This year, Mendy Spesard and her husband plan to build a new home on a farm outside of Ridge Farm.
The principal at Danville's Meade Park Elementary now lives about three miles away in Georgetown. But her husband, Steven, wants to be closer to Spesard Farms, the 3,000-acre corn and soybean operation he runs with his brother.
"We hope to break ground soon," said Spesard, whose husband grew up on the land. The farm has been in his family for several generations.
Earlier this month, the Danville school board granted Spesard a waiver, allowing her to live beyond the geographical boundaries established for those in top posts. But some board members want tighter residency restrictions for school leaders.
"My feelings are: If you're a you're an administrator of District 118, you should live within the district," said board member Frank Young,
The board will discuss the district's residency policy at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St., Danville. Superintendent Mark Denman said he doesn't expect any action to be taken that night.
What's a hot topic in Vermilion County rarely comes up in Champaign-Urbana.
— Champaign schools Superintendent Judy Wiegand is required to live in her district, according to her contract. But Unit 4 doesn't have residency requirements for other administrators. "I'm not certain that this is even an issue for our district," Champaign school board President Laurie Bonnett said.
— The issue hasn't been discussed in Urbana, said school board President John Dimit, "and is not on our minds."
"However, our superintendents, at least for the last 25 years, have all resided in Urbana as a matter of professional pride and conscience. We have several other senior administrators with spouses who work for other districts, so a strict policy would limit our ability to attract the best talent."
Danville revised its residency rules on April 11, 2012, making it a must that the superintendent, associate superintendent and high school principal all live in the district. Other principals and department directors must live no more than 10 miles from the district limits, according to the school board's policy.
Administrators have one year from their hire date to meet residency requirements. Those who don't comply are subject to dismissal.
However, the board may use its discretion to waive the requirement. In the past six months or so, it has done so four times.
"I think it's a sound policy," said Lon Henderson, who joined the board in May but worked for the district when it was put in place.
The policy encourages staffers to live in the district, Henderson said. And if there's a valid reason they can't, the board has the power to grant a waiver.
Not everyone on Danville's board likes the latter part.
"Why even have a policy, if everyone can request a waiver and be exempt?" said Steve Bragorgos, who along with Young, voted against granting Spesard's waiver.
Both Bragorgos and Young want the district to do away with the waivers and the 10-mile buffer zone that gives most administrators the flexibility to live outside of the district. Young believes there are too many who do now.
While no one is in violation, he said, "there should be some loyalty to our district. The taxpayers are paying very competitive salaries and benefits. We've made a huge investment in them. So I think there should be a commitment on their part to live within and support our district."
Henderson, who works with new teacher recruits, has another take.
"I certainly encourage everyone to live in Danville," said Henderson, who moved to town in 1987. He and his wife plan to stay even though they're retired and their children have moved away.
"But there are a lot of factors why people choose to live where they do," he said. "And I think it's the board's responsibility to hire the very best candidates for our leadership roles, regardless of where they live. Their qualifications, experience and ability to do the job should be the first priority."
Henderson also believes that tightening the restrictions might turn away good candidates in the future.
"If their spouse works at the (University of Illinois) ... and they see that they have to live within 10 miles ... they might not apply for the job," he said.
Bragorgos doesn't buy it. He believes there are plenty of people who will adhere to the rules — as long as they're held to them.
"If they don't want to move here, we'll find other qualified people," he said. "I don't agree that there's only one or two qualified candidates out there. I think we have very talented people who live in our district. I think we're doing a disservice to our community when we pick people who aren't willing to live here."
Henderson said if any administrator failed in his or her duties because of where they live, then the board would have to address the situation. But, he said, the leaders he's worked with as a teacher, special education director and now board member have shown repeatedly that they go "above and beyond."
Recently, he said, police had to investigate an incident involving a Meade Park student. When they called Spesard shortly after midnight, she didn't hesitate to drive in to the school to provide the information they needed.
"As long as they're meeting the responsibilities of their job and serving our children," he said, "why should we worry if they're living 10 miles away or 13 miles away ... or 30 miles?"
|Phil Cox||Danville High School principal||Rural Catlin|
|Jacob Bretz||Danville High School assistant principal||Champaign|
|Ericka Uskali||Danville High School transformation officer||St. Joseph|