Friday, May 30, 2008

Local: District Parents vote with their feet.

From my son's "Kellar Primary News" flyer that arrived home yesterday in his back pack.
Due to Kellar's projected enrollment, Mrs. Jeanne Mahrt will be assigned to another school next year.

The secretary at Kellar confirmed that 3rd grade enrollment is down for next year. Duh. What a shocker.

If you were hoping for a little "Sex" tonight...

you are out of luck. The 9:00pm premier showing at the Willow Knolls theater of "Sex and the city" was sold out. Bummer. We had been looking forward to it all day. Guess I'll save my champagne filled Coke bottle for some other occasion - perhaps something like "Friends" the Movie. Now THAT would be sweet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Teradactyl poop

If Jen Christensen can post a pic of 6 month old milk in a sippy cup, I think it is fair game for me to post a pic of the huge splat of poop on my car that could have only been left by a teradactyl. Ugh! What was that bird eating? Just don't think for a moment though that I am only posting about this to increase my hit counts. That would be so not cool. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Teachers to D150: Not so fast!

The following text appeared in the Peoria Federation of Teachers May Newsletter. Apparently, it's not just the parents that don't like to pushed around!

Peoria Federation of Teachers 780

Newsletter May 2008
Primary Schedule Change
Since the Board of Education voted to institute a change in the primary schedule, teachers need to keep in mind what the language in the current contract says to address the prep period. Teachers are given five 45-minute preps per week, and as a result of the vote of the board of education, that prep will be the beginning period of the day. Teachers can be prescribed one of their preps per month, where an administrator can tell them what they will be doing during that prep. Teachers are free to individually decide how all other preps will be spent. No person can force a teacher to give up a prep without additional compensation after the one prescribed per month.

How does the district expect to force the teachers to do something they do not have to do? It's time to play nice and work together. Last Thursday members of our District 150 Watch coalition presented the Adminsistration with a proposal that demonstrates clearly and convincingly that all of their educational and financial goals can be met without shortening the school day or cutting back on teachers. Please give our children back their teachers and their time in school.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lakeview Museum fundraiser

I think this sounds like a lot of fun! Both of the kids went to the pre-school here, so we'll probably stop by and throw a little dinero their way.

The Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences Presents:

The Meteor Shower Golf Ball Drop.

Saturday, May 31, 2008
11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Lakeview Park
1125 West Lake Avenue
Peoria, IL 61614

From their promotional brochure...

Lakeview Museum is hosting a unique and exciting fundraising event. This year's annual fundraiser will be family friendly , as we showcase the Museum at its fullest capacity with educational and cultural programs including art projects, gallery walks through this summer's highly anticipated exhibition, Grossology, shows in our newly remodeled Powerdome planetarium system, inflatable games and much more.

The day will be highlighted with a helicopter golf ball drop, in which golf balls purchased prior to and at the day's event will be dropped from a helicopter hovering over Lakeview's front lawn. The lucky meteorite which lands first in the sun will win their choice of grand prizes. The next two lucky meteorites to land in the Sun will have their choice of remaining grand prizes respectively. Special prize awarded for meteorite (golf ball) strike furthest from the sun.

D150 update...

...can be read here and here

More from me later... I'm workin on a good one!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"We are here to help you change your mind"

Those were the words of fellow parent Bill Luthy as members of our District 150 Watch Coalition addressed the Board of Education and D150 Administration Monday night. Our goal - a complete recission of the disastrous vote of two weeks ago that took 45 minutes of instructional time per day and half the specialty teachers away from our children. Last night we formally requested that they put an action item on the June 2nd agenda for a vote to RESCIND that decision.

CJ Summers did a recap of the meeting on his blog complete with sound bytes. As I posted last week, tomorrow 4 parents representing North, South, East and West Peoria will sit down with Mr. Hinton and present to him well thought out and workable financial and educational alternatives to cutting the school day. We pray that he is serious about working with us, but I'd be lying if I said we did not have our concerns.

Ordinarily, after a controversial vote, eventually the public furor dies down and a miffed contingent slowly recedes back into the shadows. This time I assure you that will not happen. The risks of failure are too great.

The events of the last few weeks have been a learning experience for me, as well as a crash course in public education. Never again will I casually cast aside a bio of a candidate running for school board. Stupid, stupid me! In the past, I watched the Districts antics with a vague sense of amusement, falsely believing that whatever went down, it would have minimal impact on our family. Although I saw room for improvement in various areas throughout our D150 primary school, I felt our children were surrounded by loving, caring and competant faculty and staff. Little did I realize that as the honchos of D150 moved their pieces about the chess board, any financial deficit that resulted from such moves would be shouldered squarely on the backs of our children. Clearly, this has moved far beyond "amusing".

Over the past few days, I have spoken with hundreds of people - families from all walks of life, educators, media & community leaders. There has not been ONE shred of support for this decision. Pretty much everyone is scratching their heads - and its not because of the shampoo they use. I have been overwhelmed with pride as fellow parents as well as teachers have overcome personal inhibitions & fears to step in to the limelight on behalf of the children.

I find it very disturbing, however, that some are afraid to speak out publicly. Aren't these our children, and our schools? Why would we NOT have a say in the matter? I would jump in front of an oncoming car for the sake of my children so there's really not much the district could do to silence me. It kind of reminds me of the story "The emperor's new clothes".

I continue to invite all concerned parents and members to get involved. Call me at 309-645-8608 for ideas on how specifically you can help. Please be mindful, however, that although we appreciate your support, it is the members of the Board of Education who need to know how you feel!

Give it to them straight. Let them know that you see the emperor, and he is buck naked!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ain't no fools at the Journal Star...

The Peoria Journal Star lays out a good case against the shortened school hours.

Read the editorial here.

Don't pee on their leg and tell them its raining.

D150-and the beat goes on...

Last night members of the newly formed District 150 Watch Coalition met to brainstorm more acceptable options for saving $650K than reducing our children's grade school education by 8 months and cutting in half their fine arts instruction. The task: 1. find $650K in the $165,000,000 (yes, that is million) school budget 2. Discover ways in which teachers can have more common prep time and 3. List the concerns and issues that have naturally arisen as a consequence of this vote.

To briefly re-cap for any new readers, last Monday night the D150 Board of Education voted to cut 45 minutes from the school day for most primary school children as well as reduce by approx. 1/2 their fine arts teachers. Compared to Dunlap, the District 150 child will lose a cumulative 7 MONTHS of educational time from first through 4th grade, and compared to Edison Schools - even more. A tragic turn of events for a district that is already struggling with academic achievement.

Ideas were plentiful and our Black Belt Sigma trained Facilitator and Whittier parent did a wonderful job keeping us on task. After a two hour brainstorming session, we came up with well over 1.5 million dollars in alternate budget cuts that did not harm one hair on our children's or their educator's head. We also proposed original and creative solutions for increasing teachers common prep time. More details will be forthcoming at a later time.

Our next step, is to take our dog and pony show to Mr. Hinton, for "negotiation", as arranged by City and Board of Education Liaison Bill Collier-despite the fact that Mr. Hinton has publicly stated he has no intentions of entertaining them. Therefore, contingency plans are underway.

I have yet to talk to a single parent in District 150 who is pleased over these recent developments. Several families have already signed on with private schools. Of course, there are others who shrug their shoulders, agree it is misguided, and will leave it to others to right the wrong. It is this attitude that has the potential to be the demise of our public schools.

The responsibility to speak out on behalf of the children of Peoria lies with several entities.

1. The board of Education -It is their obligation to act in the best interests of the students and the district - not the administration. The excess fat in the budget for multiple superintendents and their generous benefits is shameful. For them to fall under the Hinton spell and agree to continue to fund the bloated administration at the expense of the children makes me want to vomit. I will ask each and every one of them at the next board meeting how many doors they have knocked on and how many parents they have called to solicit guidance and feedback on what the PARENTS whom they serve and NOT the administration feels is in the best interests of their children. Ms. Spangler has announced she will not run for another term. I ask her - is this the legacy you want for your service and sacrifice of the last 5 years? I have no doubt that every board member must truly love children to run for such a thankless and unpaid job. But I'm sorry to inform you- I think the Hinton Admin. is making fools of you. Please turn on your common sense and look into your heart. It is not too late for you to re-consider your vote. We are all human and make mistakes. The rescission of this vote would not show weakness but strength. Ask around. You would be a hero. Trust me on this one.

2. Our City Leaders - Yes, I am talking to YOU Mr. Mayor and Council. The impact of this change in school scheduling will impact every facet of our community. Law enforcement, urban sprawl, demographics, social programs. Do not turn a blind eye to the decisions the School District is making. Do not buy into their argument that they are short of funds. Earth to Peoria: The District has plenty of money. Over $11K per student to be exact. Insist they spend it responsibly and on behalf of ALL the children.

3. The press and News Media - Today's Journal Star reported comments by Mr. Hinton that basically marginalized parent efforts and opinions. In fairness, the reporter did try to reach me at home yesterday evening... but does anyone ever answer their home phone anymore? Regardless, I wasn't available. I was busy trying to save our children's education. However, wouldn't it be a wonderful service to the community and extremely newsworthy if a reporter, much like a blogger, approached parents standing at bus stops with their kids and asked them what they thought about the schedule change? I would venture to say that with the limited amount of coverage the vote got as a result of it's fast-track treatment, there are still some parents unaware of the magnitude of this vote. Here's a challenge for you - I'll bet ya dinner at Seven's on Prospect that 10 - 1 are vehemently opposed.

4. Parents- It is very tempting to do nothing when the School Board makes an obvious blunder. Many parents have the resources to move their children to private schools. But where does that leave the families that do not have those resources? A stand can be made on behalf of those students through a simple letter to Board members, or a single phone call. Pledge allegiance to your district and its children by taking a stand, no matter how large or small, and let the Board of Education hear your voice. This was a BAD decision.

There are so many people that have the power and the ability to be a Hero to our districts children. Be a hero. Stand up for the families that feel they have no voice. Stand up for the children whose parents will not stand up for them. These are our schools, this is our town. It is time to take back our school district!

Call me at 309-645-8608 to get involved. I look forward to seeing your faces at the next school board meeting.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

District 150 - Interview with Jamie Markley

Seein that I am a novice blogger and too lazy busy to figure out how to embed an MP3 file I did the next best thing and e-mailed the file to a few homie bloggers. Thanks to CJ who followed my cue and posted it on his blog. It accurately reflects the newly formed "District 150 Watch" Groups feelings on the school boards recent move to shorten the school day and cut fine arts teachers for most D150 children. It's a little lengthy but if you are a parent, teacher and/or feel strongly about this issue, it sums up all the relevant points nicely.

National Association of Realtors: The median price of Peoria homes is up 10.4%

You can read the full article here

The news relating to Peoria is condensed here for your convenience:

In the first quarter, the largest single-family home price increase was the Binghamton, N.Y., area, where the median price of $109,700 rose 11.8 percent from a year ago. Next was Peoria, Ill., at $119,000, up 10.4 percent from the first quarter of 2007, followed by the Spartanburg, S.C., area, where the first-quarter median price increased 10.1 percent to $130,300.

I believe we are seeing these increases in median value because of the large number of new construction units being sold. The definition of median is - One type of average, found by arranging the values in order and then selecting the one in the middle. This DOES NOT mean that the average home has appreciated 10.4%.

It is still a finicky market, with compromised consumer confidence. In layman's terms that means you must competitively price your home according to comparable sales of homes that have sold in the last 6 months or less, have your home properly staged, perform any and all miscellaneous repairs, and be willing to entertain offers.

On the other hand, these stats should serve buyers notice that our market is still thriving. Extreme, lowball offers are just not cutting it. If you find the right home, ask your buyers agent to show you comparable home sales from the past 6 months and make a reasonable offer based on facts and not "the fear factor".

Homes are definately selling, and we are all extremely busy, but it can cost you a longer market time and lost opportunities if your expectations of the market are out of line with reality.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Note to D150: This isn't just about you anymore...

Last night presented an opportunity for parents, teachers, and education leaders to speak their minds regarding the recent vote by the D150 School Board that essentially robbed our primary school children of 7 months worth of an education. A diverse group of parents and educators met at Godfather's Pizza to discuss options for affecting a rescission of the ill-advised vote.

To save myself the trouble of re-capping events I'll just link to this article by Elaine Hopkins, who summed it up nicely.

The energy, intellect and drive in the room was electric as Bill Collier, the liaison between the City of Peoria and The Board of Education addressed the crowd and attempted to slow our speeding freight train. Mr. Collier came at the request of Regional Superintendent Jerry Brookhart and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, who had been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from enraged citizens.

Mr. Collier advocated a more "soft sell/back door" approach via meetings with the Superintendent and solution driven negotiation. Initially, this suggestion was met with cynicism from our group. We felt that that had already been attempted and rejected in the few short days available prior to the time of the vote.

But Mr. Collier insisted that we "had the Admins attention" and that they were willing to put options on the table. Ultimately, we were persuaded to "call off the dogs" and place them on a back burner, for now. In the interim, we will meet a few more times to explore options for saving $600K. We don't anticipate this to be too difficult of an undertaking given the fact that it is less than 1/2 of 1% of their budget. There is a meeting scheduled with the District for May 22. The goal: a full rescission of last Mondays vote.

Fortunately, we were blessed with the presence of two former board members as well as a few retired teachers and District personnel that felt they had enough working knowledge of a budget to sift through and find options.

Simultaneously, Whittier Parent Bill Luthy will form a private Yahoo Group which we will all use to disseminate information, channel resources, and utilize as a "Call to Action" for future agenda items deemed to be significantly relevant.

Mr. Collier also suggested that our group consider higher level meetings with State Representatives Aaron Schock and David Leitch, and State Senators Dale Risinger and David Koehler, to help insure that District 150 receive all the state funds they are entitled to. He also feels a need for a child-focused Parent/Teacher's Union liaison to assist in mediation of future contract negotiations. It is also imperative that we identify and support a well qualified candidate with a broad and clear vision for the District to run for Mary Spanglers spot on the school board, which will be vacated in 2009. Our newly formed group will explore all of these issues in regular on-going meetings.

I am pleased with the outcome of the meeting, and although there exists an innate sense of unease with the Administration given the callousness they have exhibited towards the expressed will of the community, I, personally, am willing to put differences aside and work on behalf of the children as well as every citizen of Peoria.

The bottom line is this. It is one thing to not think things through, buy property, sell property, randomly knock down and build new buildings. But taking school time and specialty teachers away from our youngest children to compensate for the lack of vision is fundamentally impacting the very foundation of the city of Peoria. Mondays decision, if it stands, would have far-reaching consequences that go way beyond the boundaries of District 150.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Peoria Schools: Stop the Insanity!

After taking a few days to reflect upon the ramifications of the outrageous decision of the District 150 Board of Education last Monday night, I have finally calmed down enough to post about it. Had I posted the same day or morning after, it probably would have looked something like this.

Anyhoo, at some point, our city leadership, parents, and tax payers have gotta start scratching their heads over the circus that District 150 has become.

Consider this: A child attending Dunlap schools will attend school for 420 minutes daily. A child entering D150 Schools, after this vote, will attend school for 345 minutes a day, a full 18% reduction of time spent in school. The cumulative loss for a child attending D150 Schools from 1st through 4th grade as compared to Dunlap will be nearly 7 months of school. This same vote also reduced the amount of specialty teachers (science, music, PE and computers) in each school by approximately half.

Despite these drastic measures, and despite repeated requests from parents and teachers alike, D150 would not provide one SHRED of evidence that a reduced school day and a cut in specialty instruction would improve academic performance.

This "Einstein" vote saved the District less than 1/2 of 1% of their annual budget. Parents and teachers railed against the proposal arguing that cuts should be made in Administration before cuts are made that would directly impact the children. But members of the board insisted their admin costs were right in line with other districts.

Why then, does the school report card linked to on their own website indicate that D150 has 163 students for every Administrator, while the state average has 231 students for every administrator, a full 30% more Administrators than the state average.

And despite what the Board and Admin. will lead you to believe, this District is not destitute. In School Year 2005/06, the District spent $11,521. per student, compared to the state average of $9,488. So, there is plenty of money, they just can't figure out how to use it, and our children will soon be paying the price.

Seriously, what do the parents, city leaders and taxpayers in Peoria plan to do about the fact that our school district seems perfectly capable of single handedly ruining this town? Will we wait until there is not a single self respecting family left in the public school system? Will we wait until we realize that the children of Peoria are not keeping up with their Dunlap (or Edison) counterparts due to the fact that they spend 18% less time in school? Seriously, folks - all the City planning, hard work and great news in the world won't make a hill of beans difference if our schools are in the crapper.

Soon you will be offered opportunities to voice your opinion and make a difference. Please stay tuned. I call upon the Mayors of Peoria and West Peoria, The Council Members of same, The Regional Superintendent of Schools, Gerald Brookhart, a wonderful man, to stand up, look Mr. Ken Hinton and his merry band of rubber stampers in the eye and say "STOP THE INSANITY!" C'mon people, put down the remote, pul-lease check my math (and I'm serious), engage thyself, and lets get busy. This is our children's future we are talking about!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Billy Dennis busted!

So today I'm chatting with blogger buddy Billy Dennis, who insists that Colleen Callahan is going to give Aaron Schock a run for the money. About that time CJ interjects a question about Aaron, to which Billy replies... "Is congress in session? Is he even in town?" CJ and I just kind of look at each other dumbfounded. "Billy", CJ says, "Aaron is just running for congress he hasn't won yet". "Oh, yeah, that's right", Billy replies as he glances down at the floor hoping we would just forget his slip and move on.

Friday, May 2, 2008

D150 to Parents: Bend over and smile

The gym at Kellar Primary School was packed with parents and teachers tonight as District 150 School Administration attempted to snow sell parents on their proposal to cut specialty (music, art, PE and science) faculty in half as well as shave 45 minutes off of every school day.

The audience sat patiently as Asst. Superintendant Cheryl Sanfilip presented the changes to parents as an amazing and unlimited opportunity for our children. Although parents were asked to submit their questions in advance of the meeting, Ms. Sanfilip did nothing more than wave the 3 page list of 44 questions in the air as she repeated her talking points. She did take a few questions afterwards, but unfortunately, her answers seemed to only give rise to more questions. In her defense, the questions and commentary were relentless and completely devoid of any appreciation of the "unlimited opportunities" she was offering. Many of her answers were defensive but she was facing quite a perturbed gathering. She persisted as best as she could despite the "unprofessional" conduct of some of the audience members as described by Board Member Jim Stowell.

Remarks after the meeting made by representatives of the district suggested that parents were not listening with an open mind and had their minds completely made up before even entering the room. I submit that the same can be said of District Representatives, who appeared to have their minds made up as well, despite their denials to the contrary. I recall my final comments to Jim Stowell being "I hope when all this is over we can still be friends".

D150 says that the proposed changes will give teachers more common prep time in the morning before students arrive, and that during the course of the school day, the children will have less interrupted time throughout their day with more dedicated learning. Wow. Can't say I look forward to the state of mind my little stick of dynamite will be in after that day. Additionally, how does cutting out 45 minutes of the school day and 2 specialty teachers make that goal any more attainable?

Mr. Stowell during a private conversation after the meeting emphasized repeatedly that the later start time in the mornings would offer opportunities for language clubs, visiting guests, and special events. If in fact this is true, he should further develop that idea and present it in more absolute terms, because right now, the love just isn't there to buy into this as a given.

The bottom line is this: If budgeting shortfalls exist, why penalize the youngest, most vulnerable members of our district. Parents and board members should be unwilling to recognize the financial deficits of our district until we see the bloated administration fall on their own sword. The Administration will have much greater leverage and credibility with parents if they demonstrate by their own actions the seriousness of the problem, and do a little housecleaning of their own.

If there are bonafide merits to these proposed changes the District has not done enough to educate the parents and get them on-board. The School Board is an elected body and has the responsibility to listen to and represent the community. Based on this meeting, it appears there is significant resistance, certainly enough to warrant at least a tabling of the vote.

If the School Board and Administration is really interested in acting in the best interests of the community, they need to further explain/sell their plans, get parents and teachers on board, and act with them and not against them in the best interests of the children of District 150