Districts will discuss STEM school at Aurora U

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The John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School at Aurora University will cost an estimated $2.3 million a year to operate, according to a tentative budget obtained by Sun-Times Media.

The STEM school, which will serve 200 third- to eighth-grade students from Indian Prairie School District 204, East Aurora, West Aurora and Oswego 308, will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

The four school districts are expected to shoulder about two-thirds of the annual costs, or about $1.5 million, which includes the salary and benefits of 12 full-time teachers, student transportation and instruction.

Aurora University will pay about $800,000 a year to cover the salary and benefits of the STEM school’s director, who will earn $125,000 to oversee the day-to-day operations of the school, a part-time educational liaison’s $50,000 salary, plus the costs of custodial services, utilities and buildings and grounds maintenance.

Aurora University also led the charge of raising $12 million to construct the building.

The four districts’ school boards received a copy of the latest joint operating agreement in December, which included a budget for the first time, as well as a memorandum of understanding with the four teachers unions. Sun-Times Media obtained a copy of the agreement, which has yet to be made public.

School boards are slated to begin discussing the STEM school agreement in January and then will individually vote on the agreement. Once the districts have approved the agreement, it will go before Aurora University’s Board of Trustees.

Agreement adjustments

Some changes have been made to the agreement since a draft was given to school boards this summer, most notably how the districts will divvy up the costs of running the school.

In the earlier version of the agreement, schools were to split up costs based on how much they would normally spend to educate students, minus the cost of transportation for students and teachers sent to the STEM school.

In school board meetings, some members said the funding structure had the potential for inequity, since each district has a different per capita tuition and there would be an incentive to send more expensive teachers to the STEM school.

The current agreement states that all four districts will share annual operating costs equally. Each district will pay for its own students’ transportation and teacher salaries. Districts will receive a $75,000 credit per teacher who works at the STEM school to put toward their share of operating costs.

Teachers will receive either two- or four-year assignments at the STEM school and must apply for the position. They cannot be involuntarily transferred to the STEM school and must be given a comparable job at their home district when they return.

A five-member governing board, made up of Aurora University’s president and the four superintendents, will oversee the STEM school’s policies, curriculum, staffing, finances and operations.

Among the board’s duties are approving the final budget and hiring the director, who will act much like the school’s principal. The director will be an employee of Aurora University, though there were earlier plans to recruit the director from within a school district, which would have paid the salary.

Discussion dates

School boards at Oswego 308 and Indian Prairie 204 are slated to discuss the STEM school agreement on Jan. 13. Indian Prairie 204 School Board President Lori Price said board members would not be voting on the agreement at that meeting.

East Aurora and West Aurora are slated to discuss the agreement on Jan. 21. The East Aurora School Board will likely vote on the agreement at that meeting, School Board President Annette Johnson said. West Aurora will not vote on the agreement for at least two more meetings, School Board President Neal Ormond said. West Aurora follows a three-step process on important district decisions.

Ormond said because school board members are seeing the details for the first time, they need time to consider them and formulate questions. He said he expects questions to be centered around student and staff selection, since each district can create its own criteria and application.

“I think the reality is there may not be an equal number of qualified [student] applicants and that’s one of my questions that I am going to be pursuing,” Ormond said.

Ormond said he wants more information about the lottery that the agreement says must take place if a district has more than 50 applicants and what will happen if a district does not have at least 50 applicants.

“We have to think about the possibility that it might not work out exactly the way we planned it,” Ormond said.

Ormond said he also has questions about the condensed timeline to hire a director, let parents know about the application process and recruit teachers.

According to a letter dated July 1, Aurora University’s goal was to have the final agreement approved by its Board of Trustees by October of last year.

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