Senate bill to reduce rules in Urbana Public Schools

By Katie Heinz

Urbana public schools might have better representation and assistance from the state after the Illinois State Board of Education reduces the number of rules and regulations placed on schools. The board has less than three months to reduce the current 2,800 pages of rules and regulations.

Gene Amberg, superintendent of Urbana School District 116, said he hopes the reduction will have positive effects on Urbana preschools.

“It sounds like they have the goal of pushing hard for preschool programs,” Amberg said, “and we have a strong preschool program.”

The Oct. 21 announcement for the rules reduction comes just a month after Governor Rod Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 3000, also known as the Education Reform and Accountability Act of 2004. The bill shifted the focus of the ISBE from regulating school districts to improving education of students.

Under the act, the board can now be held accountable to the governor, legislators, school districts, parents and children. Blagojevich also hired seven new board members, a new chairman and an interim superintendent.

Rebecca Rausch, press secretary for the governor, said that with the large amount of rules in place, the board was too focused on regulation. The governor decided the problems and complications schools faced could not continue, and they needed to be fixed as soon as possible, Rausch said.

“The board was focusing more on regulating schools and less on the real problems (the schools) face.”

Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the ISBE, said the board was tasked with “cutting through the red tape.” They reduced bureaucracy, figuring out how to get more money to schools while creating an “innovative” proposal that will make things easier for schools. Watts said because of the amount of rules in place, the board was seen as a roadblock for many schools.

“It’s not just about making life easier, but opening the lines of communication between the state board and the school districts,” Watts said.

One way the ISBE is trying to “open the lines of communication” is through its Web site, which allows people to e-mail suggestions for ways the rules could be changed. Watts said the response has been strong.

“It’s like they’ve just been wanting to tell someone (their concerns),” Watts said.

One example of the bureaucracy faced by schools is approval of the academic calendar every year. Schools have to submit their academic calendar to regional offices of education as well as the ISBE. Watts said that in smaller districts, procedures such as this take away from teachers’ time in the classroom if there is not enough staff.

“It’s about not taking time away from the kids,” Watts said. “The bottom line is to make things better for the kids.”

Rausch said the ISBE hopes the reduction of rules will remedy issues such as helping schools correct errors in report cards and getting rid of the backlog of teacher certifications.

“I think it’ll really impact local school districts,” Rausch said.

Preston Williams, Urbana School District 116 deputy superintendent, said one of the issues he would like the ISBE to address is the issue of residency – the fact that a child can attend school in an area where his parents or guardians are not living.

Williams said he is also concerned with unfunded mandates like the No Child Left Behind Act and the age at which a student can drop out of school. Williams said he is positive about the new board and its proposals, but he does not know how District 116 will be affected.

“I’m sure it will certainly have some merit,” Williams said. “Only time will tell what will and won’t happen as it relates to the new stipulations.”