Schaumburg: Transparency already foggy

Published: Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 12:37 a.m.CDT • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 4:35 p.m.CDT

It took state legislators all of two weeks to start undoing the reform promised by changes in the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which went into effect Jan. 1.

Senate Bill 315 – aka Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010 – forces Illinois schools and teachers unions to devise processes for evaluating teachers and principals, and it states that student performance must be part of those assessments. The system is designed to hold teachers and principals accountable for their performance.

To be clear, that’s a good thing.

But the bill also says that those evaluations can’t be made public, essentially keeping from public view the performance reviews of public school teachers, principals and superintendents, whose salaries are paid for by taxpayers.

Want to know how good or bad your child’s teacher is doing? Too bad. You’re not allowed to see the teacher’s evaluation. You are supposed to trust the new assessment system to do what it’s intended to do.

To be crystal clear, that’s a rotten thing.

So much for increased transparency of public institutions in Illinois.

“Before we even got started, we lost ground,” said Beth Bennett, director of government relations for the Illinois Press Association.

The bill, which was legislation designed so Illinois could qualify for “Race to the Top” federal funds, cleared the House Tuesday, where state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and state Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, both voted in favor of it. It passed the Senate on Wednesday. State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, voted against it. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill into law Friday.

Burzynski told me Friday that he didn’t vote against it because of the nondisclosure provision as it pertains to FOIA, but because he was concerned about the cost of the program and that the major change in policy was being turned over to the Illinois State Board of Education for oversight.

Pritchard doesn’t think an employee’s performance review should be a matter of public record, even if that employee is a state employee. He said performance reviews are a matter of professional development and should remain between the employer and employee.

“I agree with transparency, but I don’t think you should make everything transparent,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard said a majority of legislators agree and that House Speaker Michael Madigan said performance reviews were not going to be subject to new FOIA laws anyway.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office – run by Madigan’s daughter, Lisa Madigan – did not necessarily agree with that interpretation of the new FOIA law. But the Legislature made that a moot point by passing the bill and eliminating any gray area in regard to performance reviews of teachers, principals and superintendents.

And now, other unions are expecting the same treatment for their public employees.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall told the Springfield-based State Journal-Register that AFSCME will push to get the same exemption for the performance reviews of its members.

“We’ll be working hard to make sure that comes to pass,” Lindall told the newspaper.

No doubt AFSCME will not get much of a fight from state legislators.

• • •

Keeping tabs: The Daily Chronicle tried three times this week to contact Northern Illinois University Police Chief Donald Grady. Predictably, we weren’t successful. We were referred to a spokeswoman who is out of the office until next week.

We’d love to report to readers what Grady’s thoughts are on being back at work after being cleared of wrongdoing by a university panel and the Illinois State Police. Unfortunately, the highly-paid chief isn’t responding.

• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Daily Chronicle. E-mail him at jschaumburg@daily-chronicle.com. You also can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DC_Editor.

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