By David Stocker
The State of the City address Thursday, March 10, by Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) was a disappointment to those who applauded his fleeting moment of courage at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, March 8, and who expected something more from him after many months of silence.
School Board member Bob Evans, at a recent candidate forum, called the conspicuous silence of Morrissey and the school board’s business handlers “a most cowardly act.” Morrissey’s Thursday speech took an hour to deliver, with applause from an audience mostly composed of Chamber of Commerce and Alignment Rockford fellows.
Morrissey hammers board
The last two school board meetings, drawing crowds of 400 to 500 vocal demonstrators, have been an embarrassment to the school board and its handlers.
Morrissey hammered the school board Tuesday, March 8, and again Thursday, March 10, for its bungled unpacking of the despised closures. Tuesday, while he chided the board for threatening to close the Montessori School where he is a parent, he declined to take a stand against ratification of the closing of six west-side campuses that effectively undoes two decades of desegregation efforts in Rockford. Board President David Kelley let out a show-stopping cry as the Mayor hit the 2-minute mark: “Mr. mayor, you have your house, and this is our house. Please stop!” Some cheered, “Let him speak.” To which the mayor replied, “Thursday is my State of the City speech. And I’ll have more than 2 minutes.” “I’ll be back,” said the “Mayo-nator.” Thursday, Morrissey continued his contention with the board for its poor job of preparing the public for privatized education in Rockford.
While maintaining a public distance, Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield and Morrissey have been dance partners in privatization since the beginning. Mayor Morrissey is among the original champions of the Alignment Rockford and the Rockford Charter Initiative organizations. He welcomed Sheffield in 2009 when she presented her Broad agenda and methodology.1 The greeters included privatization advocate extraordinaire Paul Vallas, who recommended Sheffield, based on their work together implementing charters in the East Baton Rouge Recovery (EBR) District. EBR is the most charter-soaked district in America.
The first paragraph of Alignment Rockford’s (AR) webpage2 states that the organization exists to “facilitate the coordinated alignment of community resources with the strategic plan for District 205 of Dr. Lavonne Sheffield.” An identical clip art pic of smiling students on a school bus also smiles from a Gates Foundation webpage. AR emulates the model of Alignment Nashville, Tenn., except Rockford’s version has a far higher proportion of District 205 administrators on its Board of Directors. Neither organization seems to invite many teachers along on the journey.
It will be interesting to see how Carpenters Local head Brad Long reconciles his participation in AR with the union-busting going on at 205. Among the school board candidates, Tim Rollins sits as AR Operations chairman. This fact appears only on his printed material, and is either not mentioned or has been removed from his website.3 Curiously, Rollins told an audience at the first candidate forum he was “undecided, but open to charters.”
Tennessee, AR’s model, is a right-to-work state, where education reformers are even now completing legislation to end collective bargaining rights for teachers. Every school will set its own scale of compensation for teachers. It will also become illegal for bargaining units to approach boards of education.4
Rumors and fear abound in Rockford
PTO parents voiced suspicion that the Kennedy/Montessori campus is being cleared as a charter complex for the Gifted Program. Whispers to Gifted parents that their program is protected did not help to dispel rumors.
Barely a month ago, prominent community leaders denied any charter motive. Now, a national spokesman for privatization rushes to defend Rockford’s repurposing. A Rock River Times guest column, Charters 101, drew an indignant rebuttal from the head of the Illinois Charter Network Association.
In practice, charters are a mixed bag: 17 percent do better, 35 percent do worse, and 48 percent do the same as the public schools they replaced. Rockford’s Galapagos Charter franchise is still within the grace period. Chicago’s massive effort, Renaissance 2010, yielded fair to poor results.5
During these months of confusion and worry for parents, children, teachers and others, Morrissey has been notoriously silent. With Morrissey finally adding his voice to those of the outraged parents of children at Maria Montessori School, that program (and others) received a temporary stay of execution Tuesday, March 8, but we should well remember the recent words of the district’s $1,000-per-day consultant, Shannon Bingham: “What is not successfully cut this year will be cut next year, the year after, and so on…people in Rockford are suffering from attachment to specialty programs that Rockford cannot afford.”
Sheffield’s model and Seattle’s lesson
Superintendent Sheffield vehemently asserts she does not support charters, and although Morrissey blew her public cover, in actuality she does not need to. As soon as she completes the crashing of our district and performs the requisite amputations, local vulture capitalists stand ready to rent and sell us the therapy and prosthetics of privatization. Sheffield, according to the Broad playbook, is herewith expendable, like her counterpart in Seattle, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, thrown out last week along with her CFO after three years on the job. The list of grievances sung by person after person in Seattle at the fateful board meeting mirror our own concerns:
Gone. For fostering an air of secrecy and intimidation, leading to retribution against teachers and those in the administration who sought to report wrongdoing.
Gone. For manufacturing a crisis and enacting massive school closings in lower-income neighborhoods, including closing the Seattle African Studies Magnet.
Gone. For ignoring the chorus of voices imploring her to work with, and not against, the community.
Gone. For bringing cronies, consultants and carpetbaggers to serve her Broad agenda, including a $750,000 grant from Bill Gates’ Foundation aimed at discrediting the teachers’ union during negotiation time.6
Gone. For pressing for larger classrooms, new curricula, testing and assessment that served the privatization reformers more than the children.
After a no-confidence vote by Seattle teachers and a forensic audit by the state, Goodloe-Johnson was ultimately fired along with her CFO, Don Kennedy, for allegedly failing to stop the siphoning off of $1.8 million in funds to a crony phony nonprofit that masqueraded as a minority assistance education program. The board members offered personal and public apologies to the taxpayers of the community. All this damage took place in three short years. It will cost Seattle Public Schools a year’s salary of $300,000 to get rid of Goodloe-Johnson. Sheffield’s salary package in Rockford exceeds that of Goodloe-Johnson.7
If we understand that Sheffield is expendable, a possibility members of the alignment are discreetly beginning to voice, the issue for Rockford is: What will remain after Sheffield? According to best-selling author Diane Ravitch, speaking last week in Madison, Wis., with supporters of District 205 school board candidate and Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) member Jane Hayes, “Across America, Broad superintendents are falling like autumn leaves.” The Broad Foundation has dropped Goodloe-Johnson from their list of fellows. Sheffield is still available for speaking engagements nationally. We have a board election in April.
Morrissey unpacks re-election platform
Morrissey, on Thursday, suggested that with H.B. 1886, we can abolish the entire system of elected school boards in favor of appointments and that with state Rep. Dave Winters’ (R-Shirland) H.B. 1673, we can limit remedies for public workers who seek promised compensation and benefits.8 A February 2011 directive from the conservative Fordham Foundation instructs policymakers to go straight to the end goals, without pausing for compromise in privatizing education and breaking unions.9 The Gates Foundation has spent more than $4 billion across the U.S. to break up large school districts, proliferate charter schools, and advance teacher evaluation linked to standardized test scores. Despite the efforts of Sheffield, Morrissey and others to paint Rockford as desperate and deserving, here in President Barack Obama’s back yard, we did not receive coveted Race to the Top bail-out funds. Sheffield has blamed us for her pumped-up, trumped-up deficit. Morrissey bet on charters.
Finally, in a bow toward Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Morrissey made his own stab at collective bargaining for public-sector workers. Thereby, Morrissey set his re-election platform and endorsed the layoff last week of more than 500 teachers and District 205 staff. Sheffield has threatened to carve higher into the workforce if concessions are not granted by the teachers’ union. Can the chaos our community is experiencing be the fulfillment of an elaborately-choreographed dance leading to the outrageous and undemocratic destination proposed by our mayor? Is this being planned behind closed doors with support and collusion by elected legislators, business leaders, and our own school board? Mayor Morrissey, what have you done? With a rebel yell they cried, “Morr, Morr, Morr.” Sheffield will net nearly $1 million in salary and benefits for her time in the river city. Who will pick up the pieces? We will.10
David Stocker is an artist, teacher and songwriter living in Rockford for 23 years. He has created the DISTRICT 205 IS ON FIRE SONGBOOK for activists. Visit: www.davidstocker.net.
10. Dennis Kucinich speaks in Madison, Wis., March 12, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CflPM_iIsLc&feature=email
From the March 16-22, 2011, issue