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.


Lynn said...

Keep it coming Diane. Fight for what you believe in! So many won't do anything, they'll just sit back and complain about it. Good for you for standing up for your kids and all the other District 150 children.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!!! Give 'em hell!!!


Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to learn parents are not taking no for an answer. It is strange, however, that the group finds itself in the position of finding its own solution to the budget crisis – a kind of push from the bottom up maneuver. Why would the BOE and Administration not be disparately seeking a solution for all of these engaged families that are interested in the academic success of their children, rather than take such a combative posture?

Also, there is money in the budget to prevent the reduction of hours in primary schools they are just electing to use those funds in other ways. I continue to be baffled that parents and citizens seem to be resigned to the fact that the expenditures for the revamped Manual High School or the proposed Glen Oak birth through 8th program are a done deal. Manual’s program sounds outstanding, it appears the committee that put this together did an excellent job, but maybe District 150 could not afford this Cadillac plan. There is the ideal and then there is what you can afford. The District goes out and garners the new best educational initiative without regard to the financial impact on other schools and programs.

I hope that your group is successful in restoring the primary school schedule. Once your group gathers momentum don’t stop. District 150 should be offering stylized custom curriculums in primary schools where housing stock is available to attract middle class families. Whittier, Charter Oak, and Kellar should be enhanced with language programs, enriched classes, expanded arts and extra curricular offerings in order to entice families to settle in Peoria rather than flee. That may require outside funding but providing a full day of school for primary students should not.

Eyebrows McGee said...

"Why would the BOE and Administration not be disparately seeking a solution for all of these engaged families that are interested in the academic success of their children, rather than take such a combative posture?"

I think, from observing (I haven't lived in Peoria long and I don't have kids), that the Administration and BOE have taken a position for some time that THEY know the inner workings of the district and not everything needs to be made public (doubtless some issues are sensitive), therefore the public should just take their word for it. This seems to have contributed to a culture of limited information, which is totally inappropriate for a taxpayer-funded government body that probably conducts the single most important governmental function there is, and a culture of "We know better, shut the heck up." This has led to a defensive posture when parents & taxpayers ask questions.

The total lack of information and communication coming from the PUBLIC schools in Peoria continually astounds me.

I recognize that D150 is in a bad spot: The current board and administration inherited a budget nightmare left to us by Royster & the Schock board. Qualified administrators are in desperately short supply in Illinois (Tribune had an article on it last year)and are therefore fairly expensive. Illinois's barriers to entry for teachers make many otherwise-qualified people who want to teach -- especially those educated in subject-matter (rather than education itself, without subject-matter specialization) or those who are later-life career-changes -- give up the idea.

But this constant obfuscation and outright dishonesty ("shortening the day produces better educational outcomes! Except when we want to do it the other way, when longer days are better!") doesn't serve them well. The board and administration need to move to a culture of openness and cooperation rather than constantly being on the defensive. (And frankly, if you can't handle criticism or disagreement without getting defensive, you have no business either in school administration or as an elected official.) 150 needs to be answerable to the public, and that means providing actual answers: Why DO we have so many administrators when our budget is in such dire straits? District 150 needs to say, "Look, we're in a tight spot. We had to borrow to make payroll. That's borderline catastrophic. We NEED to cut costs and that means making some difficult choices."

Those difficult choices need to be made with the input of the community, and if the community feels we're top-heavy in administration and the the administration can't justify the existence of so many posts to the public, then the school board needs to listen to that, not protect itself. The administration is not there to self-perpetuate -- it is there to serve the children of Peoria.

District 150 is not Sears. It's totally inappropriate to hand increased compensation to a CEO who has failed to deliver when that compensation comes out of taxpayer pockets and the failure impacts taxpayer children. Is the administration willing to take salary cuts to make budget while keeping adequate instructional time for students? (And, given their failure to deliver, I don't think that's at ALL unreasonable to ask.)

In 2006-2007, Hinton made $202,390, according to the Chicago Tribune, placing him 212th in compensation among the 810 Illinois districts reporting. Not out of line for the head of an urban district (Rockford and Chambana pay similarly, but the bulk of those who make more than he does are wealthy suburban Chicago districts), but the median household income for Peoria (census data) is $40,276.

Hinton makes FIVE TIMES what an average Peoria family does. If he's not delivering, should he be making that much?

Anonymous said...

Hi Diane;

Heard you on WMBD this afternoon. You did a fabulous job explaining the facts and concerns of parents. Also checked out and read your comments on peoria rocks blogspot.

I want to add one more log to the fire.

We are in a global economy. Major corporations like CAT, pharmeuticals, automotive, etc already have 'global teams' in place. We have exported millions of jobs. Our children are going to be competing for employment in a worldwide environment.

A friend of mine is in South Korea, teaching English pronounciation to middle school kids for a year. She has a website that I invite you to peruse because in her blog, she answers many questions that I had regarding the differences between South Korean schools and D 150. By shortening the school day, the school board is affecting the long term success (or lack thereof) of the children of this area. The children in South Korea attend school from 8-5 plus a half day on Saturday. And many of the students ALSO attend classes at night until 11 pm because it is important to get into a 'good' high school. Check it out for yourself. Her website is: http://web.mac.com/denajenkins She is in one city in Asia but the rest of the world is preparing children for the future and WE