Guest Column: District 205: Is it about the kids or the fat cats downtown?

By Jane Hayes and Mary Jo Powers

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”—Sir Walter Scott

Time for an update on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made to the Rockford School District by Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) and other miscellany. First, let’s start with the new policy at the front desk at 201 S. Madison. Now, not only do we have to show our identification and sign in, but we are refused entrance to the fourth-floor inner sanctum, or is that just WEE, pesky retired teachers, who are refused?

Next, the job description, salary and duties of Thandiwe Peebles, apparent Broad graduate, associate of our superintendent and mentor for principals throughout the district, seem to mystify central office, as it has taken one of our WEE members four FOIA requests to receive nothing tangible. Is it time to go to Lisa Madigan’s office to untangle this?

Then, the consultant’s agreement with Shoresh Learning, an apparent mentoring program used at the Learning and Leadership Academy, went from its original $40,000 contract to its current cost to taxpayers of $82,790. Unfortunately, when WEE asked for an evaluation or assessment of these services to discern their inherent value, there was no documentation of this. Unfortunately, an established mentoring program that had been of great service to novice teachers throughout the district was eliminated this year as a cost-saving measure. Talk to some of the teachers who participated in these mentoring sessions to fully understand how necessary this service is to the lifeblood and sanity of a new teacher.

One of the cabinet members plays solitaire on his iPad during crucial board meetings. For his nearly six-figure salary, several classrooms of iPads could be purchased to foster academic learning by students.

According to the editorial board of the Rockford Register Star, our WEE mission has been misconstrued again. It is not that our group of ethical retired teachers disapproves of Antonia Demas’ expertise in nutritional advice for the district. She has a Ph.D. from Cornell University in her field and IS a nutritionist. However, what we do question is why the person hired to lead our food services does NOT have the credentials as a nutritionist and gets paid $78,000 with a high school diploma. (You see, teachers are all about credentials since we have worked so diligently for ours!)

And if the board goals for our superintendent are that the district will maintain and further develop partnerships with key stakeholders on behalf of our children and develop a strategy to apprise stakeholders of key issues and initiatives being considered by the district, why aren’t they followed? Why is communication and transparency overlooked?

And finally, to the most extreme tangled mess of all—the BUDGET! In my findings from the FOIA request and hours of research (remember, retired teachers are accustomed to research and paperwork and could never survive as an effective teacher without it), here are the most alarming facts we have discerned:

Of the $404,120,977 budget for the current school year, following are some stats by school:

Auburn High School—Enrollment: 1,360; Budget FY 2011: $10,832,810; Cost per Student: $7,965.

East High School—Enrollment: 1,395; Budget FY 2011: $11,578,454; Cost per Student: $8,300.

Guilford High School—Enrollment: 1,993; Budget FY 2011: $15,317,505; Cost per Student: $7,686.

Jefferson High School—Enrollment: 1,800; Budget FY 2011: $14,031,051; Cost per Student: $7,795.

Roosevelt Alternative High School—Enrollment: 640; Budget FY 2011: $5,106,275; Cost per Student: $7,979.

Eisenhower Middle School—Enrollment: 1,010; Budget FY 2011: $7,451,359; Cost per Student: $7,378.

Flinn Middle School—Enrollment: 891; Budget FY 2011: $6,342,895; Cost per Student: $7,119.

Kennedy Middle School—Enrollment: 686; Budget FY 2011: $5,971,478; Cost per Student: $8,705.

Lincoln Middle School—Enrollment: 710; Budget FY 2011: $6,024,303; Cost per Student: $8,485.

Rockford Environmental Science Academy Middle School—Enrollment: 1,217; Budget FY 2011: $8,809,117; Cost per Student: $7,238.

West Middle School—Enrollment: 608; Budget FY 2011: $4,929,902; Cost per Student: $8,108.

Barbour—Enrollment: 575; Budget FY 2011: $3,305,030; Cost per Student: $5,748.

Beyer—Enrollment: 226; Budget FY 2011: $2,144,672; Cost per Student: $9,490.

Brookview—Enrollment: 483; Budget FY 2011: $3,390,582; Cost per Student: $7,080.

Conklin—Enrollment: 396; Budget FY 2011: $3,126,752; Cost per Student: $7,896.

Ellis—Enrollment: 586; Budget FY 2011: $5,270,096; Cost per Student: $8,993.

King—Enrollment: 262; Budget FY 2011: $2,396,227; Cost per Student: $9,146.

Marsh—Enrollment: 586; Budget FY 2011: $4,288,011; Cost per Student: $7,317.

Washington 1-8 Gifted—Enrollment: 776; Budget FY 2011: $4,789,137; Cost per Student: $6,172.

Leadership & Learning Academy—Enrollment: 45; Budget FY 2011: $1,177,516; Cost per Student: $26,167.

Fresh Start/Fresh View—Enrollment: 75; Budget FY 2011: $4,001,817; Cost per Student: $53,558.

Board Office—Budget FY 2011: $104,274,609—a quarter of the total budget for 2011.

A random sampling of elementary schools was used. This information is also available to all taxpayers by going to the district website and checking District 205 Budget 2010-2011 and calling the individual school for its current enrollment:

Although we realize the necessity of alternative programs to a school district this size, we are concerned about the disparity of funding to certain alternative schools at the expense of others. So, according to our critics at the Rockford Register Star, who dismiss the WEE organization as looking for junk programs in the Rockford School District, never fear, we have done the investigation for them! Look no further than the central administration to find true pork! And so in closing, I ask you, is it really all about KIDS for this administration, or is it about the fat cats downtown?

Jane Hayes and Mary Jo Powers are members of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE).

From the Jan. 5-11, 2011 issue

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