Grayslake Elementary District 46's relationship with a paid consultant who has given questionable, publicized awards to schools is among the issues five board candidates have addressed with varying opinions.
Incumbents Susan Facklam and Mary Garcia are competing with political newcomers Shannon Smigielski, Kip Evans and Marchell Norris in Tuesday's election. Voters will select three of the candidates for 4-year seats.
South Carolina-based Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. has received more than $73,600 in public money from District 46 since 2007. That amount covered conventions to warm-weather places in December, airfare, hotels, rental vehicles, food, gas, conference fees and consulting services.
Company founder Bart Teal has given what he calls his prestigious Blue Ribbon Lighthouse award to Prairieview School in Hainesville, along with Grayslake's Meadowview and Woodview schools. Publicity for the awards has come from news releases, Blue Ribbon Schools banquets and District 46's website.
Garcia and Facklam defend the district's association with Blue Ribbon Schools, but the other three candidates pan it.
Facklam, an on-hiatus registered nurse on the board since 2003, said District 46 has derived many benefits from Blue Ribbon Schools. For example, the company developed an action plan for the district to ensure measurable student achievement.
"Cost-effective use of educational consultants and experts will assist our efforts to improve our curriculum and how we deliver the material to our students," Facklam said.
Garcia, a teacher and union local president at Northbrook/Glenview Elementary District 30, said Superintendent Ellen Correll has announced staff members no longer will be sent out of town for professional growth.
But Garcia said the district has benefitted from the relationship. Other consultant ideas used in district schools include creation of a data den to monitor reading progress at Meadowview, and a miniature kindergarten technology laboratory.
"The superintendent has demonstrated to the board the continuing growth of the teachers using what the teachers and administration learned from out-of-state conventions," said Garcia, who was elected to the District 46 board in 2007.
However, Norris, a private business owner from Round Lake, questioned the relationship, saying District 46 cannot be allowed to fall into a situation that may appear inappropriate.
"When a consulting company lands a high-dollar contract from the district and then later hosts meetings in warm-weather locations like Myrtle Beach or Disney (World), it can have the perception of impropriety," Norris said.
Evans, a retired teacher, said he disapproved of spending thousands of dollars to "reward" staffers with trips to Blue Ribbon's warm-weather conventions. He said it's important to conduct internal reviews and try to improve programs.
Smigielski, a school bus driver from Hainesville, said she supports professional development but not how District 46 has gone about it with Blue Ribbon.
"When we face budget shortfalls, trips to South Carolina and Disney World for professional development cannot be justified," Smigielski said.
District 46 was criticized by parents and others after spending more than $25,250 to send 25 staffers to Blue Ribbon Schools' convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in December 2008. It sent 20 employees to North Charleston, S.C., in 2007 and 10 to Disney World in Orlando in 2009.
Government watchdogs and experts from academia have questioned the legitimacy of awards to schools from a paid consultant. District 46 employees collected the Blue Ribbon Lighthouse awards on their trips.
Blue Ribbon's relationship with District 46 will be visible April 28 and 29. The company will host an educator regional conference on those days at Park Campus, a building for kindergarten through eighth grade in Round Lake.