District News Roundup
Members of the Chicago school board receive expense checks of $300 per month, although the payments appear to violate an Illinois law forbidding school-board members to be compensated for their work.
Section 34-4 of the school code of Illinois says that "board members shall serve without compensation," according to Julia Q. Dempsey, legal advisor to the Illinois State Board of Education.
But according to the district's financial-administration office, the district allocated $39,600 for monthly expenditures to 11 Chicago school-board members last year. The money was listed under "contingent expenditures for members of board in conduct of official duties."
At the end of each year, the district reports the payments to the Internal Revenue Service as "miscellaneous income," according to the district's finance office.
"Lump-sum advances, which are characterized as expense money, that do not have to be accounted for are equivalent to compensation" and in violation of the state code, Ms. Dempsey said. A court case in Georgia, she said, found that lump-sum payments made in a district there were in violation of a similar law.
"I'm not saying that it is not possible for the expenses to actually amount to $300 per month, but the use of the funds should be accounted for," said Ms. Dempsey.
The payments first went into ef-fect in 1974 based on a legal opinion from the board's attorney that payments would not violate state law, according to the board's current attorney, Patricia J. Whitten.
Now the board, reacting to what Ms. Whitten called "unjustified attention from the news media," has asked Ms. Whitten to "revisit the whole question" and provide an opinion.
The Tampico (Ill.) Board of Education late last month called for a statewide moratorium on education to draw attention to problems facing school districts caught short by underfunding of their programs.
Last week, leaders of the 478-student district sent a letter to school superintendents throughout the state, as well as to every building principal, student council, and parent-teacher organization, urging them to close schools on May 17 and meet on the steps of the state capitol to protest declining state support for schools.
Although state statutes say that education is primarily a state responsibility, "since 1976, the state contribution to schools has been decreasing, while local contributions have been increasing," the letter says. It argues that by not meeting its commitment to students, the state is "shortchanging" their future.
"This year, we've had to cut library resources and guidance and combine classes. In the past, we've had to cut arts programs," said Warren A. Baugher, principal of Tampico High School and the leader of the moratorium movement.
"The state has left us with two possibilities," he said. "We can drop programs or cut staff and have fewer teachers take on more assignments, teaching larger classes," he said.
He said that state funds constitute about 38 percent of the budgets of Illinois' more than 1,000 districts.
About half of the Seattle parents and nonparents surveyed in a poll conducted last month said they would enroll their child in private school if they could afford the cost.
The poll, which was commissioned by The Seattle Times and conducted by Communication Design, a local research firm, questioned 300 parents and 100 nonparents, according to Stuart Elway, president of the firm. The respondents, who were randomly selected and interviewed over the telephone, responded to questions on the state of American education.
Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they would put their child in private school if they could afford it. Of parents of preschool children, 53 percent said they fa-vored private schools, Mr. Elway said.
Of all the respondents surveyed, only 6 percent rated their area public schools as "excellent"; 18.3 percent found them "very good." Analyzed separately, the responses of those parents whose children attend school were more favorable, with 18 percent rating the schools "excellent" and 35 percent rating them "very good," according to Mr. Elway.
More than one-third of all the public-school parents surveyed said their children's school did not put enough emphasis on "basic education," he said. Only 2 percent of private-school parents agreed.
Asked what they thought should be done to improve education, 19 percent said funding should be increased; 12 percent said parents should be more involved with the schools; 11 percent suggested better discipline; and another 11 percent recommended more basic instruction. Only 9 percent recommended raising teachers' salaries.
Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said a racial and cultural mix among students is important, Mr. Elway said. Forty-five percent of the private-school parents said such a mix was important.