I attended the Regular Meeting of the Wilmette Public Schools and the Public Hearing on 2017 Levy on December 18, 2017 at 7:00 PM. The following is my report of those meetings.
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 PM by the Board President Mark Steen. All D39 Board members were present. Mr. Steen noted some procedural changes for the meeting. The Board voted on new procedures designed to allow as many members of the public to comment. In summary, the new procedures limit a speaker to a total of four minutes – three minutes during the first public comment period and one minute during the second public comment period. A member of the public who did not speak during the first public comment period would still get the full three minutes during the second public comment period. These rules were then voted on and approved. The stated purpose of the policy change was to allow as many members of the public to speak while still conducting a productive board meeting.
Mr. Steen also noted that the meeting would be a little unusual as the Board would be adjourning to hold the Public Hearing on the 2017 Levy and then reconvening to complete the Regular Meeting agenda. Mr. Steen requested that members of the public show respect during the public comment periods as everyone is a neighbor. He encouraged people to only speak when recognized and to refrain from other displays such as clapping or booing.
The Board then approved the minutes from the November 13 Regular and Executive Session meetings and approved the following Board policy revisions:
2:230 (Public Participation at Board of Education Meetings and Petitions to the Board)
6:70 (Religious Holidays)
6:80 (Controversial Issues)
6:100 (Resources for Teachers: Animals
6:110 (Truant’s Alternative and Optional Education Programs)
6.120 (Special Education)
6:140 (Education of Homeless Children)
I have appended a copy of the policy changes to this report since they relate to public participation in board meetings.
Adjourn to Public Hearing on 2017 Levy
The Board then moved to adjourn to the public hearing on the 2017 Levy. Dr. Lechner provided an overview including a presentation which provided highlights of the levy process. Ms. Buscemi then provided more details regarding the 2017 Levy.
The Board members then had an opportunity to ask questions of Ms. Buscemi and Dr. Lechner regarding the 2017 Levy Presentation. The questions focused on clarifying assumptions as well as a discussion regarding expense trimming. The Board will be doing a “deep dive” into expenditures in 2018 to determine if there are areas where expenses could be reduced. Mr. Steen reflected that they had a robust conversation.
Mr. Steen then opened the floor for public comments. He reminded the public that this was not a question and answer session. If questions were asked of the board, answers would be provided at a later time. Several members of the public spoke regarding the tax levy. There were also some comments on the school calendar and the band/orchestra program. The speakers generally followed the new policy limiting comments to three minutes (although one speaker did continue speaking when told that time was up) and the other attendees were generally respectful.
Adjourn to Regular Meeting (9:05 PM)
Mr. Steen then made a motion to return to the Regular Meeting of the Board.
The meeting resumed with Board Reports:
o Facility Development Committee Update – the committee covered two topics. First, HMS construction update. Park District has approved and Village approval is next. Bids are due in February 2018 on the first phase of the HMS project. Second, Kindergarten Enrichment and facility needs. An analysis is underway and there will be a report in the spring.
o School Finance Committee Update – committee discussed tax levy and various impacts of different scenarios; also discussed student fees and FY 2019 budget calendar to allow time for public discussion; tax appeals; and containment of excess pension payments. New business – devolving deeper into the district costs – action item for next year; reserve will also be added as an action item.
o Committee of the Whole – discussed written communication policies but did not come to conclusion; current practice is that Board President or Board Secretary respond as soon as possible to written questions; Board members may choose to not respond; the Board is continuing to discuss this issue.
o Community Review Committee – Committee is focusing on personalized learning and what that means to D39.
o Educational Foundation Update – the Foundation had a busy first half of the year including two fundraisers; Science Olympiad under way; trivia night is coming up; 6 Gripp grants for $11,134 gifted back to D39 schools; and annual appeal just went out to supporters.
o Legislative Update – pension obligations and property freeze continue to be the main issues in Springfield. Also noted that D39 Board Member, Tracy Kearney, has been appointed to the TRS Board.
The meeting continued with Information Items presented by Dr. Lechner. The Board received a significant amount of communications regarding the 2017 Levy. Other communications regarded the band program. Dr. Lechner noted that 2018-2019 Kindergarten Registration opens in January and forms are available at elementary schools and will be on line after Winter Break. One FOIA request was also received.
Board Business Discussion
o 2018-2019 Draft School Calendar – will be voted on at the next meeting; Dr. Lechner pointed out the aligning calendar with New Trier drives most of the calendar items.
o Fiscal Year 2019 Student Fees – fees are remaining same other than for 7th Grade fees which will be increased to include IPad insurance.
o Clarifying D39 Teacher Pension Obligations – report was provided by Dr. Lechner based on community questions regarding teacher pensions in particular excess salary payments.
o Property Tax Assessment Appeal Resolutions – two appeals this month – one residential and one commercial.
Second Public Comment Period
Mr. Steen reminded speakers that they have one minute if they previously spoke. Comments were related to: school calendar; band program, NT Township Trustee representative spoke about an upcoming tax appeal process session and reduction of tax levy. Mark Steen was very forceful with enforcement of the one minute requirement for people who spoke during the previous public comment period.
o Consent Agenda – consent agenda items were approved by roll call
Approve the Personnel Report
Approve the Fiscal Year 2019 Student Fees
Approve the Bills for Payment o Adopt the 2017 Levy – approved by roll call with Ms. Kearney voting no.
o Approve the Residential (No. 1712-01) Property Tax Assessment Appeal Resolution – approved by roll call with Ms. Kearney voting no.
o Approve the Commercial (No. 1712-02) Property Tax Assessment Appeal Resolution – approved by roll call with Tracy Kearney voting no.
There were no other meeting topics and the Board adjourned to Executive Session to discuss specific personnel matters. I did not remain for the adjournment of the Regular Meeting after the Executive Session.
Respectfully submitted by Rhona DiCamillo
Present: Mark Steen, President; Frank Panzica, Vice President; Board members: Alice D. Schaff, Jon Cesaretti, Lisa Schneider-Fabes, Tracy Kearney. Absent: Ellen Sternweiler
Significant Topics Discussed:
Public Comment Periods
During the first public comment period, 20 community members addressed the board about extending the 2017 levy. The board’s practice has been to extend the levy each year to the maximum amount allowed by law, which is the combination of CPI and an estimate of new property growth in the Village. 14 community members spoke in favor of extending the levy to keep pace with inflation and 6 spoke in favor of freezing the levy this year. (See below for additional explanation of the tax levy) In the second public comment period 3 additional community members spoke in support of extending the levy.
Three community members also spoke about the instrumental music program. During the October 23 meeting, President Mark Steen suggested that the Board look at the program and whether or not students should be given grades and/or pulled out for sectionals. The community members spoke in support of continuing both practices.
Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Audit
The Auditor presented the annual financial audit. They issued an unmodified opinion on the district’s financial statements. The district is fiscally stable moving forward. They have completed the federal single audit and the ISBE required regulatory report. D39 received a score of 4.0 out of 4 on the financial profile score. The Board members had the following comments: Mr. Cesaretti said he wants to make pension data more accessible to the public so that they can better understand it and asked the auditor if they could work together on this. Mr. Panzica asked if the district’s reserve level affects the ISBE score. The auditor said that 2 of the 5 components are related to reserves – cash on hand and revenue to fund balance ratio. 2018-2019
Draft Student Fees
All fees will remain the same as last year except an increase in 7th grade ipad fee by $10 to include cost of insurance. Of note is that the fee for late bus registration will now be charged only to families who are allowed to register after school has started if there is space available. Families who do not register by this year’s July 13 cut off will not be able to be added to a bus route until September 15.
2018-2019 Solicitation of Bids for Highcrest Addition
The District sought the Board’s approval to go to bid for construction of a 4 classroom addition to Highcrest at an estimated cost of $5,241,212. Board member Mrs. Kearny requested that the cost of air conditioning be broken out separately in the bid as a potential cost saving option. Dr. Lechner said his practice has been to have air conditioning in any new construction/buildings but agreed to having air conditioning broken out.
2017 Fall Assessment Report
Ms. Lee gave a report on assessment results for prior year PARCC and Performance Series testing. This is the final report on Performance Series as the District is now using MAP. The findings from both assessments confirmed that D39 students performed as expected, far exceeding national norms on Performance Series. The number of students meeting or exceeding expectations on PARCC exceeded state norms and were comparable to other New Trier feeder districts. The Board asked that percentages of students exceeding expectations be broken out separately since that is the most relevant measure for District 39 students. They also asked questions about the student growth targets presented by Ms. Lee which she said will be addressed more effectively by MAP. Mr. Panzicka also pointed out that there are notable gender differences in ELA performance with girls significantly outperforming boys. This is an issue that needs to continue to be monitored and a plan provided for closing the gap.
Fiscal year 2017 Levy
Superintendent Dr. Ray Lechner said that he, and the Board of Education, received more than 100 emails both for and against extending the levy. He made a presentation intended to clarify information about the levy for the Board and community members. He explained the levy process, the district’s financial philosophy and illustrated the financial impact of several scenarios, including the state legislature’s consideration of a two-year property tax freeze. Dr. Lechner said that an individual taxpayer’s bills do not change by the percentage change in the District’s levy due to fluctuating property values and the impact of new construction. A change in a taxpayer’s tax bill reflects the change in an individual’s property tax bill relative to the total property value in the district. The district’s philosophy has always been to “live within our means” as much as possible. He said the district is very fiscally responsible with one of the lowest costs per pupil in equivalent districts and the lowest of all New Trier feeders. As much as possible, the District connects expenses to revenue and is one of the only districts to tie employee salary increases to CPI. The district also tries to maintain a fund balance of 30% of total expenditures while other districts target 50%. The financial impact of freezing the levy, combined with a two-year property tax freeze, would cause the fund balance to drop below 30% in three years. By extending the levy, the fund balance can be maintained until 2022 even with a property tax freeze.
Following Dr. Lechner’s remarks, Board members asked questions about the district’s assumptions. Several members discussed the $13.6 million projected capital expense for a 4-phase construction project at Highcrest. Any phase of the project could be cut if state conditions caused a future drop in the fund balance. For several years the District has budgeted for state funding limitations that have not come to fruition. That money has been spent on capital projects, not kept in reserves. However, Dr. Lechner said that the projects, including science labs, Learning Commons and the 1:1 learning program were important to keep the district competitive. The Board said that public attention has resulted in a closer examination of the levy process which is beneficial to the community.
Board Policy Review
The Board was asked to approve the first reading of changes to several Board of Education policies. Mr. Steen noted that Policy 2:230 makes changes to guidelines for public comment at board meetings. Comment time will be reduced to 3 minutes per individual. If an individual chooses to speak in the first comment period and again in the second comment period, they will be accorded 3 minutes in the first and an additional 1 minute in the second period. There will no longer be a limit of 15 minutes per topic. The second reading of this policy will take place at the December board meeting and the Board will vote on its approval. If the policy change is approved the rules will be in effect for the December meeting. Mr. Steen noted that these changes had been discussed and agreed upon by the entire board at the committee of the whole meeting.
Issues Referred to Other Committees or Organizations:
Ms. Kearney suggested that the Board introduce a policy or practice regarding when written communication is included in the board packet. Current practice is to include items submitted to the full board Board that are received by the Friday before the packet is posted. Ms. Kearney noted that she does not think there is a written policy regarding this practice. She noted that Dr. Lechner was not copied on some of the items in this month’s communication and it was noted that any communication to the full board must be included by law. She noted that items a board member forwards to Ray or the President for their review or information should not be included in the packet. She believes a policy is needed so that the public understands the procedure and deadline to have their communication included in the packet. Referred to Committee of Whole
Other Items of Interest:
Votes: The Consent Agenda including the following items was unanimously approved: Approval of the Personnel Report, Acceptance of the Fiscal Year 2017 Audit, Approval of the 2018-2019 Solicitation of Bids for Highcrest Addition, and Approval as a First Reading Revised Board of Education Policies 2:230, 6:70, 6:80, 6:100, 6:110, 6:120 and 6:140.
Next meeting: December 18, 2017
Observer: Anne Sullivan Meeting Length: 3 hours