Advise and Consent is also the duty of our elected school board
Yesterday’s post concerned the “Advise and Consent” of the city council. Today’s post will deal with the school board’s lack of decision making opportunities with superintendent Sheffield in charge.
The situation with the school district is somewhat different than the city, in that the superintendent is not elected, as is the mayor. So, if the board is bypassed by the administration, which has happened in the recent months, there is no representative of the people involved in decision making processes that spend our tax dollars.
In one such example, with the legal advice of school counsel, the superintendent formed a committee of individuals to review the 2012 budget and since it was not a direct ad-hoc committee appointed by the school board, and has no members of the board of education as participants, the meetings are not subject to the Open Meetings Act.
I attended the committee’s second meeting, held in the board room in the Administration Building a few weeks ago, to see what I could contribute with my 15 years experience in municipal financing, but was respectfully asked to leave by finance director Cedric Lewis and school counsel Lori Hoadley because the meeting was closed, except to Sheffield’s cabinet and committee members. So neither the public, nor the board, nor informed citizens are allowed to attend a budget discussion that ultimately spends over $400M of our tax dollars!
Other issues that have bypassed board scrutiny, involved millions spent on textbooks and portable computers for every teacher, without the advise and consent of the board of education, through a grant process that apparently didn’t require the board’s approval. What if our representatives had wanted to use the grant to reduce some of the $41M deficit this year, or spend the money in other ways that meet the grant conditions. We elected them to do that, didn’t we?
Also, there is the recent removal of the district’s discipline counsel, Tom Bueschel, through a bid process that didn’t include a major news source to publish the request for bid. When the issue came before the board, most of the board members were not aware of the change and the discipline counsel was not recently told that a bid process to remove him from his job had even taken place, according to board members with whom I have spoken.
Finally, Harlem, Byron, and Winnebago school districts are joining the Belvidere school district in the Rock Valley College “Running Start” program for advanced and mature students, but not the Rockford school district. The board didn’t vote on that decision either, with the superintendent making a unilateral decision, that it was too costly. Decisions that are being made by the superintendent in the Rockford school district, using our tax dollars obviously do not require a vote, as long as a majority of the board does not contest the process.
The city council is beginning to assert its legislative role in the decision making process. It’s about time the Board of Education started doing the same thing, or let someone else do the job.