Tense crowd challenges school, park officials for sports partnership details
A visibly frustrated and vocal crowd of about 55 Rockford residents attended a public forum at the Guilford High School Auditorium Wednesday, Feb. 9.
Each sought more information about the proposed sports partnership between the city’s public school system and the Rockford Park District.
The meeting marked the second listening session about the proposal since Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield announced District 205 can no longer afford the $3 million it spends each year to offer extracurricular athletics.
According to District 205 Chief Executive Director of Schools Earl Hernandez, his office has submitted a written description of the program to the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) officials hope will be reviewed soon.
Parents, meantime, said how the district is communicating with the IHSA isn’t their main concern. Parents want the ins-and-outs of how the partnership between the two organizations would work.
Officials did not share details of what they submitted to the IHSA, leaving some in the audience scratching their heads, while others scoffed the partnership altogether.
“There’s so many issues,” one parent charged. “It’s a can of worms that I don’t even know if we want to open.”
Parents also asked administrators how a partnership would save the school district money and whether they have explored other options.
“Have you guys even looked at sponsorships?” another parent asked. “I mean, that makes more sense.”
Rockford Park District Deputy Director of Facility Operations Jay Sandine attempted to shed some light on the plan, which, if approved, would begin next year.
Sandine said the vision is to align the park and school districts with constituencies to form a stronger program than what exists.
Part of that vision, Sandine said, could mean the school district would utilize the Rockford Park District’s ability to run area facilities, creating a steady flow of revenue from an array of events. Revenue streams could come by renting football stadiums and other facilities to area athletic agencies.
As for how the program would affect the ability of student-athletes to compete in state-sanctioned leagues and tournaments, officials offered no details.
Administrators said what they have submitted to the IHSA will not jeopardize that ability.
According to information obtained last month, District 205 would pay the park district to oversee parts of the program, as allowed by the IHSA. Existing coaches would remain, while new staff would be hired by the school board.
Illinois High School Association bylaws state that a school district must maintain the majority of control over a program operated jointly with a parks department. To meet that requirement, IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said, the program must be led by school principals.
The program’s approval by the IHSA will not guarantee Rockford’s public schools would field athletic teams for the 2011-2012 school year. The program must be approved by the Rockford Board of Education and Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners.
At a Tuesday, Feb. 8 school board meeting, the sports partnership was only mentioned briefly during tense budget talks. Superintendent Sheffield said she will provide details of what her office is planning in upcoming meetings.
At the first public listening session held at Auburn High School Jan. 26, Sheffield said unless an agreement with the park district can be reached, District 205 will not field athletic teams next year. All programs on the elementary, middle and high school levels would be eliminated.
Sheffield said the only way to keep the athletic program as-is, would be to stop heating schools, ground buses and make cuts to vital academic programs, something, she said, isn’t going to happen.
“I have a $50 million budget hole,” Sheffield said.
According to district numbers, Sheffield’s administration will face a $50 million deficit when fiscal year 2012 begins July 1. By making sports cuts, closing and consolidating eight schools and eliminating the equivalent of more than 275 full-time teaching positions, the superintendent says $45 million of the deficit could be slashed.
Budget talks are expected to resume Saturday, Feb. 12, at a special meeting of the Rockford Board of Education.
Sheffield said Tuesday she wants the board to finalize cuts by March 30.
Saturday’s meeting is scheduled for noon.
Moving the meeting from the Administration Building to a larger facility was mentioned Tuesday, however, it has not been announced whether the board will convene elsewhere.
The meeting is open to the public.
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