Guest Column: Rockford Public Schools: Plugged into power

By Jane Hayes and Watchdogs for Ethics in Education

Thursday evening, Nov. 10, Tim Rollins, local lawyer and Rockford Board of Education member from Subdistrict B, spoke to his constituents at a Signal Hill community meeting. After being introduced by the former mayor, John McNamara, Mr. Rollins shared his views about progress the school board has made over the past six months. Opportunities and challenges of being a board member were presented to the audience, as follows:


• Assigned an acting superintendent

• Chose an interim superintendent (Dr. Robert Willis, since June 1)

• Created three advisory committees

• Chose a new administrative team

• Developed a rubric to evaluate the superintendent

• Created a three-year academic plan

• Created a 10-year facilities plan

• Purchased a new administrative building, which is more fitting to the public image of the board and offers better parking


• Redesign of high schools in the beginning stages

• Arts integration into the curriculum

• No current grant writer

• Difficult to get past talking stage to enact changes through the committees

• Board and administration spending too much time fighting fires

Earl Dotson, Rockford Public School District 205 director of communications, also spoke. He said he has a staff of five people assisting him with communication to the public. Also, the Rockford School District has employed KMK Media Group to assist with public relations and publicity regarding the bank purchase. KMK handles issues such as:

• Writing press releases

• Social media and e-mail blast marketing

• Writing the superintendent’s comments for the board meetings

• Creating talking points for the project

• Prepping board members regarding various PR (public relations) issues

From July 5 to Sept. 13, the School District has paid KMK Media Group $14,451 for public relations’ services related to the bank building purchase and other assorted PR issues. (Information acquired from RPS 205 FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) responses.)

Audience sentiment was raised because of an obvious disconnect between the school board and the constituency served. A current attitude that the board knows what’s best without conferring with its public is inappropriate, according to one questioner. Board members do not work and make decisions in a vacuum and should consider public interests and opinions carefully.

When questioned about the school board’s purchase of the Harris Bank building without informing the public first, Mr. Rollins retorted, “You don’t discuss a purchase of real estate publicly.” (However, many business people and power brokers in Rockford certainly knew in advance of the purchase before the actual vote, but not the general public.) When queried about this lack of transparency to the public, Mr. Rollins replied, “There is a difference between transparency and anarchy.” (The word anarchy suggests disorder and an absence of government; the state of society where there is no law or supreme power; a state of lawlessness; political confusion.)

Beware of the people, Mr. Rollins. Perhaps your secrecy and lack of transparency have attracted that which you fear most, anarchy. We, the people, need to know before you make decisions that impact us without our consent.

Our government … teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” — Louis D. Brandeis, former Supreme Court justice

Another speaker addressed the audience and said if we expect stability in the community, we have to stabilize the environment within the schools by settling the teacher contract. After all, it’s November, and teachers have been working without a contract for the duration of the school year. While elected with a wide margin in the Subdistrict B election of 2010, attorney Rollins needs to remember that power is transitory, and voters can pull the plug in 2013 if he is tired of fighting fires and listening to his constituents.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2011, issue

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