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Stand up for local control of our schools

Published: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Note to readers: Thirty-three public school superintendents from across Illinois collaborated on the following letter to the editor. Among them are Tad Everett of Sterling Public Schools, Michael Juenger of Dixon Public Schools, and Gregory Lutyens of East Coloma-Nelson Elementary School.

As superintendents of school districts representing more than 213,000 students across Illinois, we are acutely aware of how important it is to have lawmakers in Springfield who stand up for local control.

All too often, the General Assembly approves unfunded mandates that prevent local districts from exercising discretion on their own school budgets and add to the day-to-day responsibilities of us, our principals, and our teachers.

Examples during this legislative session include bills that require districts to include storm shelters in any new buildings, to teach the history of organized labor in history classes, and to require all students to receive training on cardiopulmonary resuscitation and using automated external defibrillators.

While those bills address important topics, they cost precious resources that school districts cannot spare, and they impede on local control by school board members.

That’s why we were pleased that state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia introduced bipartisan legislation, House Bill 4237, to restrict the ability of the state Charter School Commission to overturn decisions by local elected school boards regarding charter school applications.  

From our perspective, local voters, taxpayers, and parents should have the ultimate say on whether or not a new public school (charter) opens in their city. Charter public schools make sense in some communities and not in others; nevertheless, it ought to be left to voters to decide this. HB 4237 guarantees local control when it matters most.

We were pleased to see LaVia’s bill survive a procedural move, and we encourage the bill’s new sponsor, Rep. Sandra Pihos and her bipartisan co-sponsors, to move this bill forward.

We also urge all members of the General Assembly to reconsider the bill and its intent to protect local control and keep decisions about charter schools where they belong – in our neighborhoods and in our communities.

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