Guest Column: Rockford School District 205: Its tarnished vision of transparency

June 4, 2014

By Jane Hayes

As taxpayers, did you get a glossy card from the Communications Department of District 205 informing you of all the dates of open community meetings regarding school closings? Well, I hope so, because for half-a-million dollars of taxpayer money, the Communications Department should be good for something!

However, 14 meetings had already been held when I received my card in the mail Saturday, May 10. These meetings, which serve as a mandated meeting for staff members, are primarily faculty meetings right after the end of their school day. So, once again, the attempt to get community feedback has been tarnished.

Many current school board members ran their campaigns on transparency and accountability to their constituents. Well, just what does that look like now?

Fortunately, we have two board members — Lisa Jackson and Laura Powers — who hold the administrative leadership team accountable to the board, staff, and community by voting against illogical programs and spending habits that are poorly defined or unnecessary. These ladies have been independent guardians who take their work seriously, rather than becoming carbon copies who rubber stamp administrative demands.

Those of you who voted for the referendum were most likely hopeful this pledge of community money would be used progressively and soundly for the education of our 26,000 students. Instead, your endorsement has allowed this administration to squander public funds.

I am so tired of paying taxes for a poor system of education. Now, you should be incensed with what is happening from the bidding process, costly renovations, potential closing/demolishing of schools, and future building of new ones.

Most of us who did not support the referendum did so because we feel this administration has lied to us too often to engender trust. We have learned the hard way to mistrust their sense of ethics.

Truly, it is time to be concerned! The WEE (Watchdogs for Ethics in Education) women, as well as Watch the Corruption on Facebook, have diligently worked to provide proof of the administrative lack of judgment and transparency. We have done eight FOIAs (Freedom of Information Act requests) lately, and have come to the conclusion that this administration is covering up too many blunders and misappropriations.

Time to share one of the many cover-ups with you. Last week, after the district filed extensions on some of our FOIAs, we received the same legalese to block public information from being given to us.

May 7, 2014, we received information about two areas we are exploring. We believe by disclosing the truth our concerns would become your concerns regarding the leadership of our district. These are two items on which we requested information:

1. Public records regarding the Jarrett/Stenstrom connections

Request No. 1: Any and all legal opinions, legal statements, legal documents from any and all persons/parties relating directly or indirectly to Dr. Ehren Jarrett, Christie Stenstrom-Jarrett, and/or Stenstrom Companies and/or affiliates pertaining to RPS205 bids, RFQs, RFIs or proposal contracts.

Response: Documents pertaining to the Student Code of Conduct.

Please note that public bodies are not obligated under the Freedom of Information Act to answer general questions. Kenyon v. Garrels. 184III.App. 3d 28, 540 N. E. 2d 11 (4th Dist.1989) A request to inspect or copy must reasonably identify a public record and general data, information, or statistics. Chicago Tribune Company v. Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, 2014 III. App. (4th) 130427 (III.App. 3-6-2014). Notwithstanding, this request appears to seek confidential attorney-client communications. To the extent you are seeking confidential attorney-client communications, this request is denied. Communications between a public body and an attorney or auditor representing the public body in anticipation of a criminal, civil or administrative proceeding upon the request of an attorney advising the public body are exempt from disclosure. 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(m).

2. Documents pertaining to the Student Code of Conduct

FOIA on Student Code of Conduct

Requests:

No. 2 — Where did the data come from creating each chart?

No. 7 — Data to substantiate Ms. Hite-Carter’s claim that fighting was reduced by 75 percent over the school year.

No. 8 — Data to substantiate Ms. Hite-Carter’s claim that bullying was reduced from 600 to 200 incidents over the school year.

No. 9 — How was the data substantiated that was used on each chart of her report?

Response: Please note that public bodies are not obligated under the Freedom of Information Act to answer general questions. Kenyon v. Garrels. 184III.App. 3d 28, 540 N. E. 2d 11 (4th Dist.1989) A request to inspect or copy must reasonably identify a public record and general data, information, or statistics. Chicago Tribune Company v. Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, 2014 III. App. (4th) 130427 (III.App. 3-6-2014).

So, the definition for transparency is quite simple, really. It is free from pretense or deceit, easily seen or detected, readily understood and characterized by visibility and accessibility of information.

WEE tries to base our articles and concerns on FOIA information that is data-driven, but this is becoming quite frustrating when the data is inaccessible to the public.

According to the Dalai Lama, a lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity. All right! I, for one, am feeling the legalese of District 205 masks the truth with their own tarnished vision of transparency.

Jane Hayes is a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) and Rockford Educators Advocating Civil Treatment.

From the June 4-10, 2014, issue

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