PEORIA, IL -- The Peoria District 150 School Board at its August 22 meeting voted to increase the time limit for public comments to five minutes. It was cut to three minutes a couple of years ago after the board grew tired of complaints from the public.
Those who regularly comment have been requesting the return of five minutes, and it happened, perhaps because most of the complaints have stopped with the exit of the previous superintendent.
Now here are two more suggestions to improve public access:
- Allow people who want to comment to sign up any time prior to the public comment time, as the Peoria City Council does. That way someone who arrives late can still comment. Now the sign up time stops when the meeting begins.
- Move the comment period up on the agenda. Now it follows presentations by staff members and others, which can drone on and on. While they are imposing time limits, these should be limited to seven or ten minutes. Now they take so much time that the public comments may not happen until nearly two hours into the meetings.
The two of the three public comments on August 22 involved concerns over the new transportation policy, which requires children to walk to school unless they live far away, One commenter, Amr Elsamny, offered to set up a private service of volunteers to drive the kids, but admitted he's been told that liability issues make this idea problematic.
Another commenter, Mary Beth Cunningham, agreed, but added that her son goes to Northmoor and loves it.
Jeff Adkins-Dutro, head of the teacher's union, expressed concern over the 68 teacher vacancies, as well as the $300,000 purchase of a virtual system for some high school classes to replace teachers.
Supt.Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat and board president Martha Ross agreed with his concerns over the vacancies and said they are working hard to fill them. The computerized virtual system may help for now, they said. "We have to be creative," the superintendent said.
Here is a recording of the comments and responses.
The Peoria Journal Star story is here and worth reading for more information about the budget and the tax resolution to be on the ballot in November.
Activist Sharon Crews attended the meeting, and afterwards wrote this commentary:
The following appeared on the Consent Agenda for the Peoria Public Schools Board of Education meeting on August 22, 2016. “A pilot program with Proximity Learning, Inc., for the staffing of four unfilled classroom positions at Manual High School through remote technology. Proposed Action: That the Board of Education approve the professional agreement with Proximity Learning, a national substitute teacher provider, to pilot the staffing of the four unfilled classroom positions at Manual High school through remote technology.
The board voted to postpone their vote on this proposal until the next board meeting.
I, Sharon Crews, would appreciate your input as to whether or not you agree with this proposal. If you would like to influence the board’s decision, please write to board members or speak at the next meeting of the board on September 12, 2016. These are my thoughts on the subject that I have sent to board members and Dr. Kherat:
Please, above all else, let me assure you that I believe in Dr. Kherat’s love for this district and her desire and ability to make it successful for students and teachers. Also, I believe the district now has a board that can help Dr. Kherat in achieving the goals necessary for success. Yes, as you might guess, I am preparing you for my plea, asking you to say “No” to the Proximity Learning pilot program.
Dr. Lathan had hinted at such a plan for dealing with the teacher shortage. I was prematurely happy in believing that the idea had disappeared.
First, since there are currently 68 unfilled teaching positions and the likelihood that the teacher shortage will continue, I fear that this pilot program will be deemed a success without any substantial proof of student achievement. Then, instead of finding ways to recruit qualified teachers, the district will resort to this solution for teacher shortages—one that I believe will completely destroy all hopes of restoring academic standards that have been steadily eroding.
Second, why was Manual chosen for this experiment? All the reasons that come to my mind are very negative.
As you consider your response to this program, please consider first the cost that was estimated at $300,000. Dr. Kherat did take exception to that figure, but it can’t be much less. Please remember that the cost includes not only the salary for the “remote” teacher (who probably won’t be paid all that well) but also, the payment to the Proximity Learning company and the salaries of the subs physically present. Also, consider all the technology that will be required—and more importantly the cost of repairing and replacing the technology—and the teaching time lost when the inevitable equipment failures occur.
I have observed over the last several years how much this district (and districts all over the country) are relying on companies to try to do the work of teachers, counselors, and all who have contact with students. Please consider the very great possibility that these companies are far more interested in profit than in the success of our district. Computers, etc., and these expensive programs aren’t going to restore educational success. Computers or teachers who appear on monitors cannot inspire students who come to the classroom with all the problems for which Derrick Booth has been hired (and I applaud that decision) to help students conquer their roadblocks to learning.
Board members, you proved last night that you are all up to the task of turning this district around. I applaud your voting to pull this issue out for discussion, Dan Walther’s request that the board be given more time to consider this proposal, Dr. Davison-Aviles’ assessment that probably only a teacher can provide, the student board member’s amazing impromptu acknowledgement of the importance of student-teacher relationships to the learning process, and all of you for voting to table the issue.
Using proximity learning to fill four of sixty-eight unfilled teaching positions is not going to make a dent in the current problem; therefore, I have to believe that the program’s purpose is for the reason I suggested above—to fill many more shortages in the future. Please, please direct your attentions and the district’s finances to the recruiting, retention, wellbeing, and academic fulfillment of teachers. Please stop trusting companies whose CEOs are getting rich off of taxpayer money meant to help students, not to line the pockets of opportunists.
Please do not entrust the district’s young people to companies and computer programs. Please give teachers opportunities for relationships that will last as mine have for over a fifty-year span. I am so grateful that District 150 did provide me the support to build these wonderful relationships with students.- 30 -