School Board News: Rash of speakers challenge honors cuts at special meeting, matter to be discussed by Education Committee
By Jim Hagerty
Thirty speakers addressed district officials and school board members at the District 205 Administration Building Tuesday, Dec. 7, during a special meeting of the Rockford Board of Education.
Each speaker voiced opinions against the administration’s district-wide plans to cut honors courses.
Those who addressed the board, including several students, were direct and assertive, as one parent called honors class cuts “the worst decision yet to come from the Rockford school district.”
Board member Lisa Jackson said she is uncomfortable with what she considered disparity between the board, administration and children, while board secretary Jeanne Westholder called for the board to make its self-evaluation statistics public.
By making stats public, communication between parents, school officials and media will improve while the board is faced with many difficult decisions.
Many of those decisions, Westholder said, come with few or no alternatives.
“I’m not sure how well the community is going to receive any proposed cuts,” Westholder said.
Westholder also praised Superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield, calling the district head a “strong leader.”
Meantime, President David Kelley asked the administration to provide the board with a list of courses it wishes to eliminate; and rumors that students have been forced to choose from course catalogs that do not include honors classes need to be quelled.
According to Sheffield, a meeting of the Education Committee would help solidify information coming out of her office. Sheffield said her staff has unsuccessfully attempted to place the matter on the board’s agenda.
Chairman of the Education Committee, Robert Evans, said Sheffield’s claim is untrue.
“I’m sorry, ” Evans said. “As chair of the Education Committee, no one has notified me of an attempt or glimmer in someone’s eye to discuss honors courses or AP courses. I have reviewed with administrative officials the questions of what would be the agenda for the Education Committee, and not one person ever mentioned this.
“We can talk about lots of reasons why we are here tonight, but that the Education Committee bottled-up this discussion is not one of them.”
Sheffield did not formally address the school board or respond to public comments. She did say she didn’t know the board was interested in seeing high school planning materials and that some cuts are necessary as the district manages its $41 million budget.
“There’s not going to be any place in the district that won’t be touched,” Sheffield said. “Everyone’s going to feel something, because $41 million is actual.”
The superintendent said information about class cuts was initially mentioned to a principal, who, she said, told a counselor, which led to further questions.
Before adjourning, Kelley encouraged the administration to keep the board in the loop of its plans.
“A rumor got out before we could do anything,” Sheffield said.
The Education Committee will hear which courses the administration wishes to eliminate before further proposals are made.
Friday, Dec. 3, Superintendent Sheffield released a memo, addressed to the school board, explaining her reasoning for possible honors class cuts.
The board’s weekly open meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14. The Education Committee is scheduled to meet Friday, Dec. 10, at 4:30 p.m.
Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s memo to the Rockford Board of Education can be read here.
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