Editors note: The following column was sent to members of the Rockford School Board.
By Lisa Gustin
I am a parent of students in the Rockford system that range from elementary through high school. I am very concerned about the number of cuts that were approved during the Feb. 24 board meeting. The enormous reductions in programs, school hours for the secondary students and a major reduction in staff will devastate our community. The children of this community are OUR future. If we continue to reduce their educational opportunities, where will this lead them?
I understand the board votes on the information provided to them by administration. However, I find these cuts very interesting. They have given board members a list of cuts that are very deep for the certified (teachers), and support (clerical, paras, tutors, etc.) staff. The administrative cuts listed are some positions that have been vacant for some time. I also see a minimal reduction of administrative cuts, why is this? My only thought is because administration is who was asked to provide the list of cuts and why would they list any administrative positions? I do not see how the district will continue to need so many administrative staff when there will be a minimal number of support staff.
Administrative staff listed:
1. Human Resources Director just filled recently.
2. Utility Manager
3. Communications Director, this position has been vacant since Jim Jennings resigned.
4. Deputy Superintendent: this position is currently vacant.
5. Confidential Secretary to the Deputy Superintendent is also vacant.
Many board members suggested for the community contact our state representatives for additional funding. I am puzzled as to why the board is trying to make it look like the State of Illinois is not properly funding our schools. Yes, they have mandated programs, which should better our students education. Granted some things are not funded 100 percent and the district has to cover those funds. The community voted for a referendum to get the district back on the path of being in the black, not in the red! Has any administrator been held accountable for their part in creating the budgets, mismanaging multiple accounts, or even in their financial projections, which have been inaccurate? I believe that these miscalculations and over spending by departments and building budgets are a contributing factor in the districts critical financial problems.
Board members and administrators are very quick to blame the various unions for being a contributing factor in this deficit. Do they not recall that all the bargaining unit contracts are jointly bargained with administration and union representatives? Once an agreement is reached between both sides then administration takes the tentative agreements to the board members for their approval or disapproval. Therefore, the board should NOT have agreed to contract raises, etc., if they knew they were in such a financial dilemma. Moreover, board members should not try to convince the community that it is the unions fault for these problems. Board members also approved pay raises for their administrative staff (certified and non-certified) ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 percent, last summer.
Another very disturbing issue that has recently arisen is the hiring of the new superintendent. Why is this persons salary extremely higher then our previous superintendents? We will not be paying him for his experience as a superintendent because he has no experience in this position. This makes no sense at all! It is evident that Rockford does NOT have this kind of money. What is the hiring committee thinking? Why are they offering a salary so out of their financial reach? Nevertheless, the board votes to cut programs and reduce staff, which directly affects the children of Rockford, in order to fund an outrageous salary for a new superintendent. If they are truly thinking about our children and their future, then they should strongly reconsider the salary for the new superintendent before offering him an official contract.
Now let us talk about the staffing at the administration building by a closer look at some of the departments that are top heavy with administrators, managers, and supervisory positions. A number of these positions carry a salary of at least $70,000 to the high $90,000 range. Do they really need so many chiefs in charge of an individual department? The board should do some research back in time and compare how many people were in each department in the early to late 80s. I am sure they will find a significant increase in administrative staff (highly paid salaries) in various departments over the years. Were the increases justified? Were the positions added to meet state and or federal requirements? If, not, why were they created?
I find all of this unfortunate for the staff, parents and most of all the students of Rockford. They will certainly miss future opportunities due to these massive reductions. Rockford has been declining so fast over the past six months with factories moving out of Rockford and businesses shutting their doors. The job market here is very gloomy and the future is not looking any better at this rate. Now, the Rockford Public School system is taking away the opportunities for our students futures to rebuild this community by these and additional reductions to our educational system.
Lisa Gustin is a Rockford resident.