District 205 schools, Park District explore athletic partnership

From press release

Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent LaVonne M. Sheffield and Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke announced Jan. 15 a possible partnership that would transfer operation of competitive school sports to the Park District, with the goal of providing an improved athletic program at a lower cost.

The joint venture would involve the Park District assuming management of team sports in elementary, middle and high schools, including coaching, and the school district reimbursing the Park District for its costs. Rockford Public Schools currently spends at least $3 million annually on extracurricular athletics.

Both Sheffield and Dimke stressed that no decisions have been made and that what is being called “Team Up! Sports Partnership for Students” remains in an exploratory stage. The two chief executives invite community members to participate in the following two public listening sessions, which they will lead:

→ 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26, at Auburn High School Auditorium, 5110 Auburn St.

→ 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 1, at Guilford High School Auditorium, 5620 Spring Creek Road

A series of briefings is also occurring with stakeholders including community groups, high school booster clubs and the leadership of collective bargaining units that represent coaches and others currently employed in school athletics.

The partnership requires approval by the Rockford Board of Education and the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners. If approved, Park District oversight of school sports would begin with the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

No tax increase would result from the partnership, nor would the partnership affect the Park District’s existing recreational programs. School and park officials in Sterling and Elgin have entered into similar arrangements to support extracurricular school athletics.

Rockford school and park officials have a history of working closely and successfully on athletic programming. Last year, the relationship was expanded with the creation of the Superintendent’s Summer Challenge. Through the use of federal funding, nearly 1,000 students participated at no charge in a variety of jointly-organized academic, arts and athletic camps and activities.

“The financial challenge we face in Rockford Public Schools demands that we explore any and all partnerships that offer the potential to provide a higher-quality product more cost effectively,” Sheffield said. “Rockford is fortunate to have a park system with a world-class reputation, so I have every confidence that a transfer of athletic management would be seamless in the short term and take us to a better place in the long term.”

Dimke said that school teams would maintain their individual identities and that aligning school and park athletics would strengthen the feeder system—to the ultimate benefit of high school teams. Other possible benefits of the partnership are the ability for Rockford schools to host championship games in Park District stadiums and the opportunity to upgrade school sports facilities.

“The Park District is excited about the opportunity to further discussions with the School District and the community about how, together, we can do what is best for children,” Dimke said. “Many questions still need to be answered, but we believe this could be a win-win that allows the schools to focus on what the schools do best and allows us to expand on our mission of helping people enjoy life.”

Financial challenges facing Rockford Public Schools including a projected $50 million budget deficit for the coming school year leave athletics vulnerable to reduction or elimination, Sheffield said.

“Adults, understandably, are going to worry about losing their jobs, and the community will hear a lot of noise because of that,” she cautioned. “We are exploring this option only in the interest of putting children first.”

For more information, contact Rockford Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Mark Bonne at (815) 871-4570 or Rockford Park District Deputy Director Jodi Carroll at (815) 289-6204.

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