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Editorial: Public must take stand in battle for unflattering letter
Elected school board stands by as District 205 uses taxpayer money to snub its nose at the law
• Unflattering letter remains unread by taxpayers, despite Public Access Council’s ruling that letter should be released
By Brandon Reid
Rockford Public School District 205 is using taxpayer money to keep an unflattering letter from taxpayers that the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Council (PAC) has ruled should be released under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Rock River Times (TRRT) and the Illinois Press Association have been forced into the position of taking the school district to court—with taxpayers footing the bill for the school district’s legal fees—to make the district comply with the FOIA and the PAC’s ruling. The district likely believed all along this weekly newspaper did not have the legal funds to undertake such an endeavor. Meantime, the district has what it views to be an unlimited source of finances—taxpayer dollars—to finance its legal fees. Game over—school district wins, public loses.
The public is in a unique position to force the district into complying with the law. Let me repeat that: the public can force the school district into complying with the law. This is, after all, a public school district governed by an elected school board. And the district should, as determined by the PAC, release the letter under the FOIA.
Why does District 205 not want taxpayers to read this letter, written by former Rockford Auburn High School Principal and current Freeport High School Principal Dr. Patrick Hardy? Rockford Board of Education President David Kelley said the district is not releasing the letter to protect Hardy. However, the letter puts the district, and its leaders, in a very unflattering light. Is it embarrassing? Yes, if it is true. Does it paint a picture of leadership that has absolutely no business—none whatsoever—overseeing a public school district? Possibly, if it is true.
According to the PAC, District 205 should supply TRRT with a copy of the letter. TRRT and the public should have the opportunity to hear what the district and Board of Education have to say about the letter—and maybe even provide evidence that portions of the letter may be exaggerated or false. But that won’t happen until either the district or Hardy himself releases the letter. Attempts to obtain the letter directly from Hardy have been unsuccessful.
The letter, written in response to District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield’s June 17, 2010, letter titled “Separation of Employment,” was sent to Sheffield and all Board of Education members. Kelley confirmed receiving the letter and said the allegations in the letter were investigated, and he considers the matter closed.
Other members of the Board of Education to confirm receiving the letter were Harmon Mitchell, Alice Saudargas and Jeanne Westholder. Jude Makulec declined to comment, and Bob Evans could not be reached.
Considering the letter was sent to elected public officials, the public should have a right to read the letter to determine for themselves whether their elected officials are making good decisions and providing effective representation.
Readers may be questioning the credibility of the individual who wrote the letter, Dr. Patrick Hardy. As Rockford Education Association President Molly Phalen said, “Patrick’s reputation in Rockford is beyond dispute.”
Nearly every person TRRT has spoken with, including many school board members, teachers and community members, has said nothing but positive things about Hardy. In fact, it appears Hardy was highly regarded and is missed by many in the district. However, Kelley said he believed Hardy’s letter was the result of Hardy’s “sour grapes” at how things worked out for him in District 205.
Hardy left his position at Auburn under his own will to take the position at Freeport, and the unflattering letter was written after he had already accepted the position in Freeport. The district’s insinuation—in their third attempt at an exemption to the FOIA—that his letter was in response to some kind of disciplinary matter appears to be just further misinformation. As Hardy said: “I took the job at Freeport on my own. I was never disciplined.” TRRT is awaiting the PAC’s ruling on the district’s third exemption attempt.
The district’s first two exemption attempts, which claimed the letter was a private matter and a personnel matter, were flatly rejected by the Illinois Attorney General’s PAC in its ruling. The PAC ruled Sept. 29 that District 205 should “…release the letter to [TRRT Staff Writer] Mr. [Joe] McGehee after providing Dr. Hardy written notice…”. The PAC office went on to state that their ruling should “…serve to close this matter.”
District 205’s misinformation must come to an end. What kind of example are the leaders of our school district setting for our children? Lying, bullying, shirking responsibility, failing to communicate and snubbing their nose at the law are certainly not the examples we should expect from the leaders of our public school district.
As I wrote in my Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2009, editorial, “The District 205 credibility gap,” in which it was outlined how the school district was misleading and hiding from the public the level of violence in our schools: “The sad part is that while administrators and others in District 205 are scrambling to play politics and spin things in their favor, students are suffering. Did you hear me, District 205? STUDENTS ARE SUFFERING!”
Since the Board of Education and the administration appear to only be concerned about themselves and not our children, it’s time for the public to take a stand on our children’s behalf. Organize now—gather picket signs and start marching outside the district Administration Building, 201 S. Madison St. The next school board meeting begins at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 9, in room 202 of the Administration Building. Attend the meeting, and demand District 205 comply with FOIA law and release the letter.
Be relentless. Write, e-mail and/or call your school board member and demand he or she force the administration to comply with FOIA law and release the unflattering letter the Attorney General’s PAC has ruled should be released under the FOIA.
Continuing the legal fight, which will likely end with TRRT obtaining a copy of the letter, will only further waste taxpayer dollars.
Following is contact information for all Rockford Board of Education members:
Lisa Jackson, Sub District A—2007 Arthur Ave., 61101; firstname.lastname@example.org; (815) 375-0175
Jeanne Westholder, Sub District B—1123 North Ave., 61103-6123; email@example.com; (815) 963-9654
Alice Saudargas, Sub District C—1412 Halsted Road, 61103; firstname.lastname@example.org; (815) 877-4243
Jude Makulec, Sub District D—4913 Birch Ave., 61114; email@example.com; (815) 633-6818
Robert Evans, Sub District E—602 Coolidge Place, 61107; firstname.lastname@example.org; (815) 226-4175
Harmon Mitchell, Sub District F—2514 Mandrake Drive, 61108; email@example.com; (815) 399-0710
David Kelley, Sub District G—3456 Dallas Road, 61109; firstname.lastname@example.org; (815) 874-6345
Staff Writer Joe McGehee contributed background information to this editorial.
From the Nov. 3-9, 2010 issue