By Jim Hagerty
and Brandon Reid
Education is the foundation of any community. Rockford’s foundation has been fractured for far too long.
The current slate of Rockford Board of Education members is largely responsible for the ongoing disintegration of Rockford Public School District 205. While the policies and procedures of Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield have drawn the most ire from taxpayers, the board has been more than complicit in rubber-stamping her overhaul of the district.
Transparency and a full understanding of the issues has been greatly lacking among many board members. Change must come to this district, and it must start with the Board of Education.
Following are The Rock River Times’ selections for the four open seats in the Tuesday, April 5, election.
Board of Education endorsements
Sub District B (Revised Thursday, March 31)
Incumbent: Jeanne Westholder
Opponent: Tim Rollins
Jeanne Westholder claims to be a steward of taxpayer dollars and preaches diversity. However, she’s proven to be easily swayed by the superintendent.
A music teacher in the Harlem School District, Westholder has flip-flopped on zoning and seems to be using her position on the board to springboard from the classroom into administration.
She’s also been a staunch supporter of the $50 million budget deficit. In spite of findings that the district could receive more than $23 million in state aid revenue next year, Westholder has stood by the shortfall and the work of Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield and Chief Financial Officer Cedric Lewis.
Tim Rollins is a business attorney, running largely on the platform of transparency in the budgeting process. With a goal of busting secret committees, he’s vying for the administration to make financial information more accessible to the community and to create a volunteer-friendly environment.
While it’s clear Rollins strikes a chord in a cry for transparency, he is also on the operating board of a the charter school-friendly Alignment Rockford. Rollins’ private sector association with Alignment Rockford indicates an agenda to privatize the public school system.
While it seems a vote for either Sub District B candidate is one to keep Sheffield, or a similar agenda in place, it is Westholder who emerges as the most sensible choice.
Westholder was the only member to urge the Board of Education to regard the elementary school zoning plan–passed last fall– while it closed six District 205 schools.
Her professional dedication to public education also weighs heavily in her favor.
Vote for Westholder in Sub District B.
Endorsement: Jeanne Westholder
Sub District C
Incumbent: Alice Saudargas
Opponents: Mickey Simmons, Ken Scrivano, Jane Hayes
Longtime educator Alice Saudargas has been in public education for more than 60 years and has served Rockford well. She’s been pro-teacher, taught at nearly every level and has been a principal. Aside from writing curriculum, Saudargas has been keen on making sound budgeting decisions and keeping vitally important programs alive.
Mickey Simmons, a local truck driver, is an eager west-sider championing racial harmony and the board to hold the superintendent more accountable. However, his lack of knowledge about why the superintendent and the budget deficit are under fire has proven him too inexperienced to serve the students of Rockford.
A hospital administrator and former Rock Valley College instructor, Ken Scrivano aims to restore community trust. The father of a District 205 teacher, Scrivano claims he’ll use his experience in health care administration to improve Rockford’s public education process.
Jane Hayes is a retired District 205 teacher and co-founder of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE). She’s been active in obtaining information from the administration through use of Freedom of Information Act requests, and aims to keep officials in check and stop excess spending.
She’s been virtually instrumental in a quest for the community to rally for change amid confusion about the superintendent’s seemingly hidden agenda.
It’s time for a guard change in Sub District C. Although she has the backing of the Rockford Education Association, Saudargas sealed her fate with comments made at a Sunday, March 27, school board candidate forum.
Each was in direct contrast to those made in February when she said Sheffield was the wrong person to head the district. Saudargas has also outlived her capabilities to remain properly abreast of what’s happening inside the city’s schools.
Administrative experience aside, Scrivano has also made conflicting statements regarding his willingness to work with Sheffield if he’s elected.
At a candidate forum March 24, Scrivano said he would support a motion to dismiss the superintendent. March 27, he told the media he’s willing to work with Sheffield in the future. The father of a teacher, Scrivano also has a biased, vested interest in the district.
Jane Hayes remains the only candidate not swayed by hidden agendas or special-interest groups. She’s the only one of the nine who has supported the removal of Sheffield without changing her stance. A vote for Hayes is a vote for honesty, passion and integrity.
Endorsement: Jane Hayes
Sub District E
Incumbent: Bob Evans
A key figure in the hiring of Sheffield, Bob Evans has a proven track record of conservatism. He’s pro-policy and stands steadfastly by keeping the Board of Education a political organization composed of elected officials only. Major negatives: he continues to support Sheffield and is often unresponsive to our free speech inquiries.
Sub District G
Opponents: Bill Neblock, Laura Powers
In a seat left vacant by Board of Education President David Kelley, who is not seeking re-election, both candidates say they would work with Sheffield—briefly.
Bill Neblock, 59, an East High graduate and board member in the 1990s, wants to reverse recent decisions to close schools and set policies to keep the board and administration accountable to the community.
As the wife of a district teacher and daughter-in-law of a WEE official, Laura Powers, 47, echoes the need for transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. Her candidacy is an obvious attempt to buck the current system, and she has pledged to advocate for what she calls “student-facing” investments as opposed to “legal fees, consultants or administrative overhead.”
Neblock certainly has the advantage over Powers when it comes to experience and hometown roots. However, Neblock’s most notable action as a board member was choking fellow board member David Strommer in the parking lot following a board meeting in 1997.
It’s time to give someone else a chance. Vote for Powers in Sub District G.
Endorsement: Laura Powers
From the March 30-April 5, 2011 issue