Citizens' group defends U-46 spending for parents' trips to conference

 
 
Updated 8/8/2018 9:39 PM
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  • Larry Bury, U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council vice chairman, says it is worthwhile for the district to send parents to conferences to get their input on new programs.

    Larry Bury, U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council vice chairman, says it is worthwhile for the district to send parents to conferences to get their input on new programs.

  • U-46 school board member Jeanette Ward says the board's approval should be sought for spending on the travel of nonemployees.

    U-46 school board member Jeanette Ward says the board's approval should be sought for spending on the travel of nonemployees.

Leaders of a parents' group say the Elgin Area School District U-46 administration's decision to pay for parents to attend a conference in Nashville last September was worthwhile.

U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council Chairwoman Lisa Hopp and Vice Chairman Larry Bury spoke during Monday night's school board meeting addressing recent comments by school board members Jeanette Ward and Phil Costello questioning why taxpayer funds were used to pay for their trips.

The duo were part of a contingent of 18 people from the district attending the three-day conference, which included site visits to high schools to learn about the creation and implementation of career pathway programs. The conference registration cost was roughly $1,400 per person, including airline, hotel accommodations and meals, according to Ward.

School board members have agreed to review the travel guidelines for conferences, which CEO Tony Sanders said might be the right time to evaluate in light of rising fuel and air travel costs.

Hopp said the Nashville trip followed two years of discussions with administrators about how the advisory council could help improve the district's academy and career and technical education programs.

"It was made clear that expenses beyond the conference fee and airline travel would be our own personal responsibility," Hopp said.

Hopp said the school board created the council 60 years ago to serve in an advisory role, working in committees "to provide reports, recommendations and community input."

Its officers are elected by the general membership. The group, comprising district parents, has helped with boundary changes, implementation of new programs such as Eureka math, kindergarten through eighth-grade science curriculum, and full-day kindergarten, and creation of the district's five high school academies, she said.

Citizens' Advisory Council members are helping the administration review and create new high school academies or career pathways, expected to be established in 2020-21 and to enroll 400 to 600 students each.

Bury said the conference reinforced the need for building community understanding and support for creating successful career pathways.

"If we don't understand as parents what the district is trying to do ... if we don't understand the terminology ... the goals ... if we don't see how this is going to benefit our students, then it's going to be very difficult to build the community-level support that you are going to need to go forward," Bury said.

Among the challenges school districts face is getting parents and members of the public involved when implementing new programs, he said.

The district previously has paid for members of parent-teacher groups to travel for similar learning opportunities.

School board President Donna Smith and board member Sue Kerr went on district-sponsored trips as advisory council members before being elected to the board.

Ward stressed her concern remains that taxpayer funds are being used for travel expenses of parents who are neither elected school board members nor district employees.

"This (trip) should have been offered to the board. CAC members were invited, but not board members," Ward said. "Since board members are responsible for approving curriculum and are elected by the public ... it would seem more appropriate to invite them."

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