Guest Column: R.E.A.CH. suggests solutions to District 205 Board

Guest Column: R.E.A.CH. suggests solutions to District 205 Board

By Barb Dent

Once again as spring approaches, educational and financial problems plague the Rockford School District. How do they improve education AND balance the budget AND find the funds to meet this April’s payroll?

Let’s tackle the April payroll issue first. There is the misconception that the district has a “rainy day/secret” fund called working cash. Working cash simply allows the district to have enough cash on hand to pay bills while awaiting state aid, grant money, tax revenue, etc. Moving $30 million to the education fund from working cash DOES NOT GIVE the district the monies needed to meet its April payroll. They will still have to BORROW $30 million more from this year’s anticipated taxes. That would make the total they have borrowed $77 million, and that’s about the amount they would receive in taxes in June and October. They would have to pay back the $77 million when taxes are collected this year, which would almost deplete their tax revenue.

The other option is to try to borrow the $30 million from next year’s taxes. This costs more in interest, but allows them to keep $30 million of this year’s taxes to help pay expenses and delays next year’s borrowing. Both options are bad, and the district must find a way to rein in its spending and provide an equitable education for ALL children. Since Dr. Alan Brown has become superintendent, the district has had to borrow MORE money each year and has needed it EARLIER in the school year.

District 205 can reduce its spending and increase educational quality, but it needs seven active board members who are responsive to the community and knowledgeable about the district. At the present time, we have only four members—Stephanie Caltagerone, Jay Nellis, David Strommer and Mike Williams—who meet this requirement. The other three members—Michael Bliss, Dr. Robert Evans, and Nancy Kalchbrenner—fail miserably.

Strommer serves on both the Operations and Education committees and has extensive knowledge of the district’s facilities. Nellis has joined Caltagerone and Williams, focusing on educational issues as well as financial ones. All four of these board members are responsive to calls/e-mails and visit schools.

Former board member Ted Biondo has attended more finance meetings than Bliss, Evans, and Kalchbrenner combined. Bliss quit the Education Committee and also quit as the Policy chair. Evans, a Rockford College professor, does NOT attend Education meetings and has admitted that he does NOT visit many schools. Kalchbrenner has canceled more Education Committee meetings than her predecessors, has admitted to NOT returning calls, and has complained that it is difficult to juggle her personal life with her board commitments. Bliss and Kalchbrenner have missed more meetings than the rest of the board combined. Hopefully, the voters on April 1 will examine their school board candidates very carefully and vote wisely.

While the board struggles with its financial and educational problems, R.E.A.CH.(Rockford Educating All Children) board of directors has given the board some suggestions to improve education and balance the budget. Some of them are:

To improve education and reduce the dropout rate:

1. Reduce graduation requirements to 32.

2. Reduce required classes for secondary education to five.

3. Eliminate policy that requires ALL students take algebra, geometry and chemistry to graduate. Allow alternative choices in math and science.

4. Create an education plan and evaluate ALL programs.

5. Evaluate grant spending and apply monies toward successful educational programs/personnel.

6. Implement tuition-based summer school, night school or weekend school.

7. Evaluate grade configuration for elementary and middle school.

8. Do a zero-based budget for the 2003-04 school year before any reinstatement of programs/personnel.

R.E.A.CH.’s suggestions can work if we have a school board and superintendent focused on education and fiscal responsibility. To see the complete list of R.E.A.CH. suggestions, visit

Barb Dent is the president of Rockford Educating All Children (R.E.A.CH.).

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