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The 2012 Rockford School Budget Committee should have at least two board members on it

In today’s Insight, (Our views: Opinions of the Editorial Board), the editorial board’s opinion is that taxpayers are tapped out; unions must give to help with the Rockford School District’s budget. The budget for 2011 is $404M dollars of which 75% or $303M is salaries and benefits and the budget has $41.3M in deficit spending. So the unions have to give. They are the overwhelming majority of the budget and 95% of the Education Fund.

The $404M divided by the 29,600 students, results in a cost of $13,650 per student!

On Wednesday August 3, it was reported that the school district was considering ways to reduce the $41M deficit that they had projected for the 2011 budget and that a 2012 budget committee was being formed by Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield.

Excerpt:

Planning is already in progress for the 2012 budget. The district is forming a committee with members of Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield’s Cabinet and eight community members to work on balancing the 2012 budget. The committee met last week for the first time and plans to meet again Aug. 18.

The budget expenditures have increased by 6.8% since last year, or $25M and $67M over the last two years. These expenditures are also causing the deficits, not just the economy.  However, to lower the deficit in 2011 and to rebalance the budget in 2012, where are the members of the school board, duly elected by the people in the district, on budget committees that are being formed by the district?

The Joint Task Force on Governmental Efficiency, a committee appointed by the mayor and the county chairman, and which I am a member, has two board members from the county, two alderman from the city, because it is they who will ultimately vote on the recommendations of the Task Force.  These people are elected to the respective government bodies and are part of the process in deciding on recommendations. Same for the venues committee, and Rockford’s ad-hoc financial committee, etc.

Why is the school district forming a committee to decide where to cut the budget and our elected representatives are nowhere to be seen? How does an appointed committee have authority to even decide which recomendations to make to the board, without our representatives being a part of that process. Cabinet members and community members, not elected by us, would be narrowing down the items that  would be eventually be voted on by the board.  What if the board would have chosen different items for the final cuts? 

The board should not be bypassed in how our taxes are to be spent.  If all the board votes on are the recommendations of a totally appointed committee, the representative process is flawed, and our tax dollars will be indirectly allocated by nonelected appointees!

Taxpayers should call the district and request that our elected board be present in all budget reduction processes, including ad-hoc committees.

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6 Comments

  1. Doug Clayburg

    I was excited to learn that a committee was formed to make plans to review our 2011 $41 million dollar deficit budget.

    Less excited that the names of those on the committee were not readily made available

    And now am concerned that the committee was appointed by the school district administration and not the Board. I have contacted the district to request the upcoming schedule, agenda and minutes.

    Doug Clayburg

  2. Jim Jennings

    Well said, Ted! If not two, at least one member of the school board should/could be represented. Such a move would demonstrate greater transparency and would go a long way to demonstrating to the public that the school district wants to both listen to and build trust with the communities it serves.

  3. Ted Biondo

    I know a couple of the members just by chance, but you are right Doug, the taxpayers should at least know who is representing them in these budget discussions, if not the people we elected. The Board probably can’t get 4 votes to insist that they are part of this process, if they even knew about it in the first place.

    They know now, and should insist they they be allowed to represent their constituents or they will not support the recommendations nor will they even consider them since they weren’t present during the recommendations selection process.

    Thanks, Jim for your remarks. The district needs to keep the transparancy for the trust factor that you suggest. It was there during the Kids Win Campaign and this type of process will reduce the trust that was built up during that campaign – 63% approval of the referendum!

    Also, the sunset clause in the Kids Win referendum is coming due in 2012 and that level of trust must be mainained.

  4. Crazy Joe Devola

    “Trust maintained” Yikes! “Kids Win” is translated to: teacher salaries / benefits win and the backs of taxpayers with no significant improvement in the test scores. I’ll start here by campaigning, “Vote no for the high cost of teachers in Rockford.”

  5. Doug, the committee is most likely not subject to the Open Meetings Act, so you will probably have to use FOIA to get your information. I agree that there should be a couple of Board Members on the Committee.

  6. Ted Biondo

    Kate, you bring up an excellent point.

    The Open Meetings Act has really changed under Lisa Madigan and according to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office, David Kurlinkus, concerning the Joint Task Force for Efficiency as an advisory group for Winnebago County and the City of Rockford, an advisory board is subject to the Open Meetings Act as follows.

    The Act at 5 ILCS 120 Sec. 1. was cited that: It is the public policy of this State that “public bodies” exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and that the people have a right to be informed as to the conduct of their business. In order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

    And under 5ILCS 120/1.02 states in revalent part,

    “Public body” includes all legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of the State, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees or commissions of this State, and any subsidiary bodies of any of the foregoing including but not limited to committees and subcommittees which are supported in whole or in part by tax revenue, or which expend tax revenue, except the General Assembly and committees or commissions thereof.

    Since the committee is an “advisory Body” and would be subject to the Act, it would have to post meetings with an agenda in compliance with the timing requirements contained in the act (minimum 48 hour posting of notice prior to meeting.)

    I’m not sure the first meeting of the ad-hoc finance committee consisting of Dr. Sheffield’s cabinent and 8 community members was posted for the week of July 26th when Cedric Lewis said they first met. The committee is scheduled to meet again on August 18th. The time and place of the meeting is also required to be and announced in a public notice according to the Act.

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