Naperville D203 Board of Education shares varied views on conference attendance    

File image of conference room space with empty chairs
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How many members of Naperville School District 203’s board of education should attend a conference? When, and how often, should out-of-state travel be permitted? These are among the issues elected officials are grappling with as a procedural document on conference attendance is reviewed.

Superintendent Dan Bridges presented the board with a draft two-page document on the issue at a board of education meeting on Monday, May 6. Further discussion is anticipated at the upcoming meeting on May 20, with a vote further off in the horizon.

Cost considerations at play 

District 203’s board had a preliminary discussion on a conference attendance procedural document last month on the heels of participation in the Consortium of State School Board Associations’ events, which have been held three times this past year. COSSBA is a new organization.

With costs in mind, District 203’s board had capped participation at one member at a COSSBA conference in Washington, D.C., and a separate one in Dallas, Texas. A third one, held locally in Chicago, was open to all board members.

Board President Kristine Gericke said there could be value gleaned from attendance at a national conference, though she indicated there are other more cost-effective means to being an impactful member of the elected body.

“In order to be a good and productive and effective board member, a national conference once a year will not prepare you for that under any circumstance,” Gericke said. “In my experience of seven years now, my learning came from what I did and continue to do for each meeting, what I did and continue to do when there is a special event of some sort.”

She added, “Going out of town, in my opinion and in my experience, does not further my daily work as a board member. I don’t see value in spending money, just for the sake of spending money. I just don’t think the purse needs to be wide open for national travel.”

Board member bemoans ‘arbitrary rules’ 

Board member Melissa Kelley Black, who joined the elected body a year ago, has been critical of curtailing conference attendance. During the recent discussion, she described the draft procedural document as “arbitrary rules.”

“My concern is that we’re an educational institution, and we’re limiting the education of the decision-makers,” Kelley Black said. “I also am concerned that we’re using arbitrary rules to decide who goes vs. thinking of things like new board members or board members who’ve expressed that they don’t get much out of it and maybe have been going to these for years.”

Kelley Black also stated a belief that District 203 has the resources to send interested board members to conferences.

“I think it should be based on need and benefit to our community,” Kelley Black said of her philosophy. “I think that we are a well-funded district.”

Further possible refinements for conference attendance guidelines

While no formal vote has been taken, most of the board has indicated support for a certain degree of parameters in the number of District 203 attendees at out-of-state events.

Board member Charles Cush suggested including in the procedural document a requirement, by way of a written summary, of District 203 officials attending conferences.

“I don’t want to call it this, but it would essentially be a book report,” Cush said. “That way, the learning can be something that stays within the group and is shared among the group, so that we would benefit from it.”

While he is the staff point person for assembling the document, Bridges at the recent board meeting indicated he is impartial to it.

“This is the board’s procedure,” Bridges said. “This is me attempting to summarize your conversation that you had last time. This is not my decision to make. I simply took the direction of the board and offered a draft procedure. You can provide your feedback all you want.”

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