Guest Column: A great school district in the making — vote ‘Yes’ Nov. 4

By Rudy Valdez
Facilities Task Force member and Rockford Mayor’s Education Liaison

Good things come to those who wait” was the familiar saying I used when asked about the upcoming referendum to build two new schools. However, upon further reflection, the adage I should have said was the extended version, “Good things come to those who wait … Greater things come to those who are willing to work for it.”

The community is on the verge of completing a very important step in the unprecedented improvement plan for the Rockford Public School District after more than two years of inputs from students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members. Inputs were in the form of thousands of surveys, numerous community dialogs, public participation in meetings, and other methods of feedback since the discussions first began in early 2012.

I recall participating with many others as a member of the original Facilities Committee. We visited schools and got a firsthand look on the conditions of the district infrastructure. It was clear that years of deferred maintenance had taken a toll on the learning environment for our students and educators.

A common theme was derived from the committee inputs and the more than 10,000 surveys; the learning environment had to improve to facilitate contemporary and future educational goals. As a result, the Better Schools, Brighter Future (BSBF) committee was formed.

BSBF helped explain the preliminary plan to create 21st-century learning environments, the funding needed without raising the tax levy, and the referendum verbiage. The wording was an area that had much debate because of the uncertainty surrounding the need to build new schools. If the 2012 referendum included the $139 million bond sale approval and language for new schools, then new schools had to be built, whether or not the subsequent detailed assessments rationalized the need.

The decision was made to split the verbiage into two referendums. The first would ask for voter approval for the $139 million. A second referendum would only be required if the detailed assessment and community feedback supported building new schools. This prudent approach resulted in voters overwhelmingly approving the first referendum.

The school board hired DLR Architectural firm and created the Facilities Task Force committee.

The committee met for many months assessing, analyzing, and gathering input from the community. DLR prepared numerous plans based on committee and community feedback. The plans were eventually compiled and summarized into three options, all with the same $250 million cost over 10 years.

Aside from the $139 million from the sale of bonds approved in the first referendum, there was an additional $111 million projected to be available from various funding streams over the next 10 years. This formed the $250 million budget.

The committee got to work communicating the three options to the community with more than 39 meetings throughout the region. The purpose was to inform, select a plan, and obtain additional feedback for potential iterations. The community predominantly selected Plan C, which contained the building of two new schools, with recommendations to further improve the plan.

The recommendations were assessed and incorporated into the final plan and then submitted to the school board for approval. The school board approved the final plan and also the verbiage for the referendum to build the new schools without the need for additional funding.

The journey has led us to this decision point to complete what was started in 2012; a plan to improve the learning environment for our children and teachers. Please vote “Yes” to implement the overall plan to make our school district great. I believe our community has shown that we are willing to work hard to achieve the bright future we want to have and need for ourselves and our children.

From the Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014, issue

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