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Guest Column: Watchdog group responds to District 205 superintendent’s remarks

November 17, 2010

Editor’s note: The following is in response to a four-page letter read by Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield at the Nov. 9 Rockford Board of Education meeting. Sheffield’s comments were in response to a Nov. 3 guest column in The Rock River Times titled “Taxpayers, did you know?” by Watchdogs for Ethics in Education members Jane Hayes and Mary Jo Powers.

Sheffield’s four-page letter is available online at rockrivertimes.com under the Happening Now section under the headline “Sheffield responds to ‘Rumor Tuesday’ at Nov. 9 Board of Education meeting.”

By WEE, Watchdogs for Ethics in Education members Jane Hayes, Colleen Magee, Barb Oehlke and Mary Jo Powers (whose combined teaching experience equals 132 years)

Yes, we are retired teachers, but more than that, we are concerned citizens of Rockford who will not be silenced. WEE is an active grassroots group, whose mission is to make the Rockford community aware of concerns with the leadership of Rockford School District 205 and the elected school board members. WEE’s mission statement follows: “WEE is a group of concerned citizens striving to make our public schools more ethical and excellent by putting stakeholders (children, parents, staff and taxpayers) first. WEE investigates questionable practices throughout the district. WEE expects educational responsibility and demands fiscal accountability by district leadership.”

In response to Dr. Sheffield’s four-page letter of rebuke at the Nov. 9 school board meeting, we are responding in print. Let’s start with what we have in common; all of us agree that we need to make changes to improve our schools. We also concur that we stand for education, which means we also stand for children and for truth.

We have NOT permeated the district with rumors, but merely report information provided by District 205’s legal department in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Our information from our guest column in The Rock River Times (dated Nov. 3, 2010), is substantiated by our FOIA requests as follows:

1. There are 55 central administration personnel, above the building level, making $4,937,695. Twenty-five of these 55 do NOT have job descriptions.

2. The special assistant to the superintendent does NOT have a master’s degree nor a Type 75 administrative certificate. Nowhere in the résumé provided by RPS’s legal department does it state that said person has a Type 75 or a master’s degree, while the job description states this person is required o have a master’s degree and a Type 75.

3. The director of Food Services has a high school diploma. The RPS 205 job description dated Feb. 23, 2005, states “the Director of Food Services is required to be a registered dietician with the American Dietetic Association with a master’s degree (M.S preferred in nutrition, food management, or related field.)” Nowhere in the résumé for the Food Services’ director does it state that said employee is a registered dietician with an M.S. in nutrition or related fields. This person receives $78,000, and RPS 205 has a $35,000 contract with Food Studies Institute, located in Trumansburg, N.Y., which provides menu oversight and other services that a registered dietician would be expected to provide.

4. The CFO (chief financial officer) only has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, according to the résumé provided. The Illinois State Code [(Section 21-7. 1 (e)(3)105 ILCS 5/21-7.1 (e)(3)] states the person must have a master’s degree in business administration, finance or accounting, as well as a Type 75 administrative certificate, which said person does not have. He earns $152,000 without certification.

5. The person who runs the Human Resources Department has a master’s degree, no job description, and receives $89,000. Why does the head of Human Resources have the title of special assistant to the CFO if she works exclusively in the Human Resources Department?

6. The tri-fold quarterly cost $74,500 to mail out. Are there not more cost-effective ways to communicate this information? The FOIA response from the legal department did NOT include our requests for ALL mailings sent from the district, so the actual cost of mailings is significantly higher. WEE submitted the request for ALL mailings, only citing the Context as an example; the cost we received is essentially only a partial expense of numerous mailings.

7. According to the FOIA request WEE submitted, the Principals’ Book Club cost $8,113.89 for books and $15,625 for the free meals to the administrators. While we believe professional development of administrators is necessary and the investment in books is wise, could we not find a more cost-effective way to feed them? When we asked for the costs of the Principals’ Book Club for the 2010-2011 school year, we were told, “No book studies have been held during the 2010-2011 school year as of the date of this request (Oct. 20, 2010).” We have heard from many sources that the book club has continued.

8. Dr. Sheffield’s salary is $210,000 yearly. We never questioned the number of hours the superintendent works, as it is not a 40-hour-a-week job, reflected by the salary. Every good educator works far more than 40 hours a week. The number of hours Dr. Sheffield puts in is not questioned. However, what we do question is her willingness to communicate where she is when she works off-site.

9. Dr. Sheffield worked as an independent consultant with Newton Learning while in Detroit. Any relationship with Evans Newton (ENI)? Sheffield states Newton Learning has no relationship to Evans Newton.

10. Our district spent $5.1 million for the services of Evans Newton during the 2009-2010 school year. Aren’t we still paying ENI, even though the scores have not improved as expected? (Sheffield did NOT respond to this query in her lengthy address.)

11. Caesar Mickens served as a consultant for RPS 205 from 2008-2010, while he also served as an executive consultant to Scholastic Library Division. (Dr. Sheffield was employed by our district in July of 2009.) In May 2010, Sheffield purchased half-a-million-dollars worth of books from Scholastic. Twice, the district has denied the existence of a consultant contract with Mr. Mickens and stated that he was not involved with the decision to purchase books from Scholastic.

12. Sheffield stated Nov. 9: “Two individuals are making the lion’s share of the recent noise. They talk about the responsible use of taxpayer funds, but do not seem to take that into consideration when submitting a steady stream of labor-intensive FOIA requests. The volume of FOIA requests requires that we devote 80 percent of one employee’s time strictly to processing them. That amounts to more than $45,000 in expense to taxpayers, excluding the employee’s benefits or the time of other staff. FOIA requests submitted by the two retired teachers and others affiliated with them easily account for half of that cost.” WEE is a group of 12 retired educators plus other concerned community members.

13. As of Oct. 13, 2010, the Rockford School District has received a total of 128 FOIA requests; 16 (12 percent of them) were from WEE, and five of those were repeat requests because of inadequate information WEE received on the initial requests.

14. We have never attacked Diamond Security or Superintendent Sheffield’s husband with our poison pens.

More facts and figures will follow after we decipher the FOIA responses received from District 205; we assure taxpayers that the salary of one employee is well worth the cost to discern the truth and establish fiscal accountability by RPS 205!

From the Nov. 17-23, 2010 issue

3 Comments

  1. Joan

    November 17, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Bravo. What a terrific response. No emotion. No lies. Just facts and truth. Something that has not been coming out of District 205.The rumor that had been floating around about Diamond Security was that her husband had been a silent partner in the firm. There has been no evidence of that and WEE never even mentioned the rumored connection. I think she was commenting on all the rumors that had been going around not just the facts that WEE has uncovered. What I found shocking was her incinuation that WEE was racist because WEE reported the facts about employees who happened to be minority. That is her tactic and I have personally been the recipient of her innuendos and name calling. It is the wag the dog tactic to try and place the public focus on something other than what the light is shining on. Keep up the good work!

  2. James C. Davis

    November 18, 2010 at 6:53 am

    All you have to do is following Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffields employment history. You could start in Detroit, just heard Detroit has the “WORST” schools in the entire United States. Look at the other schools she has been associated with, should give someone a clue. Thanks alot School District for hiring a person of this calibar. Taxpayer take it in the end one more time, when will Rockford taxpayer “clean out the swamp” to coin a phrase by another Taxpayer Cheat.

  3. John

    November 19, 2010 at 7:35 am

    My thanks to WEE for bringing this information to me. That said, I’m fed up with both sides.

    As a taxpayer, I’m sick of paying Rock-Star prices for administrators WHO FAIL, to teachers WHO FAIL, and to a school district tha FAILS! Graduation rates of 65% ARE A FAILURE! The Tribune reported yesterday that only 50% of Illinois Seniors read at their level, Only 25% have math skills appropriate to their level.

    Since we’re stuck with a failing school system no matter how much money we throw at it, I say let’s take the opposite approach. Let’s cut school funding by 50%, starting with a reduction of administrative personnel of 75%. The teachers can suck up the rest of the cut.

    What’s the worst that can happen…the district fail????? We’re already there!

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