Macon County Shared Vision is taking a survey/poll on property tax increases in the city of Decatur. It only takes five minutes. Share your views. Poll results will be shared with the media and policy makers to influence tax policy in Decatur.
Macon County Shared Vision is taking a survey/poll on property tax increases in the city of Decatur. It only takes five minutes. Share your views. Poll results will be shared with the media and policy makers to influence tax policy in Decatur.
Steve Daniels of Macon County Shared Vision again called on the Decatur City Council to avoid further property tax increases in the city at the November 3, 2008, council meeting.
"Tax increases should be the last resort for addressing budget imbalances. Not the first. High tax rates punish citizens and businesses that call Decatur home. We cannot grow our city with the highest tax rates in downstate."
Property tax rates, including the city levy, are higher than most neighboring cities and most major cities in central Illinois. At nearly $9.00 per $100 of assessed valuation, the aggregate rate in Decatur is $1 to $2 per $100 more than other communities. Decatur's rates are already 20% higher than most comparable communities. This rate means that nearly 3% of the market value of homes and businesses is collected in taxes every year. Other communities have rates between 2% and 2.5%.
Property taxes are assessed based on assessed value and a levy rate. With the already high current property tax rates, Decatur is encouraging businesses, jobs and families to choose to move to other communites. No economic decision is based on tax cost per capita as suggested by proponents of higher taxes.
Daniels reminded the city council that Decatur taxpayers already pay some of the highest property and sales tax rates in the entire United States. These high rates discourage economic growth and development within the city. The city is considering tax increases due to budget shortfalls and the adverse impact of pension costs for city employees from the national financial crises. Daniels urged the Council to reevaluate the current year budget and “live within the means” of the community.
Daniels has been a long-time proponent of fiscal restraint and competitive tax burdens to encourage economic growth. As a founding member of Macon County Shared Vision he previously encouraged the council to adopt sound fiscal and tax policies.
MCSV believes tax increases are bad public policy for the following reasons:
1. Need for Tax Increase is Not Well - Supported. The city council has not reforcasted the current year or future years results to legitimize the need for more taxes. Not one offsetting cost savings has been seriously considered as an alternative to raising taxes. Spending restraint should be the first consideration and not the last.
2. Tax Increases Discourage Economic Growth. Local property taxes are a key variable that sets Decatur apart from other Illinois communities that compete for local industry and families. Decatur's aggregate property taxes (including the city levy that is proposed for an increase), are already some of the highest in IL and the US. Current aggregate rates are near $9 per $100 of assessed valuation. Surrounding communities are closer to $7 per $100 and other major central IL cities are near $7.50 per $100. These rates equate to a tax rate of nearly three percent (3%) of market value as compared to two percent to two and one-half percent in other commuities like Forsyth, Mt. Zion and neighboring townships.
3. Decatur Should be a Local Leader in Tax Policy. The City of Decatur receives a great deal of attention from local media and as such other taxing districts may follow the lead of Decatur. If the City of Decatur holds the line on taxes, then so might other area taxing districts.
4. Tax Increases Unfair to Less Advantaged Residents. While homeowners recieve a homestead exemption that buffers high tax rates, any increase becomes disproportionately higher for those with lower home values. Property tax increases are more adverse proportionately to renters that make up thirty percent (30%) of the households in Decatur. Rental properties do not qualify for any homestead exemption.
The National Association of Town Watch, the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO), Dove Community Services, and the City of Decatur, will sponsor the 25th Annual National Night Out (NNO) on August 5th, 2008, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at approximately
NNO is a unique crime/drug prevention event held the first Tuesday in August throughout the country. Over 11,000 cities around the U.S. will host block parties, cookouts, parades, flashlight walks, contests, and youth activities. The NNO campaign involves local government officials, citizens, law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses and neighborhood organizations that will caravan to participating organized neighborhood events.
When Superintendant Davis came to Decatur she spoke about how hard it is to teach kids that aren't even in school. She and others have invested substantial energy in addressing a high drop-out rate. Superintendent Davis and many others deserve everyone's applause for the their efforts and results. No one is about to rest on their haunches, but, it is important to take note of achievements when they come. Here is a portion of the editorial from the Herald & Review.
By the H&R Editorial Staff; July 6, 2008
The turnaround in the dropout rate in the Decatur School District is heartening. While there is no doubt the numbers need to improve even more, the progress made since 2002 is obvious.
But the numbers truly tell the story.
In 2007, MacArthur High School had 140 dropouts. In 2008, that number had fallen to 35. Graduation rates rose from 76.6 percent in 2007 to 92.3 percent in 2008.
The results at Eisenhower High School are equally encouraging. The graduation rate rose from 70.7 percent in 2007 to 83.5 percent in 2008. The dropout rate in the same period fell from 8.1 percent to 5.9 percent.........
.............Superintendent Gloria Davis has been tireless in talking to the freshman classes at each high school about the importance of staying in school and having them sign a graduation pledge. The schools under Davis have raised expectations, ordered up more rigorous classes and offered more help.
A recent article in USA Today updated the status of the Kalamazoo(MI) Promise. Click on this link to go to the article. Wealthy anonymous benefactors in Kalamazoo provided the funding to send every graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools to College at State schools in Michigan. Quoting from the article:
"People cheered, hugged and wept at the November 2005 school board meeting when the superintendent announced a group of anonymous donors — hoping to energize an economically depressed city — had promised free college tuition to students who graduate from the local school district. ………
The excitement hasn't let up in this city, which had been reeling from a declining population as major employers like General Motors and the Upjohn Company, once a pharmaceutical giant, closed or moved out of town. ……… Within months of the Promise announcement, the community saw signs of a resurgence. It passed an $85 million bond issue to construct two schools, the first in decades. Over the next year, volunteering for schools shot up 134%, according to Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, a non-profit that coordinates such services. Mentors for Big Brothers Big Sisters nearly doubled.
Decatur and Kalamazoo are very similar in terms of size and economic trends. MCSV has always advocated a development of a "promise" for Decatur. Several other cities currently have similarly inspired programs including Peoria. Is it time for Decatur too? We know that Superintendent Davis is excited about the potential as are other leaders in Decatur. At one point, Publisher Todd Nelson suggested as a starting point that Decatur start an "everyone to college" office that would help students and parents understand the substantial grants and loans available for kids going to college. A large percentage of kids in Decatur Public Schools would qualify for a number of programs to help them today with college costs.
Tell us what you think.
May 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 8 Reshaping High Schools Pages 64-68
What can we learn from Talent Development, First Things First, and career academies?
The expectations placed on U.S. high schools have never been greater. Society now rightly expects high schools to prepare all students for success in college or a workplace that requires an increasingly high level of skills. Meeting these expectations is particularly daunting for high schools serving large numbers of low-income students-and the stakes are high.
Ninth graders from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often start high school feeling unknown by teachers and peers and lacking essential literacy and numeracy skills. If their high schools do nothing to break through struggling 9th graders' isolation and academic weaknesses, students are likely to fall behind academically-and students who fail courses in 9th grade are at high risk of dropping out altogether. Low-performing high schools clearly need new models, not only to help all students graduate, but also to prepare them for life after graduation.
High school administrators can find signs of hope, however, in successful, replicable strategies from three well-established reform initiatives that grapple with improving achievement in low-performing high schools-Talent Development, First Things First, and career academies. The nonprofit research organization MDRC, at which I am a senior researcher, conducted separate evaluations of these three models highlighting approaches that help low-performing high schools reshape themselves.
Snapshots of the Reform Models
These three programs are among the most widely disseminated high school reform models to have emerged in recent decades. More than 2,500 high schools throughout the United States implement one of the three. Each of the models combines structural and instructional changes connected by an overarching theory of action, and they share some common features. Perhaps most noteworthy, all include small learning communities.
Talent Development was initiated in 1994 through Johns Hopkins University's Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. High schools in 11 U.S. states now use the model. It aims to transform urban schools facing high dropout rates and low achievement, emphasizing supports for academically struggling 9th graders. Freshmen have their own small learning community, the Ninth Grade Success Academy, in which they take math and language arts. The curriculum seeks to prepare all students for college-level work.
First Things First, designed by the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, was initially implemented in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1998. By 2007, 27 high schools (as well as some middle and elementary schools) had adopted the model. First Things First's main components are communities of 200-300 students who take core classes together for all four years, a personalized student advisory system, and professional development for teachers aimed at instructional improvements.
The career academy approach was first piloted in Philadelphia in 1969. The central features of this approach-a school-within-a-school structure, an integrated academic and occupational curriculum, and employee partnerships-have been adopted widely.
MDRC initially evaluated each model separately to determine the effects of its package of services. I synthesized the findings of these three evaluations, identifying common elements shared across the models, as well as the components unique to each model that seem to account for positive effects.1 In five key areas, these initiatives provide lessons for schools seeking to better serve struggling students: creating a sense of belonging, helping freshmen with weak academic skills, preparing students for postsecondary success, improving instruction, and stimulating lasting change. The findings should help schools that seek to initiate reforms without adopting one of these models wholesale to implement aspects of the models that may be particularly effective for their situation.
Creating a Sense of Belonging at School
All three reform models involve the creation of small learning communities, groups of 120-350 students who share core classes and whose core teachers meet regularly to discuss their students' progress.
A central feature of Talent Development schools is the Ninth Grade Success Academy, which occupies a separate space in the school building, fostering 9th graders' sense of identity and special status. Anecdotal evidence suggests that students in the Ninth Grade Success Academies feel close to their teachers and to one another. In 10th through 12th grade, Talent Development schools group students into self-contained career academies of 250-350 students each.
Small learning communities in career academies and First Things First schools enroll students from all grades who share common occupational or other interests (for example, the arts or information technology). Strong evidence from surveys of career academies students and less conclusive findings from First Things First student surveys indicate that participating in smaller peer groups helped students feel known and cared about by their teachers.
To further promote a sense of belonging, First Things First instituted the family advocate system. Teachers or other school adults serve as advisors-or family advocates-to 12-17 students in the same small learning community. The advisors meet regularly with groups of their students and are responsible for conducting weekly individual check-ins with each student and meeting jointly with students and their parents at least twice a year. The majority of First Things First students felt comfortable talking to their family advocates, and the majority of family advocates believed they had helped students succeed academically and in other ways.
It is important to remember that implementing small learning communities is not easy: Scheduling classes that include only members of the same community is challenging, and faculty advisors need training to support students effectively. I found that small learning communities do not, in and of themselves, boost either attendance or achievement. But they may be a key component of a package of reforms leading to better student outcomes.
Helping Freshmen with Weak Academic Skills
Revamping instruction to assist 9th graders who enter school with weak reading or math skills appears to be one of the most productive reforms high schools can make. Talent Development is especially strong in addressing this problem, through interconnected changes in scheduling and curriculum. Talent Development schools use "double-blocked" scheduling, meaning that core classes meet for 80 or 90 minutes every day. Such scheduling enables teachers to cover what would normally be a year's worth of material in a semester and allows students to take more courses and earn more credits throughout the year.
During the first semester of high school, Talent Development enrolls 9th graders with weak literacy or numeracy skills in intensive "catch-up" courses in English and algebra, for which the model's developers created the curriculums. These classes are designed to prepare students for regular college-preparatory classes in the same subjects. Because of the double-blocked schedule, freshmen who pass these catch-up courses can take the corresponding college-preparatory classes for full credit during the spring term. Teachers reported that the catch-up classes were easy to teach and that the coaching that model developers offered on using the curriculums helped.
The results achieved through this strategy seem promising: First-time 9th graders in Talent Development schools were more likely to earn English and math credits and to be promoted to 10th grade on schedule than their counterparts in schools that did not use the model. Because retention in 9th grade is a major predictor of dropping out, Talent Development's success in reducing the percentage of students who repeat 9th grade is especially noteworthy. At the same time, the majority of Talent Development students remained at the below-basic level on state tests in language arts and reading. Although significant progress is possible, one semester of intensive coursework is unlikely to compensate for years of inadequate preparation.
Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success
Because employers report that high school graduates come to the workforce lacking basic skills and because colleges report that freshmen need remedial work, our system is clearly crying out for better ways to prepare youth for life after 12th grade. Of the three initiatives, the career academies model is the most oriented toward ensuring students' long-term success. Students take a combination of academic courses and technical-education courses related to the academy's career theme, such as health or finance. Academies also establish partnerships with local employers, through which students acquire paid internships, and offer such career-awareness activities as field trips to workplaces and job shadowing.
MDRC's evaluation of career academies tracked students of both genders for almost a decade after their scheduled graduation from high school. The findings unequivocally demonstrate that the academies in the study had a substantial positive effect on employment outcomes for the young men who progressed through them, although not for young women. During the first four years after their scheduled graduation, males in the career academy group earned, on average, $212 a month more than did their counterparts in a nonacademy control group-an 18 percent difference. The higher earnings resulted from the combined effect the intervention had on the number of months worked, number of hours worked per week, and hourly wages. In other words, career academies helped students obtain better-paying jobs at which they worked for more hours. These post-high school successes are especially notable because career academies most benefited boys who entered the program at high or medium risk of dropping out of high school.
Career academies did not affect long-term outcomes for females or students at low risk of dropping out, possibly because these groups focused more on postsecondary education. Enrollment in a career academy did not influence high school graduation rates or college attendance.
Observations suggest that academic classes in career academies are similar to regular high school academic classes. So these positive effects on employment likely stem from academy students' ability to parlay the job knowledge and work-based learning experiences they gained through career academies into better jobs after graduation.
The experiences reported by both these models' developers and schools implementing these models suggest that well-designed curriculums and professional development can help teachers in low-performing schools make classes more challenging and interesting. Given the many demands on teachers, expecting them to develop curriculums that fully integrate the themes of their learning communities may not be realistic, especially when teachers have neither the time nor the training to do so. Teachers are more likely to benefit from curriculums that others have already created and tested, and from training in how to teach such curriculums.
Instruction can also benefit when teachers have common planning periods, but MDRC's observations suggested that teachers need guidance in focusing on instruction during their collaborative time. During common planning time, teachers within the same small learning community often discussed individual students or activities like field trips rather than pedagogical concerns. When administrators issued guidelines specifying that such meetings should focus on instruction-and sat in on those meetings-teachers used the time to plan interdisciplinary projects or discuss instructional approaches.
Even in schools with small learning communities, teachers within the same discipline (but not the same learning community) should set aside time to meet regularly to discuss how to teach particular topics, align curriculums with standards, and review whether expectations are rigorous enough.
Stimulating Change and Making It Stick
Through analyzing how change happened-or didn't-in schools implementing these models, and drawing on the observations of program developers and researchers, I identified key lessons that schools seeking to institute lasting reforms should bear in mind. These lessons likely apply not only to large-scale reform efforts, but also to less far-reaching efforts at change.
* Introducing change is not a one-person job. Strong school leaders are important, but principals need the support of superintendents and district or central-office personnel to effectively implement reforms and sustain them over time. Designing, putting in place, and monitoring change may require a whole cadre of staff who share a vision and who have the skill and time to realize that vision. Leaders should take an honest look at how their schools are now functioning and thoroughly assess the size of the gap between their ideal and their current reality. They should evaluate the capacity and availability of local staff to serve as change agents. If the gap is too large or the capacity of local staff is too limited, leaders may want to turn to outside curriculum developers or consultants experienced in implementing structural changes.
* School leaders need realistic expectations about the magnitude and pace of change that they can expect. Careful evaluations of education reform initiatives seldom find large or dramatic effects, but seemingly small effects can nonetheless be important. For example, the 8 percentage point rise in the rate of promotion from 9th to 10th grade in Talent Development high schools represents hundreds of young people who are more likely to stay in school.
* It takes time for the effects of reforms to become evident. Leaders need to avoid the temptation to jump from one "next big thing" to another. Having committed to a particular reform, they should stick with it until they have implemented the initiative long enough and well enough to judge it fairly.
I took away two lessons from my analysis of these three models. First, the twin pillars of high school reform seem to be (1) instructional improvement and (2) structural changes that personalize learning. Interventions that combine structural and instructional changes may be particularly crucial for changing the trajectories of students entering high school with weak skills. Second, reform initiatives need to single out 9th graders with academic deficits for special support, given that success or failure in 9th grade is a pivotal indicator of whether or not a student drops out.
There is more to learn about what makes successful models work. MDRC is conducting extended follow-up of career-academy participants, further analysis of the Talent Development and First Things First evaluation data, and a study of "catch-up" reading courses for 9th graders. But we know enough about what works to warrant action. It's up to school leaders to put this knowledge into practice.
1 The synthesis report, Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform: Lessons from Research on Three Reform Models, and the individual evaluations MDRC conducted of the three models are available at www.mdrc.org.
Janet Quint is Senior Research Associate at MDRC; 212-340-8816; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright C 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
C Copyright ASCD. All rights reserved.
Today's (May 31, 2008) Herald & Review reported that Mayor Paul Osborne resigned effective June 1, 2008 (Sunday) from his position as Mayor of the City of Decatur. He was serving in his second year of his second four-year term as Mayor. By all accounts, this was an unexpected announcement to his colleagues on the city council and the entire community. Mayor Osborne stated that he was increasingly troubled with the difficulty of balancing his role as journalist and Mayor regarding important matters before city government. As noted in the Decatur
In a letter delivered Friday night to council members, Osborne wrote, "Due to dramatically escalating time and energy commitments in both the mayor's position and the Decatur Tribune newspaper, and some health issues that need to be resolved immediately, I will no longer be able to serve as mayor of Decatur, effective June 1, 2008." The entire article in the H&R can be read by clicking on the above link.
Mayor Osborne is lifetime resident and respected member of the Decatur community. He has been a journalist and the Publisher/Editor of the Decatur Tribune
We wish him well and hope that he will recover promptly from any health issues. We also look forward to many future editions of the Decatur Tribune.
Study Finds That 'No Child Left Behind' Accountability Systems Are Largely in Place, But Act's Promises Remain Uncertain
After five years of effort, states have implemented most of the test-based accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, and now must focus their efforts on improving poor-performing schools that have been identified, according to a new U.S. Department of Education report written by experts from the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research.
The report, “Accountability Under NCLB: Interim Report,” includes analyses of data from the largest national survey of teachers, principals, paraprofessionals and school district staff to be conducted since the law was passed by Congress in 2001.
The report concludes that all states had adopted most of the accountability requirements of the law and that three-quarters of the nation's schools made adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by those states in 2003-04, a 2 percent increase from the previous year.
Source: Rand Organization - News Release 11/19/2007 - more follows
Property values dropped through-out the Midwest this year for the first time in many years, signaling that states and local governments could be on the verge of another fiscal crisis. As a result of the depressed housing market, assessed values in some Midwest counties dropped 1% to 3%. Local governments that have been accustomed to annual increases of 5 percent to 6 percent in the revenue raised by property taxes may now see no increase. This can lead to even more pressure on state government to support local government units. Without some adjustment, some cities will face cuts in essential services. Generally, about 50-60 percent of municipalities' operating budgets are bankrolled by property taxes. Communities know the hit is coming, and should be formulating financial contingency plans.
Contrary to popular myths, exciting things are occurring in Chicago's public schools. Policies and practices do make a difference in the effectiveness of public education and the local quality of life. Decatur should be receptive to ideas that may be working in other cities. A recent research report from The Rand Organization (an international think tank and research organization), found that certain charter schools were having a significant and/or measurable impact on ACT scores, graduation rates and college entrance rates.
Press Release - also below
Decatur's public schools are an integral element in the quality of life in Decatur. More importantly it is immensely significant economically to our community because it is the principal source of skills for potential new workers in Decatur.
Keep in mind that most test scores (Not ACT) measure the percentage of kids that can demonstrate proficiency in reading, math and science at the level established by educators in Illinois. The percentage is of those students that "meet or exeed" the expected knowledge requirement. It is the goal in Illinois that ALL (100%) public school students at least meet the knowledge standards.
For the good and bad news continue reading -
Important article about cities and urban policy. From the New York Times. 2/19/2008
By now, many Americans have heard the presidential candidates talk about issues close to the heart of rural America. They fell all over themselves to praise ethanol in Iowa and condemn nuclear storage in Nevada. But as important as rural problems are, they’re not nearly as big as the task of helping the nation’s struggling cities — where most Americans live or work. The cities have been the hardest hit as federal policies have failed or gone missing in education, housing, health care, jobs, transportation and environment, to name a few. Yet urban issues have gotten scant attention in this campaign.
There is a lot of public discussion regarding the West Main Street project and Millikin University. I want to make sure you understand my position and the reasons for it. I'm confident that my efforts will result in saving you, the taxpayers, several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
An article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses one approach being tried in Chicago Public Schools. Several of Decatur's public schools are not making adequate yearly progress and are deemed "failing" for the low academic acheivement. Best practices for school reform can benefit from looking to others and their experience. A brief excerpt from the article:
"Harvard [Elementary School] is one of several public schools here to get a top-to-bottom housecleaning in recent years – including replacing the principal and most teachers – in a bid to lift student achievement out of the nation's academic basement. The drastic approach is known as "turnaround," and Chicago is embracing it more than any US city, though it's unproven and is controversial among teachers, many parents, and students."
The Chicago defender features an article of a $10 million grant to Chicago Public Schools to imporve results in public education. The full article is below. From the article:
“Since taking on the challenge of raising the performance of our schools, we have definitely seen progress across the city and have become a national model for urban school reform,” Daley said Thursday at a press conference at the Sherman School of Excellence on the South Side. “But as I’ve said many times, there are still too many schools that consistently under-perform. The Academy for Urban School Leadership has shown promising results in schools under its management and this expanded partnership will enable more CPS students to receive the education they deserve.”
One of the key elements of the Academy for Urban School Leadership is teacher training and retention. The founder of AUSL said "Our mantra is attract, train [and] retain..."