Guest Column: Rockford Public Schools: Whom would you trust?

February 29, 2012

By Jane Hayes

Trust! The Rockford School District asks us to trust their decisions to do better for our at-risk students at Page Park and Roosevelt Alternative High School. How often have they done what’s best for students and staff over the past seven years?

Over that time, the district has outsourced employees, humiliated staff members with premature lay-offs and pink slips, overspent public monies, increased the number of administrators downtown with costly benefits and salaries, retained a member of the cabinet charged with a felony that was later reduced to a misdemeanor charge while firing many teachers for minor infractions, closed schools and programs, bought a new board office building, held board and committee meetings in cramped and an unsafe environment that limits the populace, evaded the truth requiring costly and time-consuming Freedom of Information Act requests, and now have forced teachers to reach an impasse with contract negotiations!

The district’s words are hollow because the truth has been twisted, evaded or never revealed at all.

The common welfare of people throughout the district has not been safeguarded by our decision-makers, and it’s time to speak up.

According to John Adams, “The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

According to Matt Vosberg, assistant superintendent of the Rockford School District, in last Sunday’s (Feb. 26) Rockford Register Star, the district wants to outsource Roosevelt and Page Park to the Ombudsman Model of delivering an education to our at-risk students. It’s all about dollars and sense (common, that is), too often missing from decisions made by people in power and imposed on our students and staff.

Why should we trust this district after their track record? Last year, speech pathologists were laid off, which left us searching frantically for qualified teachers to service our students properly for their mandated minutes. How short-sighted! These teachers have valuable skills that were appreciated elsewhere, so who could blame them for leaving Rockford? How cost-effective was that decision?

Yet, Mr. Vosberg swears not one teaching job will be lost by using Ombudsman, which brings their own staff with them. Believe him? I don’t.

After the record of teacher lay-offs and poor faith negotiations, embattled teachers are weary and mistrustful. That’s why many retire rather than deal with the ineptitude and unethical treatment by detached administrators. So, Rockford is losing valued teachers as mentors for new staff, who offer stability with classroom management experience, curriculum skills and common sense.

Another point we wish to debate with Mr. Vosberg is that he says many of the demographics serviced by Ombudsman schools are similar to Rockford’s. While this business serves 120 school districts, very few are comparable to Rockford in enrollment numbers and poverty rates. According to the Ombudsman brochure, they service the following:

40 percent in Illinois

20 percent in Georgia

40 percent in 18 other states

8 percent have FRL (free or reduced lunch) rates greater than 75 percent (we are somewhere in the upper 70s)

70 percent have FRL rates less than 50 percent

75 percent of the Illinois districts have FRL less than 20 percent

4 percent of the districts are 28,000 students or more (we are somewhere around 28,500)

80 percent of the districts are 10,000 students or fewer

62 percent are 5,000 or fewer

In Naperville, the poverty rate is 5 percent and Rockford’s is 78 percent. Clearly, Ombudsman of Naperville does not service many school districts as large or impoverished as Rockford’s. There really wasn’t any district that mirrored Rockford because most districts in the 20,000- to 40,000-student size had much lower FRL rate than we do.

Bibb County in Georgia has 25,000 students with 70 percent FRL, which was the closest to ours.

When Interim Superintendent Robert Willis was interviewed by Elizabeth Fay (Channel 13), he stated this regarding the Ombudsman program: “They (the students) get reinforcement constantly from a teacher in the room. There’s a teacher who works with them, not teaching them, but supporting them.”

Oh, that’s right! They don’t need to teach the student; let the computer do that work. Anyone can do what a teacher does: support, nurse, counsel, patrol, protect, encourage, grade, direct, listen and finally, teach when there’s time!

A positive note for our students from Roosevelt: they won the Truth Talk debate last weekend, and two of our students have won Scholastic art awards. What is the district public relations department doing to promote such positive stories about Roosevelt? So much for our at-risk students … and any limitations the district believes about them or our program at Roosevelt.

I have a perfect horror of words that are not backed up by deeds,” according to our namesake Teddy Roosevelt. So, as a teacher at Page Park or Roosevelt, whom would you trust?

Jane Hayes is a teacher at Roosevelt and a member of WEE, Watchdogs for Ethics in Education.

References You Tube video with Dr. Willis

Article by Matt Vosberg, Sunday, Feb. 26, Rockford Register Star: Ombudsman site

From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue


  1. Ricky

    February 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Did you just complain about d205 buying a new administration building, and complain about the OLD administration buildings “cramped and an unsafe environment that limits the populace” in the same breath? Amazing.

  2. Trisha

    March 1, 2012 at 4:11 am

    Oh what about the fact that a diploma from them is less than a G.E.D.? Our the fact that rock valley collage won’t accept a diploma from them? How is that what’s best for our students?

  3. Cate

    March 1, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Ricky, There are larger places to meet that are already within the school district such as Ellis, West or Flinn Middle Schools. Board meetings have already been held there this school year. Holding the meeting in the cramped board room was a calculated move by the board to keep teachers out. No doubt about it.

  4. Abe Lincoln

    March 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Why wouldn’t folks believe what Mr. Vosberg is saying???? Is he not a person who operates with integrity????

  5. Mary C.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Yes, Jane you got it right again! When they dismissed Speech teachers they have not been able to hire back most of them. The district is not able to give the services they once did because they have those that did stay or get hired back stretched to the limit and even dropped some service.
    Many teachers are also over whelmed and ready to quit because of the overwhelming demands put on them without the time or materials to do quality work available to them (without buying it themselves). I would not be surprised if the Rockford area finds a great drop in sales as the teacher stop buying in our community because of their personal budgets having to be cut further. Many have left the area and several are making plans to leave because it is not a good working environment. Teachers get verbal abuse in the media, from their boss, from the students, and such. Why would any Good Teacher want to stay and teach in such a place! I even know some speech teachers that are so discussed with this district they are planning to leave the education field altogether.
    Look out Rockford – Education will not get better doing things this way! Thank you Jane for speaking up so well!
    Teachers should spend their moneys outside of the Rockford area and see if anyone notices! If I remember right, RPS 205 is one of the largest employers in the area! I wonder what just 2 weeks of that would do to the economy.

  6. Colleen

    March 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Speaking of Mr. Vosberg, is there a reason no media agencies have reported on his attempt to push the Guilford principal out? Heard it was supposed to be handled at the board meeting the other night, but didn’t because the board got early wind of it….Certainly an Assistant Superintendent would be trustworthy, don’t you think?

  7. Ricky

    March 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Cate, you are a tax payer. I believe you had the opportunity to tour the old administration building. Perhaps not under Sheffields watch, but under prior supers and the current super, a showing of the building to the public would not have been a outlandish request. Now go tour the new administration building, keeping in mind that Harris Banks rent alone will have the building paid off in 5 years. Tell me that wasn’t a good move by the board.

    What makes me sick about so many of the posts and guest articles is that no one pays attention to what they are complaining about. They just get a list of stuff the board has done and start complaining about every single item. Thats how you get gems like this article, where they complain about something AND THEN complain about a brilliant investment that FIXES the thing they were just complaining about.

    Tell me Jane Hayes, what would you have done about the old administration building? You think the building was unsafe for the public to attend board meetings? How about all the people who worked in that building every day?

    And before you respond, put down your Sheffield repellent pitchfork and remember that SHE LEFT. You can’t blame the new leadership for the mess they inherited. Aside from Lewis, Sheffields cronies have all quit. So do you think that a new board of ed and a new set of super/assistant supers are all running the same crocked agenda as Sheffield? Sounds like someone is just looking for things to complain about.

  8. Ricky

    March 2, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Ah Mary C, you have vocalized the reason why teachers are getting less and less respect.

    Want to know why teachers keep teaching in Rockford? Please educate yourself with the following website -

    I see a lot of reasons to keep teaching in Rockford. Some of those salaries are outrageous. You know what comes with outrageous salaries? Usually a stressful work environment, higher levels of responsibility, and the requirement to go above and beyond. Thats the kind of performance that a high salary like a teachers demands in the real world. Yet the union fights to keep those same salaries while removing all the other downsides. Thats the unions job, I can’t fault them for it. But teachers are the ones who vote on union issues. When teachers vote to let the union keep fighting for their outrageous demands, the teachers look bad.

    Which leads to your closing statement – “If I remember right, RPS 205 is one of the largest employers in the area! I wonder what just 2 weeks of that would do to the economy.”

    Yes, lets wonder. Teachers bite the hand that feeds them, local business suffers because teachers aren’t spending money. Parents of the districts 36,000 kids need to find arrangements for someone to watch their kids. The parents begin to harbor a growing resentment for the teachers of this city because hey, the teachers are on strike and staying home. Teachers don’t feel the burn of hiring child care or babysitters. Parents of the 36,000 kids spend more of their dwindling paychecks on someone watching their kids. The parents have less money to spend on other things. Local business hurts even more.

    And for what? So teachers can continue to have a Cadillac health plan the likes of which hasn’t been seen in other businesses since 1997? Yeah, it’s just all about the kids and the community for the teachers. Right?

  9. Susan

    March 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Salaries in Rockford have not kept up with like size districts who have teachers with similar education and experience. This was misinformation put out there. And guess what teachers are leaving and not coming here. With the massive layoff the last two years, the special services for those in need have diminished. Rockford is the school district of last choice for many new teachers. The teachers’ union is very reasonable, but the district has misled the people into thinking that the teachers are greedy and incompetent. I worry for the community because we are driving the last of the middle class from Rockford. Thank you teachers! Most of you go way above and beyond, but it just does not get recognized.

  10. Mary C.

    March 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Ricky, you have to check what teachers make in other LARGE Intercity districts! You will see that those that attract GOOD teachers understand that they need compensation for the years of education that the State requires for teachers as well as for the work that they do. Colleges even tell their teachers THAT they will not be treated right or paid well if they make their teacher career in RPS 205. If the health care becomes more expensive then teachers NEED to have the RIGHT to not have sick or getting sick students in their classroom. I have heard that parents often send their sick kids to school because they can’t take responsibly for the care of their own kids when their ill. Having kids require parenting and that means sacrifice and putting their needs first!
    Outrageous salaries?? How much does it cost the teachers to get their job? Why shouldn’t they make more money then a McDonald’s employee or the one on the assembly line? How much does it cost them to get their job? How much does it cost the average wage earner in Rockford to get prepared to be eligible for getting their jobs? If the laws can be changed back to a two year teacher college then you can justify lower wages but until then it usually takes about 5 years to earn a teaching degree. RPS 205 is not an easy district to work in or a safe place to work at even soldiers make more money for hazardous duty pay.

  11. Mary C.

    March 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Oh, that link you have is not accurate because the state takes about 10% of that off the top for the teacher’s retirement fund that they corrupted to the point that it is today. If you do your research you will see that the teachers have been paying their retirement all along but for years the fund has been the pet project of government officials to take the interest income as well as principle off it for their pet projects. If they had not done that the retirement fund would be fully funded. Illinois government robbed peter to pay paul for years when they should have cut projects and their budget like the rest of us. Now, becoming a teacher is demoralizing as though they don’t work for a living and are on welfair.

    Perhaps the solution would be for everyone to save their tax dollars to education and pay for their own child’s education themselves. Then, we could get rid of public education problem and this expensive cost altogether having no more “high” paying teaching jobs at all. Everyone would have to teach their own kids or be sure that their kids were taught by someone or be fined. Hummmm I wonder how that would work out. Would you send your kid to the school with the teachers that were paid the least with the least qualifications (the cheapest you could find)?

  12. Susan

    March 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I know this is picky, but should the title be “Who would you trust?” I thought whom was used after a preposition as in “In whom would you put your trust.” Somebody correct me if I am wrong please.

  13. Ricky

    March 6, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Whoa, you mean the government takes money off teacher salaries? When did this unfair practice start? If I had known that the government was singling out teachers and stealing money from their paychecks, I would have taken a 180 on my stand!

    Oh wait, I pay taxes too. And I need to retire some day too. The government is stealing money from my salary and I’m not even a teacher making 66K and up. And my health coverage isn’t nearly as good, my copays are double what a teacher pays, my prescription costs are higher too, AND my monthly premiums are way higher than a teachers. So I pay more for worse benefits. Wow, feels like I’m living with the side effects of a poor economy. Maybe I should see a doctor about that, except I don’t know if I could afford the visit…

    Must be nice being a teacher so far removed from the poor economy. And don’t play the teachers education card on me, or anyone for that matter. To teach, you need a 4 year degree. I don’t know why you think it takes 5 years to get one, but it doesn’t. I also don’t know why the REA, teachers, and overall pro-teacher vocalists like to say no one (Besides teachers of course) has a 4 year degree in Rockford, because thats nonsense and downright insulting to think that teachers are the only college educated people in this city. Teachers do deserve more than what a McDonalds kid makes, but I wouldn’t throw assembly line workers under the bus so fast. If you want to complain about poor working conditions, go do a graveyard shift at the Chrysler plant. It’s not the kind of work that people dream about performing. All of that is beside the point. Those salaries are still outrageous. You can’t use the expense of getting an education as a justification for it because more people are leaving college with a degree and joining the ranks of unemployed people because the economy is trash right now. My point of calling out teachers bloated salaries was not in favor of pay cuts, but for teachers to step it up and prove that they DESERVE those salaries. Acknowledge that times have changed, health care is more expensive, and the average joe, equal education or not, is not making as much today as they were last year. Almost everyone is hurting in this economy, and the teachers think they should be immune to it. Why?

  14. John

    March 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Dosen’t matter Susan, I don’t trust Administration OR Teachers.

    Forget that “We do it for the Kids” crap. Teachers do it for the MONEY!

    Administrators do it for the MONEY!

    And the School Board is a bunch of wanna-be community “Leaders” with personal agendas.

    The only Board Member with a brain was Bob Evans, and he got fed up with the amatuers and quit.

    I’m just a taxpayer. I just pay for this charade. I don’t trust ANY OF YOU AS FAR AS I COULD THROW YOU!

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