The Final Word

Speaking Up on Legal issues

John Troy
Assistant Superintendent & General Counsel
Minooka CHSD 111

My role as Assistant Superintendent and General Counsel is…

Multifaceted. I have overall responsibility for operations and finance. Additionally, I advise the Board of Education and the administration on various school law matters. The two roles work surprisingly well together. My undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering and I later obtained my MBA and JD degrees. This dual leadership position represents the capstone of my career, each day is different and thoroughly rewarding.

What do you see as the biggest legal issue(s) facing school districts today? 

School boards have and continue to struggle with federal Title IX and the Illinois Human Rights Act gender discrimination issues, specifically with respect to bathroom and locker room use. While this area of law in Illinois and the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is well settled, there remains a split in the federal circuits. The current political landscape is charged and these issues certainly always invoke emotional responses. School boards should always seek advice of counsel when considering these matters. 

Upcoming legal issues to watch for…

Book Bans ­— In the summer of 2023 Governor Pritzker made Illinois the first – and so far, the only – state to block book bans. School districts may lose state grants if books are removed for “partisan or doctrinal” reasons.   

Fund Balances — Many of us have at some time or another received a tax rate objection and are familiar with the Illinois courts’ “Miller Rate” definition for determining excess cash fund balances. Approved last July, Illinois Senate Bill 1994 codifies the Miller Rate, and starting in the 2024-2025 school year, in addition to reporting requirements, if the operational funds combined fund balance exceeds 2.5 times (the “Miller Rate”) the three-year average of expenditures, the school board must adopt and file with the State board a three-year reduction plan.

What can districts do to improve their legal situation(s)?  

It is important that administrators keep abreast of the latest changes in school law. Fortunately, Illinois ASBO, ISBA, IASA and ISBE provide great resources in this regard. Most importantly, administrators are encouraged to contact their legal counsel when wading into murky waters. A phone call with counsel is far less expensive than litigation.