IHSA says Rockford Park District school sports partnership would work if managed properly
According to the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), a school sports partnership between Rockford Public School District 205 and the Rockford Park District could work.
Officials from both districts traveled to Bloomington Thursday, Jan. 27, to meet with IHSA representatives about how to create a hybrid interscholastic sports program that meets IHSA guidelines.
Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke said 90 percent of the issues that could prevent a successful merger have been resolved.
“All parties involved understand and support this partnership concept and vision, and our goal is to have everything IHSA compatible,” Dimke said. “We are in total agreement that the athletic programs must be able to compete in IHSA sanctioned leagues, tournaments, and state playoffs.
“We found a lot of common ground, and will continue to work together to find a win for the student athletes.”
One of problems centers on whether the program would adhere to IHSA bylaws next year.
According to IHSA bylaws, a park district-run sports program may not be recognized by the organization and Rockford teams could be prohibited from competing against sanctioned teams.
However, according to IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman, the program would adhere to bylaws if the school district, led by principals, maintains the majority of the control.
“The current bylaws are essential and in place to protect athletes and schools,” Hickman said Thursday. “The Rockford school district and the Rockford Park District fully support these bylaws. The next step is for the two entities to draft an agreement on the potential sports partnership which will be presented to IHSA for review.”
Hickman said several Illinois school districts have turned to their parks departments for assistance keeping cash-strapped athletic programs alive.
Meantime, school officials are continuing to meet with the public to discuss the partnership. Wednesday, Jan. 26, approximately 150 parents, coaches and students gathered at Auburn High School to hear details from Dimke and Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield.
Another forum is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 1 at Guilford High School, 5620 Spring Creek Rd. The program starts at 5:30 p.m.
Officials are also meeting with booster clubs, coaches and other recreational partners in Rockford to discuss how to move forward.
“We will work together to maintain a quality program for our student athletes,” Superintendent Sheffield said. “Sports are important in the development of our students and identity of our schools, but we have the responsibility to explore options to save money.”
The proposal to merge District 205’s athletic program with the Rockford Park District was drafted as school officials announced that the $3 million it spends on sports is not possible next year.
The school district is currently scrambling for ways to close the gap on a $50 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011.
Administrators will attempt to tackle the shortfall on a $404 million budget.
Sheffield announced Tuesday, Jan. 25 the district will close eight schools and cut more than 270 jobs next year, all of which, she said, is necessary because of the current financial crisis.
School closings will send students to other buildings, resulting in larger classes and student body consolidations.
As for sports, the alternative to a partnership with the park district is to eliminate athletics on all levels until the district can afford to field teams. When that would be, however, is not known.
Sheffield said Wednesday the only way to keep the athletic program free from cuts would be to stop heating schools, halt buses and make other non-sensible slashes. That, she said, cannot happen.
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