Guest Column: Violation of public trust a reason to vote against school referendum

October 17, 2012

By Jane Hayes

Rockford Public School District 205’s administrative team has been busy electioneering in the public schools asking for support of the referendum. This electioneering is in conflict with School Board Policy 2.105, which clearly states that the district cannot work for or against any referendum question.

This policy, and the state statute it relates to, do not make an exception for a district bond referendum or capital improvements. Rather, it is considered political activity and is prohibited on “compensated” school time, using school resources.

So, you might ask, what’s wrong with advocating for a bond issue that would benefit the buildings in the school system? Consider the following:

• Every bond issue we have had in the past has cost the taxpayers money in the long run.

• Schools are the last vestige of a democratic society, where politicking is forbidden.

• Teachers are not allowed to advocate their political views for specific candidates and have been fired for doing so.

• Teachers are supposed to be impartial and objective in their views.

• The school board and administrative team are aware of their code, as well as the state code that guides district policy, regarding such electioneering. They cannot claim ignorance.

Instead, the leaders of this district have been visible in numerous schools throughout the district advocating passage of the referendum. These presentations, held on staff time, are billed as a “Readiness Rocks Listening Tour.” But in reality, their presentation involves very little “listening,” and is nothing more than a thinly veiled campaign pep talk.

In the spirit of educating voters, the district at least could have presented both sides of the question fairly and equally, including a summary of the argument for voting “No;” notably, that our exorbitant tax bill might decrease for a change.

Instead, the district’s website promotes the referendum by exploring a 10-year facilities plan and “Jetson-like” visions of what schools could look like — all for $139 million. There are no provisions for new schools in this referendum.

The district has also sponsored a bus trip to take community members to selected Rockford schools so they can see the improvements needed. Isn’t this a slanted approach to violating their own code of ethical conduct?

Editorials have been written to support the district’s efforts in the Register Star, so this is to oppose the powers that be by revealing an opposing view the public should know.

The leaders of this district are politicking and, indeed, in violation of the code; no employee shall intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time. No board member or employee shall intentionally use any property or resources of the District in connection with any prohibited political activity.

How soon we forget that the district and board bought the former AMCORE Bank building without alerting the public, except on the day of the vote.

How soon we forget that vacant school buildings whose closing have disrupted many families were sold for charter school use.

And most recently at the board meeting Oct. 9, the board approved spending $6.1 million to hire the Ragnar Benson Construction firm to serve as a project manager/contractor to advise the district on its five-year plan.

How soon we forget that there was a major deficit that required closing schools, some without warning the public in advance. Suddenly, the deficit was bogus.

How soon we forget how top-heavy the central administrative office has become, continually adding to their ranks of paper-pushers and bureaucrats.

Surely, such violations have eroded the trust of the public that is asked to pass another referendum.

Surely, such politicking violates the school board’s own code.

Watchdogs for Ethics in Education does NOT support the referendum because of the violation of the public trust by the leadership team in Rockford Public School District 205. We oppose the machinations in this district that put building improvements above ethical treatment of staff members and the education of our children.

Jane Hayes is a retired Rockford Public School District 205 teacher and a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education.

From the Oct. 17-23, 2012, issue

One Comment

  1. John

    October 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Well Put Jane.

    Normally, I find your columns a bit whiney, but you are right on target today!

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