Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dear Peoria District 150 Board of Education,

Superintendent Ken Hinton has called upon you to tender a decision tomorrow, that, upon a majority of "yes" votes could begin the process of closing and shuttering our schools. Why the rush is a mystery, as we all know the budget is not due until September 30. There is also no urgency with the District bond rating either, contrary to what he would have you believe.

Only last week your Administration rolled out our $8,000 magic money machine, patting themselves on the back while they input the data needed to provide the desired output. Meanwhile, the public clamors to input data of their own and are rebuked. Fully realizing that all cost cutting avenues have NOT been exhausted, Mr. Hinton's illogical reaction is to prematurely call for your vote. He has represented your acquiescence to his wishes as a foregone conclusion. Since you are OUR representatives, it is your responsibility to insure that our ideas are aired as well. We trust that you will direct Mr. Hinton to give us time and opportunity to fully vet our own cost cutting suggestions through the magic money machine.

Now, according to Erik Bush, chairperson of the newly formed Budget Finance Committee, the district is following the Master Facility Plan to guide them in their closing of schools. To refresh your memory of the Plan, I have summarized it's "spirit" by highlighting the following paragraphs.

5. The school district should establish a clear commitment to making all facilities vibrant community centers for the neighborhoods that they serve (and where they are physically located). A corollary to this emphasis should be the development of a careful, detailed plan of implementation of the school closings and openings – a plan that absolutely minimizes disruption and negative impacts to the students, the educational setting, and the neighborhoods.

6. Every effort should be made by the school district to place students in facilities located in the neighborhoods where they reside. In tandem, every effort should also be made by the school district to absolutely minimize involuntary or arbitrary busing of students.

No displaced student would involuntarily have to leave his/her high school
attendance area by bus or other means to attend a District 150 school; that the
recommendations contemplated students attending a school as close in proximity
to their home as would be practicable; and, that no displaced student would be
involuntarily bussed “cross-town.”

Good schools are neighborhood anchors that attract and retain homeowners and
stabilize enrollments and property values, both of which are relied upon for the
funding of schools.

Develop and implement a comprehensive communication plan to explain the
proposed plan and its benefit to the community.

13. Continue the school planning, design and siting process by engaging all interested stakeholders in our community including students, parents, teachers,
administrators, neighborhood organizations, interested citizens, civic entities,
business community representatives and all others interested in developing
optimum learning environments for the children of District 150.

Since anyone with a degree of common sense would realize that few if any of these criteria have been met, we fully expect a "No" vote tomorrow.

However, for any of those who are vacillating, I offer the following comments:

Dr. Gorenz - Our family extends our prayers to your family as you embark upon the journey before you. May good health be yours again soon.

Mrs. Wolfmeyer - Occasionally I see the "fight" in you that I'm sure your constituents recognized when they elected you. Please channel that God-given quality towards the best interests of the children, and not the admin, the budget or any other entity. Your words in the Peoria Journal Star today were very disturbing:

“We know that these decisions we have to make are not necessarily the best interest of children right here today, but we’ve got to look at the whole district and have got to look at those (future) years to make sure that we have a district here that can serve kids in this area,” School Board vice president Debbie Wolfmeyer said last week.

We are unwilling to let ANY generation of children be the sacrificial lambs for generations before or after them. By your own admission a "Yes" vote tomorrow would NOT be in the best interests of the children that are under your care today. Therefore, a "Yes" vote will be an extreme dereliction of your duties.

Mrs. Spangler - You have paid your dues to the district- and your 5 year term is coming to an end. You have requested and received a leave of absence. Our families should always come first and your leave is well deserved. However, if you plan to resurrect yourself briefly for one vote to close our schools, after having missed months of public input and the comments of nearly 100 families, your vote can and will be challenged. The state school board code of conduct states:

6. I will encourage and respect the free expression of opinion by my fellow board members and will participate in board discussions in an open, honest and respectful manner, honoring differences of opinion or perspective.
7. I will prepare for, attend and actively participate in school board meetings.
8. I will be sufficiently informed about and prepared to act on the specific
issues before the board, and remain reasonably knowledgeable about local, state, national, and global education issues.
9. I will respectfully listen to those who communicate with the board, seeking to
understand their views, while recognizing my responsibility to represent the
interests of the entire community.

You were not at the board meetings to see, hear, and feel the input from the public. Reading about it later or watching it on tv is not sufficient. Communications to your official Board e-mail address are returned with the following message:

Due to a family issues over the next few weeks, Mrs. Spangler is not able to respond to phone calls and emails.

Your own sense of honor and duty should preclude you from making life altering decisions for these children. We should not even have to ask you to refrain from voting, but we will.

Ms. Butler, you are a public servant. This decision could rest on your shoulders. Please pray for God's divine intervention that he will in your moment of decision remind you to focus only on the needs of the children before you and nothing else.

Mrs. Parker - Your actions on the school board reflect a clearness of vision and a life of purpose. Please don't ever change.

Mrs. Ross - Several years ago you were asked to make a similar vote. Against great pressure from the status quo, you held firm to your core beliefs, voted your conscience, and you were right! Despite the promises made to you, the school closings not only didn't save the district money, but cost the district money, all borne on the backs of our students. Nothing has changed, and history will repeat itself.

Mr. Stowell, Although I appreciate your attempts to engage the public through social networking venues, much of what you say only accentuates the lack of confidence we feel in the School board. You can change that with a "No" vote tomorrow.

Mr. Hinton. You have lost your way. I do believe once the children were your primary concern, but at some point that changed. If you tender your resignation, I feel you can re-gain some of the respect that you once enjoyed. The only thing more frightening to me than you being in charge of $160,000,000 of public money, is you being in charge of almost as much of public building funds.

It is clear you seek a "do over" in your quest for charter schools, but if that is to happen, Mr. Hinton, you need to be as far away from it as possible. You may be willing to throw in the towel on this generation of children, but there are plenty of people still willing to fight for them and we will.

This is it. The future of many children rest in your hands tomorrow. Your collective decision will be pivotal. Will it fall on the side of the children, or will it be a continuum of adversity? We shall see.


Jenny said...

Wow. That was heartfelt. Thanks for sharing.

teachingrocks said...

How about DIANE ROCKS! This is wonderfully written with great information. I love the way you addressed each board member personally. Thank you for everything you have done and are doing for PSD150 teachers!

Diane Vespa said...

Peoriarocks- thanks for your comments. One clarification - all my efforts are on behalf of students. Not teachers. My primary concern about the layoff of teachers is how it then negatively impacts students through larger class sizes. As in every occupation, there are teachers that are incapable, for whatever reasons, of connecting with and teaching their students. Those teachers, whether tenured or not, should be pink slipped.

teachingrocks said...

You are absolutely correct. It is for the students. To see your quick response stating the obvious shows your head and heart are in the right place. It's too bad we can't get the same from the BOE.

Sharon Crews said...

Very good post, Diane; thanks for all your efforts.

Anonymous said...

Diane your post is priceless. As just a plain old "mom," there are so many things that I just simply don't know. Thank you for taking the time to post this information. I know that my house is very glad to have you on the side of our children.

Anonymous said...

you people are really good nice to be here