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Superintendent announces closing of 8 schools, tensions mount
Posted By Jim Hagerty On January 26, 2011 @ 10:54 am In Happening Now | 1 Comment
The room was near capacity and tension evident at the Tuesday, Jan. 25 meeting of the Rockford Board of Education, as Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield announced District 205 will close eight schools next year.
In a prolonged meeting, Sheffield shuffled through several pages of cuts aimed at the goal of tackling a $50 million deficit for fiscal year 2012.
To reach that goal, the district will close Jackson Elementary, New Milford Elementary, Stiles Elementary, Auburn Freshman Campus, Dennis Early Childhood Center, Academic Career Education High School (ACE), Page Park School and Haskell Elementary.
Students at Haskell will consolidate with Lewis Lemon students, while alternative classes at Page Park will move to West View Elementary, sending students there to various buildings in the district.
With the closing of Auburn Freshman Campus, ninth-graders will be moved to the main campus. Gifted classes at Auburn will move to East, while ACE courses will be taught on the third floor of West Middle School.
Coupled with a one-time $6.9 million federal subsidy, Sheffield’s proposal will save the district approximately $52 million next year, the superintendent said.
Through a tense presentation, Sheffield mentioned the sensitivity of the issue and that $50 million is far from a drop in the bucket for the cash-strapped district.
“That’s a lot of money,” Sheffield said. “We pretty much cut to the core. I wish we didn’t have to give up anything.”
Backing her plan, Sheffield said some schools are operating about 40 percent from capacity, which, she said is draining the district financially.
School Board President David Kelley agreed.
“District-wide we’re only averaging roughly 75 percent at capacity,” Kelley said. “We can’t meet this goal of $50 million dollars running our buildings at an average across the district of 75 percent. We have to tighten it up. People aren’t going to be happy with the things we have to do, but we have to have a balanced budget or we will go over the edge.”
Closings also will come with staff cuts. According to Sheffield’s plan, an equivalent of more than 275 full-time positions will be eliminated, including all non-tenured teachers.
Kindergarten became a significant talking point Tuesday, as the district faces elimination of all-day programs, converting them into half-day classes. That move, Sheffield said, will result in cutting approximately 50 full-time jobs.
It is unclear how many principals will be lose their jobs next year, however, several are on the block, along with some psychologists and other staffers.
The elimination of teachers and other changes will be presented to the teachers union for concession. While Sheffield didn’t specify which measures would be taken, she said deeper cuts would be made elsewhere if the union doesn’t concede to proposed changes.
Part of the superintendent’s plan includes various administrative layoffs and increases in employee insurance and pension contributions.
While the proposed athletic partnership with the Rockford Park District was mentioned briefly Tuesday, it did spark a pugilistic exchange of words between Sheffield and board member Jude Makulec.
Sheffield said athletic cuts and consolidations may be made, in part, to be fair to those affected by cuts to academic sectors, which, she said, kids need most.
In turn, Makulec called the measure a 500-pound elephant.
The jab turned talks of sports into a heated discussion about communication between administrators and members of the school board, most notably Makulec’s reported need to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain district data.
Sheffield said she isn’t required to make information available to a lone board member. That requirement, she said, only applies to collective requests by a board majority.
“At some point, all this mis-truth has to stop,” Sheffield said. “You refuse to communicate with me. That is your choice.”
Sheffield requested the board finalize school closings at the Feb. 22 meeting. The board is scheduled to vote on staff cuts March. 8, allowing high school teachers and students sufficient time to complete 2011-2012 class schedules.
The 2012 fiscal year begins July 1, 2011.
To answer questions about school closings, the district is holding two public forums Saturday, Feb. 5. The first will be at Ellis Arts Academy, 222 S. Central Ave. from 10 a.m. to noon. Changes also will be discussed from 2 to 4 p.m., at Lincoln Middle School, 1500 Charles St.
The Rockford Board of Education meets each Tuesday evening, at the District 205 Administration Building, 201 S. Madison St., downtown.
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