Former mayors head school district budget review process
By Jim Hagerty
At a special committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 16, two former mayors agreed to join a third to select a financial consultant to review District 205’s budget numbers, and a set presented by the teacher’s union.
Charles Box and John McNamara will join Doug Scott for another Administration Building session Thursday, Feb. 17 to continue the process.
The audit was sparked by local teacher’s union claims that projections pertaining to corporate replacement taxes, benefits and state aid are wrong. The union charges each has been overstated and that the projected fiscal 2012 budget shortfall of $50 million is incorrect.
The union, the Rockford Education Association (REA), claims it has reviewed the district’s accounting method and arrived at a deficit of approximately $15 million.
After calling the district’s budget problem part of a “manufactured crisis” last week, the union requested the Rockford Board of Education appoint an unbiased consultant to review both sets of figures.
“We appreciate the fact that you will commit to this,” REA President Molly Phalen told Box and McNamara. “We have a great deal of faith and trust in your ability to make sure this is a fair and independent process.”
In spite of urging by board members Bob Evans and Harmon Mitchell to have the review done by next Tuesday, Box, mayor of Rockford from 1989 to 2001, said that may not be possible.
McNamara said the committee will do what it can to meet the deadline, saying he understands Feb. 22 is a “pressing date.”
Next Tuesday is also being championed by Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield, who is calling for $45 million in budget cuts and wants the board to vote on them at its next meeting.
Education Committee talks about possible modifications to Sheffield’s plan may also delay the vote.
“If it’s next Tuesday, fine,” Bob Evans said Tuesday. “We just have to make the right decisions–however long it takes.”
Last month, Sheffield recommended the school board close or consolidate at least eight district schools and cut the equivalent of more than 275 full-time teaching jobs. The first phase of cuts is contingent upon a teacher’s union labor concession of about $10 million.
If the union balks, Sheffield said, she will suggest eliminating a host of other programs such as Montessori, language immersion and gifted classes.
Sheffield’s plan also includes eliminating the extracurricular athletic program on all levels if a partnership with the Rockford Park District cannot be crafted.
Fiscal year 2012 begins July 1.
Thursday’s meeting, the third centered on possible changes to the superintendent’s proposed cuts this week, is scheduled for 4 p.m., at 201. S. Madison St., downtown.
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