District 205 administrators spend nearly $2,000 on photos of themselves

Other expenditures include $800 to cater funeral of student who was fatally shot, $948.96 for Learning Academy uniforms, and $17,300 on trip to Chicago

By Joe McGehee

Staff Writer

While Rockford Public School District 205 continues to wrestle with projected budget deficits and razor-thin profit margins, Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield, District 205 administrators and Rockford Board of Education members continue to approve expenditures some may view as unnecessary during trying economic times.

The Rock River Times recently requested information regarding Rockford Public School District 205 expenditures through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Among other expenses, it was discovered the district had spent almost $2,000 on photos of the superintendent, her cabinet and Rockford school board members. Also, the district spent $800 to cater the funeral of a student shot dead on Halloween 2009.

District 205 Chief Communications Officer Mark Bonne’s signature appears on some of the documents requesting the District 205 expenses. Neither Sheffield’s signature nor the signature of Chief Financial Officer Cedric Lewis appears on any of the documents obtained by TRRT.

Photos of superintendent, cabinet and school board members

According to information supplied by its Legal Department, District 205 spent $1,944.24 for the taking, framing and matting of photographs of the superintendent, her cabinet and Rockford Board of Education members. District 205 spent $769.46 on materials, while also paying $50 for a “rush fee,” according to the documentation supplied by District 205.

The photographs have been displayed in an area of the Administration Building, 201 S. Madison St., formerly reserved for student artwork.

Repeated calls for comment beginning as early as Jan. 6 to District 205 in regard to the costs of the photographs and other expenditures discussed in this article went unreturned as of press time.

Media roundtable and failed attempts to get District 205 comment

TRRT participated in a media roundtable Jan. 11 at the Rockford Register Star news tower to address communications issues with District 205 officials. Sheffield, Bonne, Chief of Student Support Colleen Cyrus and Chief Operations Officer Todd Schmidt attended that meeting, facilitated by Register Star Executive Editor Linda Grist Cunningham. Bonne was reminded at the meeting of TRRT’s inquiries regarding comment for this story.

Bonne was previously a reporter for the Register Star. According to a biography on the District 205 Web site, “Bonne worked for more than 20 years as a newspaper and magazine writer-editor whose assignments included reporting on education for the Rockford Register Star.”

At a Jan. 14 meeting at Third Presbyterian Church addressing violence in the schools, Bonne said he would arrange a time for the superintendent to speak with TRRT after she returned from a trip out of town. TRRT heard back from Bonne late in the day Jan. 19.

Catering of funeral reception

DeAngelo Link, a former Guilford High School student, was fatally shot at a party Oct. 31, 2009, which prompted District 205 officials to increase the level of security on school campuses for fear of retaliation.

According to the documentation supplied by District 205, a check totaling $800 was requested by Bonne to cover the costs of catering the reception meal for the November 2009 funeral. The same documentation stated: “The Community Development Fund (i.e., private donations) was used to fund this expense.”

Many recall the death of a District 205 elementary student from the H1N1 virus in 2009. Repeated calls to District 205 officials regarding the costs of catering Link’s funeral and any catering donated to the funeral of the student who died from the H1N1 virus went unreturned as of press time.

Leadership and Learning Academy expenditures

Rockford’s Leadership and Learning Academy’s pilot program, designed to serve otherwise disruptive students with an alternative learning environment, started at the Roosevelt Adult Education Center. Jan. 19, Leadership and Learning Academy classes began being held at the former Goodwill building, 1907 Kishwaukee St., which the district recently purchased for $375,000.

The 12 students who were a part of the original pilot program were supplied with uniforms that included jackets, shoes, pants, belts and shirts. Costs for the 12 uniforms totaled $948.96.

The costs for jackets totaled $404.92, while another $160 was spent on shoes. Pants for the 12 students cost $138.04 and purchases of belts totaled $88.64, while shirts cost $147.11.

According to District 205, “The Community Development Fund (i.e., private donations) and the Superintendent’s discretionary fund were used to purchase the uniforms for the students enrolled in the Leadership and Learning Academy.”

Also, the Leadership and Learning Academy took a trip to Giovanni’s Restaurant in December for their Academic Day. TRRT requested documentation outlining the costs of transportation, meals and gift bags for the 12 students.

The documentation supplied by District 205 explained that the only district funds expended on this trip were for transportation. The supporting documents showed that $88.33 was spent on transporting the 12 students to Giovanni’s, while expenses for the meals and gift bags were left unexplained.

Repeated calls for comment about the costs of uniforms and the trip to Giovanni’s for the Leadership and Learning Academy’s Academic Day went unreturned as of press time.

Itemized lists of the costs above are available by clicking on the following link: 7pg_RPSD_012010

District spends $17,300 on trip to Chicago for seminar

According to a Jan. 12 13-WREX TV report, Rockford school board members and District 205 administrators spent $17,300 of taxpayer money on a weekend trip to Chicago to attend a conference. According to the same report, neither Sheffield nor Rockford Board of Education President David Kelley was aware of how much the conference cost, while both were unaware of how many people attended.

According to Kelley, one of the conference seminars was in regard to the “…Myers-Briggs Type Indicator…to help board members better understand each other.” Also, the WREX report discovered those in attendance purchased a meal that totaled more than $2,000.

Kelley said in the WREX report that the conference trip was similar to something the district had been doing for years, and it was nothing out of the ordinary. He also said those who attended were expected to reimburse the district for personal expenses.

WREX also showed the text of a letter sent by an executive coordinator to the school board to those who attended the conference. The letter indicated an urgent need for those who attended the conference to reimburse the district for their personal expenses, including spouses’ dinners, in-room movies and other charges because an FOIA request had been filed seeking information about the trip.

Notable District 205 salaries

Editor’s note: Following are annual salaries for notable Rockford Public School District 205 administrators.

Superintendent and her cabinet

Dr. LaVonne Sheffield, superintendent, $210,000

Cedric Lewis, chief financial officer, $152,000

Colleen Cyrus, chief of student support, $118,759

Todd Schmidt, chief operations officer, $110,000

Luz Ramirez, special assistant to the superintendent, $92,000

Mark Bonne, chief communications officer, $75,000

Gina Rinaldo-Nelson, executive coordinator, $55,000

Notable administrators

Linda Hernandez, special project manager, $160,000

Patrick Hardy, chief academic officer, $125,000

Earl Hernandez, executive director of schools, $99,725

From the Jan. 20-26, 2010 issue

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