School Board Race: Candidates preach transparency, Sheffield’s days could be numbered
By Jim Hagerty
About 200 people gathered at Heartland Community Church Thursday (March 24) as nine candidates for the Rockford Board of Education gave a host of statements about the changes they would make if voters elect them April 5.
The question and answer forum was presented by Next Rockford, Rockford Chamber of Commerce, Rockford Register Star and the League of Women Voters.
While questions varied, answers were consistent throughout the two-hour session. Each candidate signaled a need for District 205 to improve communications and teamwork among board members.
A public budget process, proper use of the media and creating an attractive, volunteer-friendly district, candidates said, are necessary to rebuild the city’s schools.
“Rather than hide things that are going on in our district,” Sub District-G candidate and former board member Bill Neblock said. “We have to embrace things that are going on in our district and inform the public as to what is going on.”
During what the panel called a “Lightning Round,” candidates wrestled with the lone hardball question of the night: Should teachers contribute more to their health care and benefit plans similar to a system used in private business?
Sub-District C incumbent Alice Saudargus, her opponents, Ken Scrivano, Jayne Hayes and Mickey Simmons, joined Jeanne Westholder, who now represents Sub-District B, and Neblock in support of the idea.
Tim Rollins (Sub-District B challenger), Bob Evans (Sub-District E incumbent) and Laura Powers (Sub-District G) refused to go there.
“I’m not going to answer questions about bargaining,” Rollins said before Evans cited the same reason for passing.
Powers declined to comment.
Neblock and Powers are vying for the seat vacated by President David Kelley, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Evans is running unopposed.
Candidates remained at Heartland after the forum to speak with voters. While each was willing to campaign for change, only two revealed whether they would support a motion to remove Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield.
Evans, Westholder and Saudargus wouldn’t comment. Rollins, Neblock and Powers followed suit.
According to Simmons, firing the district head would only cause further turmoil.
“It doesn’t make sense to fire Sheffield,” Simmons said. “We are a third of the way into her contract. We’d still have to pay her if she was removed. What needs to happen is that the school board needs to hold the superintendent accountable for her actions.
“That hasn’t been happening. She’s been allowed to run amok. We can’t just say, ‘Well, we didn’t do our job in giving you direction, so now we are going to pay you to leave.’ No. She deserves a chance to perform with the proper direction.”
Scrivano and Hayes disagreed.
“Not only do I support a motion to remove her,” Hayes said, “I plan to make the motion myself. That is my first order of business.
“But, it can’t stop there. We have to eradicate the people under her who have been part of this. I can’t imagine any more upheaval in this community than there has been with her here.”
What do you think?
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