Ex-mayors move forward in school budget tussle, third meeting scheduled for today at 4 p.m.
By Jim Hagerty
A resolution was not reached or a financial consultant named as two former Rockford mayors examined school district budget numbers as members of the Budget Review Consultant Selection Committee Thursday, Feb. 17.
Charles Box and John McNamara, two of three ex-mayors on the panel, discussed claims by the teacher’s union that more than $30 million of the district’s $50 million shortfall has been overstated by district officials.
Former Rockford Mayor Doug Scott is also on the committee but was unable to attend. Officials said he is being updated via e-mail and will be present Friday.
District 205 Chief Financial Officer Cedric Lewis fielded the majority of the questions Thursday. As Box and McNamara examined budget figures presented by the district and the Rockford Eduction Association (REA), McNamara questioned why the matter was not settled through private discussions.
“If I’d been given an opportunity to explain in advance,” Lewis said, “maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Lewis noted that a $41-million line item questioned by the REA was an accounting error and it no longer exits. However, union spokesman Mark Michaels said the entry is suspicious and has not been removed from the bottom line.
“I can answer why this is happening,” Michaels said. “That’s why the REA asked for this independent review.”
Michaels also claimed what the union calls a discrepancy has caused the community to distrust the district, prompting McNamara to request that Michaels speak for himself.
Meantime, the question of the evening remained whether the review could be completed by Tuesday, Feb. 22.
“If you keep it at that date, it makes it virtually impossible for us,” McNamara said.
General Counsel Lori Hoadley said moving the deadline to Monday, Feb. 28 was possible, however, the district needs time to mull the approved budget to determine how many teachers it will need next year.
To extend the deadline, at least four school board members must be present and vote on the motion at Tuesday’s meeting.
The REA has offered to pay up to $50,000 to hire an individual or company to conduct the review. President Molly Phalen said the pledge was made with an audit of the entire budget in mind.
The panel said the process would be limited to corporate replacement taxes, benefits and state aid.
Before adjourning without a vote or announcing who will do the budget review, Box said an audit of fiscal 2011 would make no sense because there are four months left in it.
The Budget Review Consultant Selection Committee will meet Friday, Feb. 18, to further talks. Officials said they will work into the weekend if necessary.
Friday’s meeting marks the fourth centered on District 205 budget cuts proposed by Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield last month.
The REA claimed last week, based on its accounting of the district’s spending plan, the budget hole for 2012 is only about $15 million. If its numbers are correct, REA President Molly Phalen said the district will not be faced with closing as many schools, eliminating as many programs or slashing what could be more than 300 teaching jobs next year.
Friday’s session is scheduled for 4 p.m., at the District 205 Administration Building, 201 S. Madison St.
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