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PES — one-on-one with legislators

(BCR photo/Donna Barker)
Princeton Elementary’s Early Childhood program coordinator Janet Becker (from left) greets State Sen. Darin LaHood, while Superintendent Tim Smith and State Rep. Don Moffitt wait in line, following Monday’s special PES Board meeting. The legislators attended Monday’s special meeting to discuss pending legislation dealing with education and to hear concerns and ideas from the local board and educators.

PRINCETON — Teacher pensions, gun-carrying educators and continued mandates placed upon schools were just three of the topics discussed at a special meeting of the Princeton Elementary Board of Education with State Rep. Don Moffitt and State Sen. Darin LaHood.

Also in attendance at Monday’s special meeting were Princeton High School Superintendent Kirk Haring, PHS Board member Colleen Sailer, and several PES teachers and staff.

PES Board member Steve Bouslog started off the special meeting with a question to the legislators on the status of teacher pension reform, when it could happen, and how local school boards would be impacted by any reform legislation.

Moffitt said he expects to see some kind of progress this spring, possibly a multi-tiered piece of legislation which would be a combination of several proposals currently under consideration. Whatever pension reform legislation is presented, legislators need to make sure the legislation complies with the state constitution, Moffitt said.

LaHood agreed, saying any new pension legislation must be carefully worded and in line with the state constitution. Illinois is the last state to consider pension reform. The bottom line is Illinois has kicked the can down the road and down the road again and again until there is no more road left, LaHood said.

PES Superintendent Tim Smith also brought up the issue of funding, or the lack of it, from the state. PES has lost $600,000 per year since the Hold Harmless funding is no more, plus another $150,000 in lost reading grants and general state aid.

There are too many unfunded mandates and programs placed upon the school districts which may not benefit the school district, Smith said. As an example, the recent 5 Essentials survey was developed by the University of Chicago and does not reflect the downstate, rural districts. The district had a five-day monitoring preschool visit which resulted in comments about the bolts on the playground equipment, he said.

Also, the new Common Core Standards is another issue, Smith said. The new PARRC test, which will be done online for the Common Core standards, will be very costly. The district can’t afford to provide a computer for every two students, he said.

“It sounds good to say we need to improve schools, but we are starving for money to do what we need to do,” Smith said.

Smith also presented Moffitt and LaHood with a list of state contracts and programs which he said adds up to millions of dollars for school districts.

In other discussion, Bouslog asked about pending legislation which would allow teachers to have firearms in school, if the teacher received the necessary training and if the individual school board approves.

LaHood said he has not had anyone from his district tell him that this is the right way to go. At this time, he does not think there is Senate support for such legislation, he said.

Bouslog said he also has concerns about such legislation. In fact, it scares him to death, regardless of how much training a teacher may have, he said.

In his comments on the firearm legislation, Moffitt said what he is hearing most from his constituents is the legislation fails to address the mental health issue, which has to be taken into consideration.

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