Tuesday, April 6th, 2021
Teachers, community upset
Demands for honesty at Parkway meeting
By Leslie Gartrell
Parent Megan Younker addresses the Parkway Local School District board of educat. . .
ROCKFORD - About 20 Parkway Local Schools community members and staff attending Monday's school board meeting asserted members of the school board and district administration have ignored calls for transparency and honesty.
Two speakers, one representing staff and another a concerned parent, had similar concerns.
Parkway teacher and and teachers union president Anita Morton said employees feel unheard, unsupported and anxious under the current administration, while parent Megan Younker said community members feel ignored by - and they're skeptical of - the school board, its decision-making process and its lack of communication.
Board members also approved Deb Call to fill the vacant seat left by former board vice president Kristin Hamrick, who abruptly resigned at the equally contentious March board meeting, where a large crowd attended to dispute the reassignment of two high school wresting coaches.
Morton, a 20-year teaching veteran at the district and Rockford native, read a letter to board members that was signed by 24 other teachers and staff members. Morton said more staff would have signed the letter if they didn't fear retribution.
Staff have three major concerns, according to Morton's letter: No trust; lack of support and no communication; and questionable spending when it comes to taxpayer dollars.
The school district has a "chain of convenience" rather than a chain of command, Morton claimed. Although the district's collective bargaining agreement, coaching handbook and district policy outline how complaints from community members should be handled, Morton says it hasn't been followed.
"Many teachers and staff members feel that if they speak out about educational procedures, a target shall land on their back," Morton said, reading from her prepared letter.
Morton continued to say the school district is limiting student activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic where other school districts in the county have modified their extracurriculars.
"The staff is being micro-managed for step-by-step procedures of any and all community service events," Morton said. "We, as teachers, have not been able to show students our other side by participating in student recreational activities or morale/spirit building activities."
School board members in September in a 2-1 vote, with one abstention, denied a grievance submitted by high school agriculture teacher Alan Post and the Parkway Education Association against principal Brian Fortkamp after Post was issued a formal written warning for "poor professional judgement" in allowing students to perform a "dangerous" assignment.
Post reportedly did not waive a graded assignment for volunteer work during a government stay-a-home order, didn't enforce social distancing and did not properly supervise students during a roadside trash pick-up on April 24, 2020.
Morton went on to question how taxpayer dollars are being spent in the district. She asserted the district in the past year "has spent an equivalent amount of money on legal/lawyer services" which could have been spent on an additional teacher, counselor, special needs teacher or test coordinator.
According to the available financial reports on the district's website, approximately $17,366 has been paid to the district's legal representation Scott Scriven LLP since July of 2020.
Moreover, Morton said school board members have lost their focus and forgotten their duties as elected officials. Although board members have been invited and encouraged to visit classes and practices, Morton said board members haven't taken staff up on their offer.
"Many teachers, staff members, and this union have reached out to discuss many issues with board members, and the majority of them feel that our concerns have fallen on deaf ears," she said. "We, the Parkway teachers, believe in our students and school system. We are dedicated to our students and community."
Younker also criticized school board members and superintendent Jeanne Osterfeld. Younker specifically referenced the reassignment of the high school's two varsity wrestling coaches, Jeremy Joseph and Jeff Farmer, days before their sectional tournament in February.
"What is going on with the leaders of our school?" Younker started. "What are the intentions of our superintendent and board members? Why haven't we received any information regarding our wrestling coaches?"
Osterfeld in March said the coaches had not been fired or terminated, but said their contracts were up for renewal and that they had been reassigned. Farmer in March said if he had been reassigned, he wasn't sure to where.
"I, along with many others, feel that we have very poor leadership for our pack," Younker read from a prepared statement. "It's so poor that we have teachers and coaches from all aspects worried and concerned for their jobs. Why should any person have to worry on a daily basis if they're going to be the next one to lose their job for no reason?"
Younker at the end of her speech said Osterfeld is not a member of the community and needs to either "step up or step out" to let someone else lead the district.
Board president Tom Lyons said he appreciated the community's attendance, compassion and caring for the district, and didn't want to discredit their concerns. However, Lyons said the board can only do so much and that people need to take their concerns through the proper chain of command.
"We have a great school system, we appreciate everything you guys do," Lyons said. "I guess my encouragement to you would be, is go right up the chain of command. We can only do so much, and just like you guys don't want to be micromanaged, we can't micromanage every minute of their (administrative staff) day either."
Board members also on Monday,
• elected Tal Bates as vice president of the board of education.
• met in executive session for more than two and a half hours to discuss personnel appointment or evaluation, employment and investigation of charges or complaints against an employee, official or student, and confidential matters as required by federal/state laws and statutes. No action followed the closed door session, Osterfeld said.