This is one of the longest stories I’ve ever written, but it’s a story that ends in real consequences for one of the school districts I cover, and one you’re not hearing in major Chicago media outlets’ coverage of the possible Sears EDA extension.
“EDA is not the way.”
Allison Strupeck, director of communication services in Community Unit School District 300 admitted, “I’ve been thinking a little too much about what the slogans might be.”
Those are slogans Strupeck said she hopes to see and hear soon around the Carpentersville-area school district as it treads into uncharted waters to stop the extension of the EDA — economic development area — special property tax status around Sears’ Prairie Stone corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates.
District 300 is working with students, staff, parents, community groups and legislators to remove an amendment to Illinois Senate Bill 540 that would extend the EDA past its expiration in mid-2012. That’s because those tax incentives hand about $14 million in tax dollars each year that would go to District 300 instead to the EDA generally bordered by I-90, Route 72, Beverly Road and Prairie Stone Parkway, school district officials say.
“This is unusual in a way, for our part, to take a political side, but we are at a point right now where we are desperate,” Superintendent Michael Bregy said. “And because of what happened in the past with the Sears EDA being placed onto a bill and, at the 11th hour, almost being passed without any knowledge of our school district, we have taken a very vocal position in the issue because we have not been asked to be at the table.”
Bregy made those comments at a school board meeting earlier this month during which the board approved a contract with attorney Scott Nemanich of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP to act as governmental relations counsel to the district.
Also at that meeting, the school board created its first-ever Board Legislative Committee, chaired by board members Steve Fiorentino and Susie Kopacz. The panel has named four legislative priorities, although it first is focused on Senate Bill 540 because, Kopacz said, “time is of the essence.”
Senate Bill 540 was filed by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton in February and passed the Illinois House in May. In July, it was referred to the Senate’s veto session, where it will come up for a vote in October, according to district officials.
“Really, all we’re asking them to do is wait,” Strupeck said. “The rush is an artificial rush — it’s a scare tactic. All we want them to do is have enough concern to put the brakes on this.”
Sears Holdings Corp. announced in May it was considering moving its Hoffman Estates headquarters out of Illinois, should its property tax incentives come to an end after 23 years.
And Gov. Pat Quinn said in May that his Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had been reviewing a possible renewal for tax incentives for the company. Cullerton said last month he would work to bring that legislation to a vote in the veto session.
“It’s not that anybody is against Sears. Our own parents in our district work at Sears. We’re not drawing a line in the sand against Sears,” Bregy said.
“We absolutely understand when the EDA was developed 23 years ago, there was a time and place for the EDA, and we want to respect the development that has happened over the past 23 years. But that time has come, and we believe that area can no longer be considered an economically deprived area and that school money that has been provided for Sears should be coming to the school district as outlined in the agreement with its expiration.”
Sears employs 6,200 people at its 200-acre Prairie Stone campus, within both the EDA and District 300 boundaries. No District 300 students live in that sliver of the district, according to Strupeck, and she did not believe any voters do, either.
The Board Legislative Committee now has three members — Kopacz, Fiorentino and Strupeck — and room for up to 10 more: an additional administrator, up to three community members, a student representative from each of the district’s three high schools and a representative from each of its three unions. Board President Anne Miller is reviewing several applications for the committee.
At its second meeting on Monday, the committee and nine potential members worked through with the district’s new governmental relations counsel on how involved District 300 can be with community groups in “taking a political side.”
“We’re spinning our minds, trying to figure out what’s OK here, because we need to figure it out quickly,” Fiorentino said.
District 300 already has met with many state legislators, as well as representatives of other taxing bodies it believes are affected by the EDA, Strupeck said. And several state senators have responded to the hundreds of letters Bregy and Miller hand-signed and sent to every senator.
The district has gotten a “good reception” from those it has spoken with, District 300 CFO Cheryl Crates said earlier this month. But, she added, legislative action at the state level is like sausage: “You never know what you’re going to come out with.”
The committee also agreed Monday to have Nemanich draw up a resolution against the extension of tax incentives in Hoffman Estates that will be passed on to the school board.
The board plans to vote on that resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday — the same night the village of Algonquin is set to vote on its own resolution “supporting involvement of Community Unit School District 300 in Sears Economic Development Area discussions.” That resolution passed through the Algonquin Village Board’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.
Nemanich said he also would look into whether the district can send links to online petitions by community groups or allow a paper petition to be passed at schools. And he encouraged community groups, such as Advance 300 and parent-teacher organizations at District 300 schools, to get involved.
“They can do things we can’t do,” he said. “Likewise, the board of education can’t send them money.”
Advance 300 first pushed for two referendums in District 300 in 2006. Since then, chairperson Nancy Zettler of Algonquin said, “every time there’s a major issue, there’s been an incarnation of parents that get involved.”
“We get together and do what we can to drive opinion one way or another.”
The community group first began discussing the legislation with the district in March, Zettler said. It spent the summer attending meetings with district representatives and legislators, sending Freedom Of Information Act requests to the village of Hoffman Estates and “investigating what’s really going on.”
“In the next couple of weeks, we should be hitting the ground running as far as getting out information,” she said.
Zettler, a retired lawyer, said the group has had a harder time getting that information from the village. She is one of four District 300 parents who announced this week their FOIA requests for information about the EDA had been “preliminarily denied” by Hoffman Estates.
“I filed my FOIAs because as a parent and taxpayer in District 300, I would like to know how the property tax dollars were spent by Sears and Hoffman Estates — Hoffman Estates in particular — over the past 21 years,” said Kathleen Burley of Algonquin.
And it’s not just parents siding politically with District 300. Kelsey Moss, a senior at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, was one of the hopefuls who attended Monday’s meeting.
The 17-year-old Algonquin resident began getting involved when the school board voted last year to lay off 363 teachers — all since recalled — to balance its budget, she said.
“We can yell and scream about the teachers being laid off, but if we don’t have the money to hire them, there isn’t much the board can do,” Moss said.
The $14 million the district loses to the EDA could pay for 250 teachers each year, Strupeck noted.
Before the veto session, District 300 will hold an informational meeting for the public about the legislation, at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13, in the gymnasium at Westfield Community School, 2100 Sleepy Hollow Road, Algonquin. Kopacz said she hopes to see the same turnout that packed the gym when the school board voted there to lay off the 363 teachers.
District representatives also plan to visit Springfield to talk to legislators about the effect of the EDA on the school district.
“I want to make it very clear that we have a story to tell in our school district to a lot of representatives,” Bregy said.
“If you just look at the last two years, we have collectively — all employees — cut $14 million from our school budget. And we are at a place where there is nowhere else to go. We have cut just about everything we can cut. If we do not take a very strong action against what is happening without our consultation and negotiation, it will be our students who are at a loss, and it is at a time right now where we are protecting the best interest of our students,” Bregy said.
Copyright 2011, The Courier-News. All rights reserved.
ELGIN — Elgin Community College President David Sam says the Burlington site the school has chosen for its planned Public Safety and Sustainability Center is the “best location for everything.”
Sam’s comments to The Courier-News editors followed Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall’s remark last month that it “remains to be seen” whether Elgin emergency responders will use the planned training facilities at that site.
Elgin Fire Capt. Robb Cagann also had said last month that sending on-duty Elgin firefighters to train to Huntley in the past “effectively stripped the city of having those firefighters available, should a larger emergency have happened.”
The training facilities in Huntley and the site in Burlington both are about 15 miles away from Elgin’s fire station at 550 Summit St.
But, Sam said, “We are a 360-square-mile district, and what we know is that we have to serve the whole district.”
This week was Fall TV Time! Or whatever it is it’s called. TV premiere week. Or the start of the new TV season, I guess.
You can tell I don’t watch that much TV. I don’t even have cable — just Season Two of Mad Men on DVD and a fondness for Saturday morning cooking shows on PBS.
But I did tune in for one premiere: New Girl, 9/8 Central Tuesdays on FOX.
It was a little awkward, as most pilots are, but it had some good lines about “reverse Mormons” (I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t used that one before… don’t ask why…) and a “stripper with a heart of gold.” That last one hit me funny because I’m pretty sure one of my former roommates owns the domain name hookerwithaheartofgold.com. Or she did at one point, at least. I’m also pretty sure another of my former roommates is actually Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jess. Which, considering the premise of the show is Jess moving in to an apartment full of men, might actually make me a man.
While we’re on the subject, how do I love thee, Zooey Deschanel? Let me count the ways…
Elgin Community College saw it coming, according to Amy Perrin, the college’s director of financial aid and scholarships.
High unemployment rates, students’ outsized expectations of how much money they might make after obtaining a college degree, new government calculations of default rates on federal student loans — all have contributed to a rising default rate on those loans, Perrin said.
But not at ECC.
While the number of college students who defaulted on their federal student loans climbed nationwide in the fiscal year that ended in September 2008, it went down at the community college. That’s according to new government data released earlier this month.
“We saw it coming down the line — the default rates up because of the change in calculations. That’s been coming down the pike. I’ve known for a year and a half now,” Perrin said.
“As soon as I heard that, I knew we needed some” financial counseling for our students, she said.
That’s why the community college this year began requiring students to meet with a financial advisor before taking out a student loan, she said.
ALGONQUIN — Community Unit School District 300 talked again this week about a proposed schedule that would lengthen the school day for its high school students — this time with about 50 community members at a public forum at Jacobs High School.
People at Monday’s gathering were equal parts district staff and parents, as well as a handful of students, according to a poll Assistant Superintendent for High School Ben Churchill took during the meeting “the old-fashioned way” — by show of hands.
Churchill said District 300 also has gotten “lots of phone calls, lots of emails” about the proposed schedule. Officials have met with student and staff groups, and discussed the plan informally with neighbors in their driveways and students and teachers in their hallways.
“You’ve already given us a lot of things to think about,” he said.
Students asked Monday if twice as many classes meant twice as much homework (Churchill’s answer: “The amount of work is the same. It’ll be spread out more.”).
They also asked if the proposed schedule would change graduation requirements (no, according to Churchill) or if it was true the school day would start 20 minutes earlier (probably 10, because the new schedule means twice as many passing periods, he said).
Parents and staff asked how the proposed schedule would better align with the Common Core Standards for curriculum and new assessments the state of Illinois is adopting. (The new assessments likely will occur throughout the year, rather than with “one high-stakes test” each year, and the new schedule would lessen gaps between courses students would be tested on, Churchill said.)
They suggested looking into online textbooks so students wouldn’t have to lug home twice as many books and maybe keeping the four-block schedule for juniors and seniors. And they noted that fewer breaks between classes is beneficial for students with attention problems.
“We’ve been talking about the eight-period day for quite some time — the last seven months,” District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy said.
ELGIN — Alina Fernandez may have been a toddler in 1959, but she said she remembers “sitting quietly in my little rocking chair with my diaper and pacifier when the cartoon I was watching on TV disappeared.”
“Uncle Scrooge, his nephews and Mickey Mouse” were replaced on Cuban television by a “hairy man” whose first televised speech was seven hours long, Fernandez said.
She remembers when that man “stepped out of TV and showed up in my living room.”
And she remembers when she was 10 years old, she learned that man — former Cuban leader Fidel Castro — was her father, she said.
More than 250 people packed Elgin Community College’s Advanced Technology Center Auditorium Tuesday to hear Fernandez share tales of growing up in her native Cuba, including her memories of her father. Her appearance was organized by the Organization of Latin American Students, part of the celebration of Latino Heritage Month at the college.
WEST DUNDEE — Thursday’s sixth-grade language arts class at Dundee Middle School started with five minutes for students to write freely on a topic in their journals.
Teacher Kristine Pizzolato brought up a five-minute timer on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Meantime, co-teacher Judy Yuvan wrote out the writing topic on the chalkboard:
“Describe a place where people congregate. Do you know what ‘congregate’ means?”
Pizzolato added, “Use your senses. What do you see, hear, smell?”
It’s not all that different from the way Pizzolato and Yuvan have taught the last few years, before they became co-teachers, both agreed.
They shared the same classroom at Dundee Middle years ago, Yuvan said, when teachers outnumbered classrooms at the school. And Yuvan, the learning disabilities teacher on Pizzolato’s sixth-grade teaching team, always has sat in on the other teacher’s classes with the students who are part of her caseload, she said.
Only now it’s official, she said, pointing to a class schedule stuffed into one student’s binder. The schedule listed General Math, followed by both Pizzolato and Yuvan’s names.
And it’s one of Community Unit School District 300’s priorities for the new school year shared with staff by the district’s Teaching and Learning Leadership Team at last month’s rally before the start of the 2011-12 year.
It was funny (Nicole’s face, the unauthorized baby shower-looking pew bows, Jeremy and Annie massacring their cake as badly as Joel and I did) and grand (Annie’s costume change, the Hummer limo, the live band, how many bottles of champagne?) and just a tiny bit emotional (my lip definitely was a-trembling during the bride’s processional).
And it was my duty as matron of honor to put all those things into a speech. It’s not nearly as epic as Annie’s speech at my wedding earlier this summer, and I was NERVOUS, but I think it turned out OK…
My sister is a tough act to follow… which is why I generally try not to. And when I got married earlier this summer, I thought I’d succeeded.
Then I realized that meant I’d have to follow the maid-of-honor speech she gave at my wedding. And it was epic. Everybody still is talking about it.
So I started thinking about what I possibly could say about my sister, and my first thought was, “Ooh, I could Google ‘maid of honor speech for sisters.’” But then, that’s what Annie did when she wrote my speech. Also, she stole our funniest childhood memory. It involves me yelling “DOOOG!” and the two of us running for our lives up a hill and it’s really funny, I promise you, but I can’t use it now. I cannot even quote “Anchorman.” So I don’t know what to tell you.
I briefly considered just using her speech and flipping the names around, which totally would have worked except for the part when Annie said she had a really adorable baby. No pressure. I will concede you have a really, really, really adorable baby. But, to that, I will say: I have eight hours of uninterrupted sleep at night.
So then I just gave up and Googled “matron of honor speech,” which is totally different than Googling “maid of honor speech.”
I don’t know if you used BridesmaidWords.com, but literally on this website, you put in the bride and groom’s names, and it spits out a speech. It suggested I start like this:
“It’s great to see all of you here to celebrate the wedding of my sister, Annie, and Jeremy. Yes, I AM her sister, although you’ve seen us side by side you would never know it, since I tower over her by at least 12 inches.”
Mmm. Mmm-hmm. I have not been taller than my little sister in, I don’t know, probably 20 years.
So how would I describe my sister? Well, apparently, there was a time neither of us can remember when we didn’t get along so well. Not long after Annie was born, my parents had her lying on the floor — 8 pounds, 6 ounces, newborn baby Annie, don’t even know a word yet — and I came up and stomped on her head.
We do get along now — or at least, I wouldn’t try to stomp on her head now. In my mind, Annie is legend. She is not even kind of a big deal.
She is really, really, really, REALLY good-looking. She always was the cute one — even after I stomped on her head. I am also, according to The Google, supposed to comment on how incredible my sister looks on her wedding day. OK, she looks incredible every day. After delivering her baby, the nurse commented she was the prettiest mother anyone ever had seen at the hospital. She had just had a baby! She was on drugs! That is how pretty she is!
And she is smart. She up and got her Master’s degree. She is not just the cute one, she also is the smart one. I don’t know what that makes me. But I know that makes Jeremy a very lucky man.
She’s also just a lot of fun. She makes me laugh harder than almost anyone, like the time she put the waterwings on her feet in the pool when we were little. Try and picture it. It was really funny. We’ve seen some really great concerts together: We ended up in the front row of a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden. I do not know how that happened, but I suspect it has to do with her good looks. We saw Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field on her birthday this year. In one concert, we saw Ringo Starr, Richard Marx and Gary Wright.
Now here’s the part where I give you an inspirational quote to bring it all home, maybe some marital advice, since I’ve been married now for all of four months, which clearly makes me an expert. So here goes: This is a quote from a well-known scientist. His name is Dr. Ian Malcolm, and he said, “When the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned about marriage in there. Like, it’s OK if you break down once in a while, just don’t tear each other apart.
Annie, thank you for being my sister. You’re my best friend, and I’m so proud of you. You’re a clever girl.
And Jeremy, and the boys, I will toast you as my sister toasted my husband: “I welcome to you our hilariously awkward family. It’s going to be good times. Please take care of my little sister.”
“I really hope Emily (McFarlan) Miller sees this too, because she’s a reporter on the schools beat in a Chicago suburb here who consistently does most of these things and does them well. No doubt about it, she works hard, but I think she would say that it pays off. And of course she’s not the only example. … But this guy makes it sound like anyone able to pull this off is some sort of freak of nature or doesn’t exist.”—
Thanks, Anna. That’s one of the nicest things anybody ever did say about me… in the comments on one of the most egregious examples of -just-doesn’t-get-it in new media (not written by Anna — Anna is a getter of it).
ELGIN — Channing Memorial Elementary School in Elgin is in violation of the parent involvement requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
ISBE’s findings were presented to the Elgin School District U46 Board of Education by Channing parent Krista Badani at Monday night’s regular board meeting.
Badani, of Elgin, is one of 59 parents who filed a complaint with ISBE in February that the school was not involving parents, a requirement to receive federal Title I funds. That was after “parents did everything within our means to bring attention to the problems and get the district to comply with these federal guidelines,” she said.
“U46 has all sorts of committees and written policies and beautiful words on paper like, ‘Parents are our partners,’ and ‘Our goals are to increase communication and advocacy through family and community engagement.’ But your actions show otherwise and it is getting in the way of kids getting a good education at our school and parents helping them to get there,” Badani told the board.
ELGIN — Sitting cross-legged in the grass, eating a picnic lunch while watching 35 alpacas grazing in their pens nearby, these Dundee-Crown High School students weren’t in Carpentersville anymore.
The 15 art students who came to the Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm, at 39W856 McDonald Road on the southwest edge of Elgin, got an opportunity Wednesday not only to see the shaggy-haired alpacas up close but also to create art projects with fiber artist Susan Waldron.
Dundee-Crown was the first of three high schools in Carpentersville-area Community Unit School District 300 to visit the farm this week. The visits have been made possible by a Visiting Artist Grant from the District 300 Foundation for Educational Excellence.
“It’s showing students a whole new world. A lot of them had never seen an alpaca,” said Waldron, who owns the farm with her husband.
Dundee-Crown senior Ashley Brooks, 17, of Algonquin, was so excited about the visit that she researched the differences between alpacas and llamas, she said. Llamas, Brooks said, are more than twice the size of alpacas and bred as pack animals — “kind of fierce” compared to the gentle, softer Suri alpacas at Waldron Grove.
But alpacas still spit, Brooks said. That’s a fact she learned not from her research but when 17-year-old Kelly Tracey of Algonquin went to pet an uninterested alpaca, and Dundee-Crown art teacher Kim Fuller was standing in range.
“I think it’s really awesome, because we all live in the suburbs,” said Brandon Rohlwing, 17, of West Dundee. “The most exotic animal we see is a squirrel. We don’t really get to work in different mediums like this.”
After touring the farm, Waldron showed students how she cards the animals’ soft black, brown and white hair, or “fiber,” and spins it on a spinning wheel. She dyes that fiber by hand, then uses it to create clothing or tapestries by felting.
The artist does felting in one of two ways, she said. Dundee-Crown students tried needle felting Wednesday — punching different colors of fiber with a needle, causing microscopic barbs in the fiber to hook to a piece of felt.
They made tapestries of a rainbow-colored cupcake, an elephant, a cat, a plate of sushi, and various swirls and designs. The howling wolf by 17-year-old Nina Mandile of Algonquin drew a crowd, the long alpaca fibers making it seem even more realistic.
“Our kids are just amazing,” Dundee-Crown art teacher Kate Norkus said. “What they do — they inspire me.”
The workshops were made possible by the second Visiting Artist Grant from the D300 Foundation, funded by $2,000 from Target in West Dundee, according Diane Magerko, the foundation’s performing and fine arts chair.
Each workshop is limited to about 15 to 20 students, Fuller said. At Dundee-Crown, she and Norkus chose to bring seniors who have taken five or six art classes and been involved in its art club, she said.
The benefit of the Visiting Artist Grant, Norkus said, is students get to see “the whole process — not just the finished work. They see where it comes from.”
And, Fuller said, “They get to see an artist at work and try their techniques and learn how to make it as an artist if that’s what they want to do.”
The D300 Foundation’s first Visiting Artist Grant two years ago had brought a Chicago painter who used movement, music and found materials to Hampshire, according to Fuller.
Since it was founded in 2002, the foundation has awarded nearly $500,000 in local education grants to enhance and extend learning opportunities in all District 300 schools. Those grants are funded by private donations and special fundraisers, according to the foundation.
“The budgets are cut so much in the arts,” Magerko said. “You have to look and find a way to be creative.”
Waldron had been an art teacher in Winfield briefly (“100 years ago”), then an interior designer, she said.
She and her husband, Ron Waldron, began raising alpacas about eight years ago as something to do in their retirement — first as a hobby, then as breeders, she said. Working with the animals, her love of nature, her background in art — all came together, she said, and that’s when she began felting with alpaca fiber.
She still teaches art classes sometimes, she said, but to adults. After meeting Waldron at an art show, Magerko approached her about leading workshops for high school students.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Waldron said. But added, “They’re loving it. They really are doing beautifully.”
Like Waldron, art student Brooks said, her visit to the Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm brought together a number of her interests. She loves animals and, after that, she loves art, she said. She made a tapestry of a parrot against a tropical blue sky Wednesday and plans to study zoology in college.
“It’s really cool that she opened up her studio and let high school students do this. Obviously, none of us would get to do this if she hadn’t invited us,” Brooks said.
“This is seriously the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life.”
Copyright 2011, The Courier-News. All rights reserved.