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updated: 8/19/2014 8:33 PM

U-46 criticized for paying parents $1,000 in minority leadership program

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A program that helps develop parent leaders from within the Latino and black communities of Elgin Area School District U-46 has come under fire from some district taxpayers.

Dozens of U-46 parents and taxpayers primarily from Bartlett and Wayne packed Monday night's school board meeting complaining about being overtaxed and about the district's Hispanic and African-American parent leadership institutes.

Several speakers questioned why the district is paying parents $1,000 for participation in those programs.

"You have a welfare program to teach Hispanic and black parents to be better parents and leaders and pay them $1,000 each for attending, with our tax dollars," Wayne resident Rick Newton said. "Your policies only serve to encourage and increase further dependency on handouts and all without holding anyone accountable for meaningful results."

School board members did not respond to the public comments.

Officials said Tuesday the Hispanic and African-American parent leadership institutes have been operating for several years and stipends are funded through general fund revenues.

Parents can earn up to a $1,000 stipend if they meet the program's requirements, but the money is not guaranteed to each participant, said Karla Guzmán-Jimenez, U-46 parent outreach coordinator.

The Hispanic and African-American leadership institutes, started in 2010 and 2011, respectively, by outgoing Superintendent José Torres, are open to Latino and black parents of students in elementary or middle school. They promote parents' active involvement in their child's education, district and school activities, and participation in committees and meetings.

Officials could not confirm how many stipends have been awarded since the program began. Since its inception, 47 parents have graduated from the Hispanic leadership institute and 16 parents are moving on to their second year. For the African-American group, 16 parents have graduated and 20 parents are starting their second year, Guzmán-Jimenez said.

The institutes were modeled after the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Academy.

"The main objective is for them to take on parent leadership roles," Guzmán-Jimenez said. "We want to integrate them into whatever is existing in the district."

Parent Linda D'Oyley of Bartlett said at Monday night's meeting the district should be able to gauge the success of the parent leadership program.

"There should be some kind of measurement for money that's being spent," she said.

Guzmán-Jimenez said program participants have gone on to participate on the district's instructional council and the Citizens Advisory Council, and represent the district at the state level, and one former alumna -- Veronica Noland -- got elected to the school board.

Participants meet once a month for eight months during the school year for training and must commit to completing two full years of the program. Only 25 parents can be accepted per group at one time.

Guzmán-Jimenez said the district has other parent leadership programs that offer different incentives, but she added these institutes are unique because the program was implemented districtwide.

"Even the attendance at our CAC and school board meetings has changed," she said. "You see more of a rainbow."

Guzmán-Jimenez said neighboring school districts in Aurora and Wheaton and National-Louis University have expressed interest in possibly replicating the leadership program.

At Monday's meeting, several DuPage County homeowners also were upset over the shifting of tax burden too heavily onto their shoulders due to a Kane County clerk's office error that understated the totaled assessed values in that county's portions of U-46 and Elgin Community College District 509. When taxing districts extend into several counties, the department divvies up the property tax burden.

The error primarily affected homeowners in parts of Bartlett, Carol Stream, Hanover Park and Wayne.

Such shifting of the tax burden is not uncommon and happens yearly, officials said.

"We don't have a say in how that shift happens," said Jeff King, U-46 chief operating officer. "This was the most dramatic shift we have seen."

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