Public Schools: Board saves early childhood program, Jackson, Westholder grapple with speakers
By Jim Hagerty
The Rockford Board of Education voted 4-1 to dip into reserves to keep District 205’s Early Childhood Education program intact–for now.
The $6 million administrators could take from reserves will allow the program to continue for at least another school year. Its fate after 2011-12 will likely be decided again in a year or sooner.
Three board members were against the motion. Exiting President David Kelley voted “no” while Lisa Jackson and Jeanne Westholder abstained, exiting the Ellis Arts Academy gym as the vote was being taken.
Westholder’s dissent came after sternly responding to more than 90 speakers during public comment. Some were among dozens who wore florescent green shirts in support of the early childhood program.
Westholder defensively charged, reminding supporters that cuts must come from somewhere to fill what she staunchly supports as a $50 million budget hole.
“I do regret that many of you came tonight to champion early childhood, thinking that we’re clueless–that we don’t have any idea that early childhood is important,” Westholder said. “We are facing a budget crisis. Some of you, I think, don’t really believe that. That concerns me greatly. I believe it.
“I’ve looked at the numbers I believe the numbers. That’s fine that you don’t believe the numbers. You can come and continue to advocate and say that. If we do decide to keep these early childhood dollars, I hope everyone does remember that someone else will lose.”
Westholder fears that dipping into reserves could be economically suicidal.
“We will lose money and, eventually, be back on warning status with the state,” Westholder said. “If that’s what you propose and that’s what you want– we can go there. I am not going to do it as a board member.”
Lisa Jackson continued to defend Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield Monday.
Citing figures she claims were furnished to the superintendent by state officials, Jackson attempted to paint a dark picture.
According to Jackson’s data, the state of Illinois has owed public schools more than $1 billion on more than one occasion within the last two years.
Jackson said the amount was provided to Sheffield at a conference last week.
Referencing what she called a “board update” from the superintendent, Jackson claimed Sheffield learned last Friday that the foretold days when Illinois cannot make good on educational subsidies are here.
Jackson said the state’s short term debt obligations are now taking precedent over payments to school districts, resulting in slow aid installments.
“Despite the recent (state) income tax increase,” Jackson read, “our state’s deficit is so large, that our cash flow situation will not improve any time soon.”
Seemingly speaking for an absent Sheffield, Jackson lashed-out at the public outcry to keep schools open and fire Sheffield, claiming the community’s voice has been filled with “viciousness.”
“This should be a time where our community is pulled together,” Jackson said. “We need to be examples to our children. If our children behave in school the way some of our adults do, we’d want them written up.”
Board members Harmon Mitchell, Bob Evans, Alice Saudargas and Jude Makulec voted to keep Early Childhood Education.
The vote does not guarantee the district will dip into reserves. Officials hope funding comes from a competitive grant–one Sheffield said in earlier reports she likely won’t seek.
Regardless, officials say, early childhood education as Rockford’s public schools know it, will not be the same.
Meantime, Wednesday, District 205 issued a list of administrators who have been dismissed or reclassified.
According to a release, 32 administrators have been fired and will not be employed by District 205 next year. A dozen others have been reclassified as teachers.
Among those dismissed are Beyer Principal David Sanders, who was placed on leave after restraining an unruly student last week, and Auburn High School Principal Dr. Kye Gaffey.
Dismissed administrators now join all District 205’s non-tenured teachers–approximately 400 let go earlier this month–on the jobless front.
The Rockford Board of Education will meet next Tuesday, March 29. As of this report, the meeting is again scheduled to be held at Ellis Arts Academy, 222 S. Central Ave.
What do you think?
Print This Article