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Demonstrators loud, school closure vote delayed
Posted By Jim Hagerty On February 23, 2011 @ 12:20 pm In Happening Now | No Comments
By Jim Hagerty
The Rockford Board of Education wasted no time in making a motion centered on school closures last night, (Tuesday, Feb. 22) while a lively crowd of demonstrators chanted, beat drums and cheered outside the Administration Building.
Before public comments and other nuts-and-bolts discussions, the board voted 6-0 to delay its decision about 2011-12 budget cuts.
The vote has been tabled until Tuesday, March 1.
The board was scheduled to announce which schools it will close last night. However, a special review of what the administration says is a $50 million budget hole is in the process of being reviewed at the request of the Rockford Education Association (REA), the local teachers union.
The union claims the shortfall is approximately $15 million and that many of Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield’s proposed cuts of $45 million are unwarranted.
The review is scheduled to be completed by the end of business Friday, Feb. 25.
Meantime, after approximately 50 speakers made public comment at Tuesday’s session, Lisa Jackson (Sub District-A) fired at the union for challenging the budget and work of Chief Financial Officer Cedric Lewis.
“Members of the public thanked the board for holding off its vote amid concern with the numbers brought forward,” Jackson said. “I have no concerns about the (budget) projections brought forward by Mr. Lewis. I have every confidence in the work that he’s done. I am very disturbed by the assertions by the REA. His integrity and professionalism have been under attack.”
Jackson also championed the job Sheffield has done since arriving in Rockford almost two years ago. In her work with the budget, Jackson said, the superintendent has fulfilled all of the school board’s requests.
“As a board, we gave Dr. Sheffield the charge to bring us a balanced budget without dipping into reserves, ” Jackson said. “She’s done that. Once that budget was brought forward, she was given additional directives to bring back other cuts in case there were no union concessions. She did that as well.
“We didn’t say ‘Make it cuddly and fuzzy and make us feel warm on the inside.’ These are hard economic times that we are living in. And, they are not unique to Rockford. We are going to make the best decision possible. It is not our intent to hurt or harm children.”
Jude Makulec, who represents Sub District-D, thanked teachers and district staff for their work, in spite of mixed messages from the public.
“We hear so many negative things about Rockford Public Schools,” Makulec said. “Yet people come out of the woodwork to tell us how wonderful their child’s school is. There wasn’t a single person that stood up (here) and said, ‘My school really stinks and I am glad your are closing it.’
“Everyone is supportive. When we have to focus on test scores and we focus on the bigger picture, we lose sight of what’s happening in those individual buildings and how connected students and families are with their teachers. I would just like to say, ‘Thank you’ to the staff.”
Bob Evans (Sub District-E) urged the board to settle on a budget cut package and allow the administration to move forward in planning for the 2011-12 school year.
“For the sake of everyone,” Evans said, “we have to stop asking new questions. And, we have to stop suggesting new alternatives, or we will be here forever– juggling balls in the air.”
Some of those alternatives could be included in a revised list of school closures and program cuts. The board, however, did not allude to what those revisions would entail.
Pending results of the Baker Tilly review of some of the fiscal 2012 budget, the board is slated to vote on whether the following schools will close or be repurposed next year:
New Milford School
Page Park School
Dennis Early Childhood Center
Auburn Freshman Campus
Lewis Lemon Elementary
West View Elementary
If the teachers union does not agree to approximately $10 million in concessions, Superintendent Sheffield said a second list of cuts would be brought before the board. Those slashes could include eliminating gifted classes, Creative and Performing Arts, Montessori, closing Barbour Language Academy, Ellis Arts Academy, Academic Career Education High School (ACE) and laying off a number of social workers, librarians, teachers and others.
The Rockford Board of Education meets every Tuesday at the District 205 Administration Building, 201 S. Madison St. Meetings begin at 7 p.m., and are open to the public.
Alice Saudargas (Sub District-C) asked the board to consider a larger venue for next week’s meeting to accommodate more people.
As of this report, the meeting is still scheduled to be held at District headquarters.
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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