Closing Woodruff won’t fix District 150

http://thecommunityword.com/online/files/2008/04/billy_dennis.jpgI loathe special pleading.
You see it all the time in the creation of public policy.
Politicians from corn states think ethanol is the sure thing for the energy shortage. Voters hate and detest pork, but want their Congressman to bring home the bacon. That sort of thing. I hate it too. But I try to not be a hypocrite. This is why you didn’t see a lot of posts on my blog about the decision to close a high school. And this is why you didn’t see me beg for Woodruff’s life, as much as I wanted to. Here’s a thought experiment. Say I wasn’t a native of Peoria and I moved here and started a blog about local politics and news. What would I make of Peoria School District 150?

I’d note that most people who have an option choose to not send their kids here. I’d note that a lot of people are leaving Peoria in general, for reasons that include, but are not limited to the school district. Those who live in Peoria and can afford it send their kids to private schools. Right or wrong, many people think District 150 does not provide a great education and that many of its schools are unsafe. Of course, I also know people who love their kids’ District 150 schools. Love the teachers, love the principal. And then there are most people who say they would never send their kids to any D150 school. I’ll resort to a cliche here: Where there is smoke, there is fire. That so many people have this bad opinion has to mean there are problems. Many of the people I talk to cite incidents THEY had with bad teaching, bad leadership and utter lack of consideration for discipline and respect for teachers that went unpunished.

So, perceptions differ. But this perception is something that the district HAS to confront.
But it hasn’t. And THIS, readers, is why the district has too many schools for the number of students being served. Sure, people are leaving Peoria for reasons unrelated to the school. But MOST of the enrollment decline is due to things within the district’s control, or at least, due to things the district failed to address. The other night, the Peoria School District 150 Board of Education had to deal with the economic and enrollment facts that were on the table. They did not have the option of voting to go back in time and fix the massive enrollment drop by creating an environment which encourages respect for teachers and students. They didn’t have the option of voting to go back in time and reversing every bad decision by a principal or administrator to pass a kid who clearly didn’t deserve it. They didn’t have the option of voting to go back in time and NOT disrespect parent groups by, for example, taking donations made by parents at one school and moving them to a different school deemed to be more worthy of the gift. Things like that sends families to Dunlap and Germantown Hills. They didn’t have the option of voting to go back in time and voting to install metal detectors. They didn’t have the option of going back in time and work with police and prosecutors to keep better track of the recently released convicted criminals who attend schools like nothing happened.

They don’t have the option TODAY of going back in time and NOT hiring Ken Hinton, whose lack of proper academic credentials required by state law for school superintendents forced the district to hire TWO NEW administrators. The school board did not have the option of voting to go back in time to NOT let Hinton buy a bunch of homes on Prospect Road — an act he did without any record of the school board voting him permission to do so.

They did not have the option of voting to go back in time and decide against hiring Edison Schools, a huge waste of money and a drain on resources.
Yes, I know many of these problems — Edison, excessive administration and lack of security — are all issues that still have not been addressed and SHOULD have been addressed before any vote to close a high school took place.

But the grim reality is that the district still would have a huge structural debt that needs to be addressed. And because Peoria is run by the people who run the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, there was no way new tax revenue would come in. These people only believe in raising taxes when it benefits Caterpillar.

And even if the school board voted to fire Edison, fire half the administrators and expel every student with so much as a misdemeanor conviction, the district would still be facing a massive structural deficit.

So they closed a school. They think they will save money by having larger class sizes and by not having to operate a fourth high school building.

So the choice before them Monday was one of which school.

I read Laura Petelle’s long post about why she was voting to close Woodruff. Her facts and numbers made sense.

In the end I decided that if I were an outsider coming into Peoria, I would conclude that closing a high school was the obvious choice to make. And I could not come up with one single reason why it should be Central instead of Woodruff. Other than the fact that I love Woodruff High School. But that would be special pleading.

Oh, make no mistake. I am as mad as hell.

Many of the people who made these mistakes that put District 150 in this position are still on the board or still have jobs with the district. One of the ones who got out before the collapse serves in Congress.

The fact remains: This district is poorly run. Decisions are made that are NOT in the interests of students or parents. Money is thrown down the rat hole that is excessive administrator salaries and positions.

And here is a clue for the school board: You are NEVER going to get teachers to agree to a pay cut while there is so much lard at the administrative level. You cannot fool teachers. They have to wallow in the mess you people have made and they don’t trust you. Why SHOULD they take a pay cut when their bosses act like robber barons?

I am convinced more than ever there needs to be some sort of city or state takeover of District 150. They cannot botch it up any more than it already is.

Will there be a city take over?
Despite all the constant denials, I’m convinced that there is something in the works.

Heck, why not consolidate everything

There’s talk, again, of trying to consolidate city and county elections. Maybe you thought we settled all this with a referendum waaaaaaay back in 2004. But that’s an eternity if your a mover-and-shaker used to getting what you want. Damn you, pesky democracy! So, they are going to find a way to get it on the ballot AGAIN. No doubt they will spend more money on advertising this time. Maybe they can hire Aaron Schock’s campaign manager to run it. He’s good at this sort of thing, I hear.

No one knows how much money it would save. No one knows for sure if it WILL save money. At least Tom Bride at the Peoria Election Commission says city and county use the same machines, so it shouldn’t affect cumulative voting.

Never mind, though. “Intergovernment cooperation” is a buzzword of the day. And politicians are eager to demonstrate to voters they are doing SOMETHING about the budget. And the window of opportunity is closing, because the recession is about to end on its own, and you just can’t let these suckers go to waste.
Heck, why do we even need separate city and county governments at all? If a service that is as absolutely essential as free and fair elections can be consolidated, then no rational reason exists for not consolidating everything else.

Certainly we can cut overhead costs by having the same public works departments, the same fire departments, the same police departments, the same personnel departments. It does not matter that residents of the crowded and compact inner city have wildly different wants, needs and expectations than someone who lives out in rural Peoria county miles and miles away from Peoria. There are nickles and dimes to be saved.

We could do away with the Peoria City Council. The “mayor” of Peoria would be which ever county board member is able to wheel-and-deal his or her way into becoming county board chair. No more silly, contentious elections where incumbent mayors are held accountable for their words and deeds. Oh, I suppose we could still have a city council. They could meet once ever other month or so to hand out proclamations and such. They enjoy doing that, and it will keep them out of trouble.

But if we are serious about consolidating to save the nickles and dimes, we have to suck it up and totally abandon city government. Turn it all over the county and sell off city assets. Personally, I think the soon-to-be-former Peoria City Hall would make a wonderful replacement for Big Al’s — after they gut the place and install strobe lighting. I hear second-hand that they have lots of strobe lighting in there.

It’s a win-win for the inner city. Think about it. Right now, there is a large part of Peoria that looks like they have been utterly abandoned by city government and the business community. Once we become the Big County-Wide Municipality of Peoria, the percentage of the municipality that seems abandoned will be much, much, smaller. Boy, won’t THAT look great on the brochures! And because the problem seems smaller, we won’t worry about it as much, meaning we can devote more time and energy to expanding enterprise zones out in the 5th District.

And rest assured, people who live north of War Memorial Drive: The county-board will be have an even smaller stake – electorally speaking — in Peoria’s older neighborhoods than the current Peoria City Council, where more than half live in the 4th and 5th Districts.

Of course, the City of Peoria wouldn’t be the only city to vanish under the New Order. But then, I never liked Bartonville anyway.
No doubt some people are nervous at the concept of doing away with city governments. But look at the wonders it did out in California.

End sarcasm.

Billy Dennis



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