DECATUR – The Decatur school board discussed the implications of a policy that would require district administrators, from principals up, to live within Decatur School District boundaries at its meeting on Tuesday.
The policy was the subject of a spirited discussion at the board's previous meeting on May 23 with no resolution, and the discussion on Tuesday was a first reading, with a possible vote at the June 27 meeting if the provisions meet board and legal counsel approval.
As it reads now, the policy would require principals and the district leadership team to live within the boundaries of the district within one year of being hired. If they do not establish residency within that one year, the failure to do so would be considered a resignation. Employees at those positions who are already working for the district and do not live within the boundaries would not be required to move unless they accept a new position within the district.
Board President Dan Oakes called the proposal “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and suggested that such a policy should not be approved prior to seeking community input. He said the fire and police departments haven't been able to reach contract agreements due to a similar discussion with the city.
“This has an impact big enough to need a community response,” Oakes said.
Board member Sherri Perkins disagreed. “I think a residency policy is something we want to have. I think we should have one, period. It's the right thing to do.”
Kendall Briscoe said she agreed with Perkins and would go further. If an employee lives outside the district boundaries and is grandfathered in, as long as that employee does not move to another home, they would not be required to live within the district. But if that person moves to a different home, she said, they should be required to move to one within the boundaries.
According to the district's legal counsel, the district can only require residency if that is stipulated in the first employment contract. It can't be made retroactive for anyone who already holds a district position.
Oakes said that at present, 41 percent of administrators live within district boundaries. Of the remainder, the majority live within the boundaries of the city of Decatur, but not necessarily within the school district boundaries. If you counted them, that would make 71 percent who live within the city of Decatur. Nearby school districts, such as Maroa-Forsyth, Warrensburg-Latham, Mount Zion and Argenta-Oreana, have district boundaries that have Decatur addresses. He said he didn't think it would be right to require those employees, particularly long-term employees whose children are established in those other school districts, to uproot their kids and move them to Decatur schools.
Incoming Superintendent Paul Fregeau, who was at the meeting but will not formally assume his post until July 1, said the problem would take care of itself, over time, if only new hires were required to live within the district. If an employee who is working on a master's or doctoral degree with the idea of moving up in the district is told the only way he or she can move up is to move from a house they might have lived in for years, with a good service record with the district, that could discourage ambition. It could also hurt recruiting.
The topic of recruiting also came up in regard to minority numbers in the district. Perkins asked the Human Resources Department to provide a five-year history of trends in employee numbers with an emphasis on the number of minority employees. Board member Beth Nolan said she was particularly interested in the numbers of administrators who are minorities. Recruiting efforts have not yielded a representative number of minority hires that matches the number of minorities in the student population.
In other business, the board approved:
- Job descriptions for a district truancy caseworker, extended learning program supervisor, and the superintendent;
- Health/life/safety amendments for Durfee and Johns Hill magnet schools;
- Installation of building automation systems at Harris and Oak Grove schools;
- An amendment to the professional services agreement with BLDD Architects;
- The sale of surplus Apple devices and protective covers and protection plan for iPads;
- The ancillary employee salary schedule;
- The hiring of Patricia Paulson as principal of Parsons School;
- The engagement of a Realtor to sell a building trades house;
- An agreement with Illinois State University for professional development services for 30 teachers in a math and science grant initiative, and with Diehl Consulting Group to oversee the progress of that initiative;
- An education services contract with the Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education.