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updated: 5/30/2012 12:16 AM

District 220 board solicits advice from former members

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Elected boards normally acquire no more institutional memory than voters and term limits -- whether legislated or self-imposed -- allow them.

But Barrington Unit District 220 board members Tuesday hoped to increase theirs through a summit with 20 former members of the board dating back to the 1980s.

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The occasion was part of a series of community outreach forums, this one specifically aimed at applying the insights of past board members to the issues of today and the near future.

And as current board members spoke of their struggles with uncertain financial assistance from the state and federal governments as well as how best to engage the community, it all sounded very familiar to Mike Berkowitz.

"When I first got on the board 26 years ago, we were asking the same questions you're asking today," said Berkowitz, who left the board in 1996.

Berkowitz was among several present who were able to recall the particularly painful redistricting decisions of the early '90s, when a second middle school was opened.

Against often fiery opposition, the then board opted to make each campus a microcosm of the district's varied socioeconomic makeup rather than keeping students of different backgrounds separated until they were high school freshmen.

Board member Nick Sauer, who attended school in the district after that decision, said the students of his generation and beyond benefited greatly.

And board President Brian Battle cited it as one of the chief building blocks of the stability District 220 still enjoys.

Former board members were particularly interested in how the current board was approaching upcoming teachers' contract negotiations, as well as how it solicited public opinion on issues.

Current member Tim Hull said one of the struggles of contract negotiations is that the board and the teachers union often come to the table with different financial assumptions.

"We grapple with that," Hull said. "What is the actual financial reality?"

Board member Penny Kazmier said conflicting responses are also found between talking to students and polling their families about the possibility of changing the schedules of the school day and year.

Former member Joe Kelsch strongly suggested the current board tap into the expertise of corporations in the community for both funding opportunities and advice on curriculum requirements for the jobs of the future.

Battle said state-imposed curriculum changes coming in the next few years are among the district's biggest challenges. They will eclipse any such changes of the past within so short a time frame, and most districts will likely see their test scores go down as a result, he added.

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