Schedule
        Breakout of degrees earned by teachers, categorized by degree subject and awarding departments.
        Degrees awarded by ed schools should be reported separately from degrees awarded by other college departments.
        Ed school Ed.D. degrees should be reported separately from Ph.D.'s.
        Identification of hired or retained educational consultants, facilitators, workshop presenters and contractors, including names and web site addresses.


        School Board meetings
        Notice and agenda of upcoming board meetings
        Complete copies of "board packets" (documents provided to board members at each meeting)
        Minutes, taken in sufficient detail to understand each issue in question, the nature of various stated positions, and resolution
        Minutes should be taken by someone other than a school administrator or other board employee

      If a committee or task force was created by and is responsible to a primarily public body (e.g., a school district), then it itself is also considered a public body and is thus subject to the Open Meetings Act.
        Notice and agenda of upcoming committee meetings
        Names and email addresses of participants, including board members, district employees, and local citizens
        Identification of leader or facilitator(s)
        Detailed minutes of meetings
        All documents distributed at meetings

        Teacher workshops and in-service programs
        Full descriptions of content, facilitators, speakers
        Dates and time alloted
        All materials distributed
        Budget information on related expenditures, outside speakers and suppliers
        Video or audio tape should be available for viewing by board members (at least!) as well as by parents and citizens

        E-mail addresses for all board members. This may be an address for each member individually, or a "group address" such that a single mailing goes to all board members. Unfortunately, some districts have been known to go to great lengths to shelter their board members from hearing public comments!
        Public surveys: If any public surveys are conducted or commissioned by the district, the complete results, rather than carefully excerpted tidbits, should be available in print and online.

      Student-Specific Information for Parents (password protected)
        A general description of what is happening in each class: current unit or topic
        Current long-term assignments, plus goal and description of any major project
        Student status: grades, homework completion

Movement To Open Disclosure

  • Not a PR pro? How To Successfully Talk To Your Local District About Putting Its Checks Online by Peyton Wolcott. "Generally we start out assuming our dealings with our school districts will be a rational exercise. Most of us are volunteers and in addition to our taxes give generously to our children's schools. Then when we spend a lot of time there, we notice things. Years ago I myself felt sure that if I showed my local supe and board where money was being wasted in some areas and not adequately safeguarded in others that they would welcome this information with open arms and changes would be made on the spot. Hah! Imagine my surprise when they reacted as though to a personal attack when I was just trying to help. ... This is why I have come to the conclusion after years in the grassroot trenches that the best and most effective single step we can take to help our districts reign in costs and improve our vendor-driven curriculums in order to better educate our kids is to persuade our schools to post their check registers online."

  • "Post the check registers on the Internet. Let the people see where the $20 billion is being spent."
    Creating Smart Education in Illinois? A First Step ... Post the Check Registers by Adam Andrzejewski, Executive Director, For The Good Of Illinois, February 6, 2008. The Illinois State Board of Education and the 924 school districts in Illinois need to take simple, yet direct action to preserve the public trust: Post the check registers on the Internet. Let the people see where the $20 billion is being spent. ... Under current Illinois law, all information is currently available to the public by way of the Freedom of Information Act. The Internet just provides ready and ease of access. There is minimal cost or expense for posting the check registers. Check registers are electronic documents and only have to be converted into a PDF document. Posting time to the Internet is minimal: creating the PDF and posting can be accomplished in less than five minutes. Post the check registers."

  • National School District Honor Roll by Peyton Wolcott. "Alarmed at declining standards and fueled by rumors of corruption, parents and citizens have begun filing public records requests to view [school district] checks and receipts and have been generally rebuffed in this undertaking by administrators ... The quickest and fastest way to slice through this Gordion knot is for public school districts to start posting their check registers online. To encourage this, I have instituted the National School District Honor Roll ... Any district that will undertake to do this gets their name on the roll on my website. It's hard to imagine any superintendent in our great republic being able to come up with a decent reason for not wanting their district's financial operations to be perceived by their parents and taxpayers as being completely clean and transparent, sooner rather than later."

  • Full Disclosure Is Bad News For The Public School's Big Spenders, Family Taxpayer Network, January 24, 2007. It's that time again when school districts around the state cry poor and go begging to the taxpayers for more money. Well, it's not quite begging anymore. Nowadays they actually threaten the taxpayers. If they don't belly up to the bar, the 'it's for the kids' sentiment becomes 'do what we want or we'll punish the kids.' Years ago, school districts would argue that higher taxes and higher spending would bring about better schools. Today, their only argument is a more honest one: if overburdened taxpayers don't give them even more money they'll make the schools worse. Special programs -- art, music, and of course athletic programs -- are all on the chopping block if the citizens don't do what the bureaucrats and school board lemmings tell them to do. ...
         "There is a movement around the country to force government bodies to submit to full disclosure, and some governments -- even school districts -- have agreed to post their check registers online. Have these 'under-funded' school districts provided evidence of wise spending? Have they posted all the details of all the employee contracts -- including those of administrators -- on the web? More people are becoming aware of the fact that many school boards prefer to keep some of the perks and some of the details of the benefit packages away from the public eye, since the scale of their generosity with money earmarked for educating kids would rouse ire on the part of the taxpayers."

  • District 15 Opens Its Books: Board Agrees to Put District Documents Online and in Libraries by Nadia Malik, Daily Herald, November 10, 2005. In an effort to increase its transparency, the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board agreed Wednesday to place several documents on its Web site. Teacher salary schedules, the packets the board receives before meetings and a full budget will all be available to the public without having to file a request through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents will also be available at the Rolling Meadows, Palatine and Barrington public libraries, which all sit in the district's jurisdiction. ... The board also recently decided to start taping its meetings, which have been playing on public access television in Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Rolling Meadows. ... These same tapes will also be placed in all three libraries."

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