PEORIA -- Let's hope the Peoria public schools are run more effectively than the District 150 School Board. The Nov. 26 meeting featured a boring, 90 minute presentation by the board's law firm, on the legal requirements for discipline, suspensions and expulsions.
Those in the audience wanting to make comments to the board -- at this meeting limited to two minutes -- were furious because the comments were relegated to the end of the meeting. One man left in frustration.
Activist Terry Knapp commented on the superintendent's ill-fated idea to give high school grades only at the end of the school year, and not release grades for the first semester. "Don't try to fix something that is not broken," Knapp said.
Knapp warned against this plan a month ago. Then at the Nov. 13 meeting, two frustrated parents spoke to the board and opposed it. One noted that the policy was never published or adopted by the school board, and parents were not consulted or notified.
A recording of their comments, and Supt. Grenita Lathan's long, incoherent reply, is posted here.
But there's more: The Illinois High School Association reportedly has told the district that it cannot do it. So the district appears to be backing off the plan. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 26, limited to two minutes, Knapp and former board member Alicia Butler spoke out against the 5-game suspension of Dan Ruffin, the highly successful and popular head basketball coach at Peoria High School whose team won the state championship last year.
Ruffin apparently told a student that to play on the team he must cut his dreadlocks and take a shower after the game, and this message was posted on Facebook. Another student read it and that student's parents then complained to district administrators.
Knapp asked the board to investigate the incident, which he said was mishandled.
Butler said "I can't understand how you discipline someone without board policy and approval in open session." Noting that Ruffin was named 'coach of the year' last year, she said, "he has standards for his team. He enforces rules." She termed his suspension "a disgrace."
Activist Sevino Sierra complained "you people can go (talk) in circles and we sit here and listen to you but you won't give us the five minutes we deserve." He begged for more time, but was turned down.
Here is a recording of these comments.
The rest of the meeting had a few interesting moments punctuated by long stretches of boredom, as lawyers droned on about the obvious.
Board member Rick Cloyd drew laughter when he asked the lawyers whether a letter they planned to send to parents whose students were in danger of expulsion had been "tested to see if parents can understand it." Apparently it was full of legal jargon.
"We can do more to put it in plain English," one lawyer responded.
The legal lesson was done as part of the "retainer" paid to the law firm, a board member said, implying that it wasn't costing taxpayers extra. The lawyers are also presenting it to administrators and others in the district. It belabored the obvious and was a waste of 90 minutes of board time. Wonder how much that 'retainer' is!
The board also got a presentation on the audit and tax levy, which was somewhat interesting. Controller Dave Kinney said the district will lose $1 million in taxes this year because property values in Peoria are going down.
Still, he said, "property taxes are the most stable source of revenue," and should not be abandoned or cut in return for promises from the state that might not be kept.
He also said that since 2003, the district has lost $29.8 million because of TIF districts (tax increment financing).
Board member Martha Ross no doubt felt a bit of satisfaction as she corrected a mistake made by board member Rick Cloyd, when he said money cannot be transferred between the five funds that the district manages, such as the education fund and the transportation fund.
Money has been transferred in the past Ross said, correctly. She's the longest serving board member, but is routinely passed over for board president.
-- Elaine Hopkins