Editors note: State Representative Dave Winters (R-69) was given an opportunity to respond to this Guest Column but so far has not responded.
The past two years, Shirland School has been through tumultuous times. Our new superintendent eventually resigned after being suspended by the school board. Lately, more information has surfaced regarding her neglect of the school. During her tenure, Rep. Dave Winters was a vocal supporter. Mr. Winters called her a breath of fresh air in a newspaper article last year. When the school board suspended her, he claimed they were on a WITCH HUNT in another article. I would like to know why a politician is taking such a public stance in defense of a sub-par superintendent? Why is it so important that she keep her job? What is his personal stake?
In the past, Mr. Winters, a Shirland resident, has tried to pass legislation that would force small schools to consolidate. It was no surprise to me he would support a superintendent who was neglecting her duties at the school if he wanted the school to fail. I would like to know how he feels about limited growth in Shirland. Does it have bearing on support for the school? Is this why he supported an administrator who was spending the school into a deficit?
In February, a rumor was circulating that Rep. Winters and Sen. Syverson had a plan in place to force consolidation at Shirland School; Hononegah and South Beloit have been at odds over annexing a subdivision near the new South Beloit High School. The two school districts are fighting over it. To solve the issue, Mr. Winters and Mr. Syverson had devised a plan to offer up Shirland as a way to obtain millions in funding for either school district. The plan claimed that Mr. Winters and Mr. Syverson would approach the Shirland School Board to discuss probable consolidation. If Shirland decided to consolidate with either school, the successful school would receive a one-time payout of $3.3 million for the dissolution of Shirland School. What a plan!
When this plan became public, Rep. Winters and Sen. Syverson were quoted in the RRStar saying the rumors were totally false. Mr. Winters claimed to support the school and acknowledged that Shirland residents supported their school. Here are his exact words in the article: There is absolutely no foundation whatsoever. I have not been in support of consolidation with this school whatsoever. Another superintendent mentioned it to me and wanted to know whether or not it would be accepted in the Shirland community. I told him it would not. The plan seemed to slowly fizzle as a rumor.
Now, the rumor has resurfaced. In April, the Shirland School Board received a letter from the South Beloit Board as laid out in the plan. The letter specifically stated Rep. Winters and Sen. Syverson have been involved in conversations and would be willing to change the law and write legislation so that Shirland could consolidate with South Beloit. How convenient! Currently, it was not legal, since Shirland and South Beloit are not in the same district. The school board was asked to contact South Beloit if they had any interest in consolidation. Shirland School Board is not pursuing consolidation based on the will of the community. Once again, Dave Winters is contradicting his previous support for the school.
As a parent, taxpayer and community member, I have questions for Rep. Winters.
Do you have the authority to interfere with a community school?
Why did you so publicly support the prior superintendent, knowing that she was not doing her job? Were you waiting for the school to fail?
Why do you speak so positively about the prior administrator when you have no knowledge of her actual job performance? Does the fact that the administrator was a personal friend who hired your wife for contract work have any bearing?
Are you in favor of limited growth in Shirland? If not, is this why you do not support the school?
Why are you interested in writing legislation for a merger to occur with South Beloit and Shirland?
Rep. Winters continually denies any wrongdoing or any initiation in consolidation talks, yet his name continually appears in the discussions. Actions speak louder than words, Rep. Winters. The rumor is proving true.
Megan Pederson is a Shirland resident.