Patch recently posed four questions to Oswego District 308 School Board President Bill Walsh regarding the community petition asking for the board's officers to step aside in exchange for new leadership. What follows are those questions and Walsh's answers.
Patch: There are obviously a lot of upset parents in the district for any number of reasons. What can you say to them to convince them that the board is working toward the best interests of all students—as it seems to be a major complaint that the board only concerns itself with certain segments of the district.
For instance, one parent from Homestead Elementary School said she was mostly upset that during the final boundary hearing so much time was spent talking about a small group of students in downtown Oswego, rather than a large amount of students from Aurora.
Walsh: Change always brings concerns and questions. The Board respects the public’s right to question its elected officials and share their concerns based on accurate facts.
While all the board members currently have students in the district, the entire Board is focused on the best interest of all the district students. For example, the Board methodically reviewed all the options available when deciding to build a third high school last summer.
The Board listened to the public through the “Public Comment” section of the agenda and reviewed data presented to them from the Administration and outside consultants. The motion not to build the high school was approved in a 5-1 vote, with one board member not in attendance, but sharing his thoughts and reasons for supporting the motion not to build the third high school.
As a result of this vote, the District avoided approximately half of the costs (~ $40-$50+ Million) of a new high school. The additions still afford the students the classroom space and extracurricular activity space to support their preparation into the next phase of their lives, regardless of their vocation.
Regarding the boundary issue, the Board also supported the boundary process, which included the community during the development of the new boundaries. The Board respected Dr. O’Donnell’s request not to attend the Boundary Committee Meetings in an effort to allow open, free flowing committee meetings.
During the February board meetings, the Board listened to many people and their opinions from many different areas of the District. The Board Members took countless phone calls and emails to listen and understand additional view points.
While the Board may have spent less time on the Aurora attendance boundary during the Feb. 27 meeting, the board spent considerable time at the February 13th meeting, listening, asking questions, and then following up with administrators based on the Feb. 13 discussion. The Board approved the recommendation of the committee in a 5-2 vote.
There was also a vote on the opening of Murphy Junior High School. While this action was approved in a 4-3 vote, the Board, as one entity, accepted the majority decision and is moving forward with supporting the opening of the school.
The Board, at the request of the Administration, listened to information and opinions regarding the curriculum of Abstinence verses Abstinence plus. While this may be seen by some as a controversial issue, the Board received appreciation from the Administration for listening and acting on this issue.
This discussion, while uncomfortable to some, again proves that this Board is focused on the students by directly addressing issues. The Board also respected (the views and beliefs of families,) working with the Administration to ensure that there were alternate options for students prior to voting on the issue.
It is important to note that the Administration, as recently as the April 23 meeting, requested an additional 18.5 new teachers to add to previously approved 25 new teacher positions to help keep the class sizes as reasonable as possible to foster learning for the students. Both requests were approved 7-0 by the Board.
While the Board and District face an ever-changing educational landscape in the forms of lower revenue, reduced state aid, or additional state mandated programs, the decisions of the Board, while some maybe unpopular, are focused on providing the best environment possible for our 17,200 students.
Patch: Did you ever expect that all the difficulties that have happened over the past year would result in the petition.
Walsh: Regardless of my expectations, the challenges faced by the District and making the best decisions possible for all the stakeholders (Students, Staff, Taxpayers), is where this Board focuses it energy and effort.
Patch: Do you plan to address the parents who sign the petition?
Walsh: I, along with my fellow board members, make every reasonable effort possible to listen to everyone’s thoughts, concerns and ideas. I meet with parents, and groups, when requested, and as time allows.
Patch: Do you feel like there has been a steep learning curve for the new board members?
Walsh: The board members, regardless of the time on the Board, are focused on one thing, striving for excellence for this district. While people may not agree with the vote, or a position of one or more on the Board, the focus of the Board remains the same, excellence.