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Article posted: 2/27/2013 5:50 PM

Mount Prospect District 57 balancing state mandates, local pressures

By Matt Arado

Like many school districts, Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 reviews its long-term strategic plan each year and amends it to reflect new economic realities, education trends and laws that might affect district operations.

This year, there are more than the usual number of such issues on the horizon, district officials say.

"It's becoming quite a challenge," Superintendent Elaine Aumiller said. "We're working hard to balance external pressures with what we believe to be right for the students of District 57."

A key local issue is the district's economic situation. District 57 ended fiscal year 2012 with an unexpected surplus, which allowed it to table discussions of going to the voters with a tax-hike request.

But existing pressures like local property tax appeals, and possible future impacts from state pension reform, mean that tax-hike discussions may resume in the near future, Aumiller said.

"It's still a fragile economic environment, so we have to stay vigilant about costs," she said.

The district also is preparing for a number of operational changes required by recent state actions.

The Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010, for example, requires school districts to change the way they measure the performance of teachers and principals. In both cases, student performance must be considered. The district is designing new evaluation systems accordingly.

The state also plans to institute a computerized assessment for students -- a program that will replace the ISAT -- in 2015. The new assessment likely will require the district to upgrade some of its technology, Aumiller said.

And District 57 continues to incorporate curriculum changes required by the state's adoption in 2010 of the "Common Core" learning standards.

Complying with all of these takes time and money, Aumiller said.

"With our budget so tight the way it is, mandates like these can really present a challenge, especially when grouped so close to one another," she said.

All of the changes will be incorporated into the district's strategic plan, which will be presented to the school board in May.

"It does seem like the burden from unfunded mandates is heavier now than it has traditionally been," Aumiller said. "It's something we have to deal with."

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