R.E.A.CH. (Rockford Educating All CHildrenwww.r-e-a-ch.org) celebrates its 9th birthday! The reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated! R.E.A.CH. gave a list of recommendations to help the Nancy Kalchbrenner majority resolve their self-inflicted educational and financial crises. However, for this week, its time to celebrate R.E.A.CH.s history.
R.E.A.CH. began in November 1994 when classroom, computer, and reading aides were removed from C-9 schools (schools whose student population was mostly majority) by Dr. Eugene Eubanks, court-ordered Master. The group was founded by Jackson PTO, which invited PTO officers, aides and interested community members to their school for a meeting.
In December 1994, the group named itself R.E.A.CH., and the first officers of R.E.A.CH. were elected and were as follows: Mary Hitchcock and Gary Rickards co-chairs; Barb Dent, secretary; and Jennifer Zellers, treasurer. Hitchcock was Nelson PTO president, Dent was Marsh PTO president, and Zellers and Rickards were Jackson PTO members.
In late winter of 1995, Ted Biondo merged his group, PACT (People Against Court-ordered Taxation), with R.E.A.CH. In spring of 1995, R.E.A.CH. voted to help attorney Michael OBrien with his annual tax protest against District 205 for their illegal use of the Tort Fund to pay for the People Who Care (PWC) remedies. R.E.A.CH. provided thousands of taxpayers forms and envelopes to send in their tax protest forms and receipts so they could be included in the lawsuit. R.E.A.CH. assisted OBrien for six years. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in October 2000 that the tax was illegal, and the school district stopped levying it. It was a huge victory for Michael OBrien, R.E.A.CH. and the children and taxpayers of District 205. Refunds would begin being issued on May 30, 2002, to those who protested.
In fall of 1995, R.E.A.CH. voted in its first board of directors: Biondo, Bob Copeland, Dent, Hitchcock, Deanna Laing, Jean Mathison and Zellers.
Per the bylaws, the board voted in the following officers: Hitchcock, chair; Biondo, co-chair; Laing, secretary; and Zellers, treasurer.
R.E.A.CH.-endorsed candidates who have won the school board elections are: David Strommer (1995-2003 Subdistrict B), Jim Wigner (1995-97 Subdistrict C), Biondo (1997-2001 Subdistrict D), Patti Delugas (1996-2001 Subdistrict F), Stephanie Caltagerone (1999-2003 Subdistrict C) and David Kelley (2003-present Subdistrict G).
Throughout the years, R.E.A.CH. members have served on numerous committees in District 205. R.E.A.CH.-endorsed candidates would become the board majority in 1997 and would bring UNITARY STATUS to our community on June 30, 2002. This conservative majority would require books for all core courses and give the elementary students a brand new reading program. They also lowered the tax rate for three CONSECUTIVE years and refused to levy another illegal tax after the districts use of the Tort Fund was declared illegal. R.E.A.CH. has supported three District 205 referendums (April 1999), November 2000 and April 2001) and opposed two of them (March and November 2002).
While other groups have only surfaced at election times, R.E.A.CH. has been there for our community for nine years. Because the Kalchbrenner majority has ignored our recommendations, the districts Strategic Plan and the districts Unitary Status Plan, we are on the verge of state financial takeover, and there is no peace in District 205. Despite constant and vicious attacks from our critics, R.E.A.CH. will continue to focus on quality education and financial stability for District 205.
Barb Dent is president of R.E.A.CH.