Four years ago the Rantoul Tomorrow initiative got off the ground with Mayor Chuck Smith championing the cause and its goal toward improving Rantoul as a community. 

Rantoul Tomorrow’s three primary areas of focus include schools, neighborhoods and economic growth. Like a three-legged stool, each area of focus is dependent upon the other in order to succeed.

Due to the Rantoul City Schools’ (RCS) lack of leadership there is a leg missing from Rantoul’s three-legged stool.

RCS has and continues to not only hinder the potential and future success of its students but also the community of Rantoul, as families and businesses will not come to Rantoul as long as our elementary schools collectively rank among the very worst in the state.

At their November 2019 board meeting the RCS district presented their first annual report since anyone can remember. The report celebrated student diversity, smaller classroom sizes and an average annual attrition rate of 30 percent of its teachers.

The report also bemoans the high percentage of low-income students, high student mobility, high chronic absenteeism, an increase in attitudinal disciplinary problems, and the low local funding sources for the district.

RCS’ annual report does not mention its $25 million budget, and it also fails to explain what as a community we got in return.

With some simple independent research of the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) Illinois Report Card you discover the expenditure of $25 million works out to be around $13,311 per student annually.

You might wonder if $13,311 per student is high, average or low, and that’s because RCS chose not to reveal this in their annual report, and I do not believe, nor should you, that this was an oversight.

By doing a little more research of the Illinois Report Card website you’ll find that when compared to all other school districts in Illinois, RCS’ per-student spending ranks in the top 67th percentile, more than 66 percent of all school districts statewide.

Since RCS expends more money per student than two-thirds of all of Illinois’ other school districts, what was the return on their investment? It’s not good, which explains why the RCS annual report doesn’t address the matter.

The fact that a school district’s annual report does not include how its students performed on the state’s annual assessment tells you volumes about the school board’s failure to be transparent and lack of willingness to be held accountable.

I think it also speaks to how little the school board must think of its students’ parents and the community as a whole that they can’t be honestly open about the RCS board’s failure of leadership toward helping the students improve their test results and better prepare them for life.

As many will remember, in 2018 we learned that RCS students did so poorly on the state’s annual assessment test, RCS ranked in the bottom 1 percent statewide.

A year later after the expenditure of another $25 million on teaching Rantoul’s children to read and write how did RCS’ students do?

In 2019, out of 813 Illinois-ranked school districts RCS students ranked 805, again placing eighth from the bottom, and even lower in the bottom 1 percent. See for yourself at www.illinoisreportcard.com and www.schooldigger.com.

In short, RCS’ per-student expenditure ranks in the top 67 percentile and in return for a $25 million investment Rantoul’s children performed in the bottom 1 percent on the state assessment tests. Not much of a return on the investment.

It angers me when people approach me and harangue with racial overtones that it’s the minority students and their families that drag down RCS’ averages on the state’s student assessment tests. Again, if they would just do a little research of the Illinois Report Card they’d find the average RCS white student performs lower on the state assessment test than any of the minority student group’s statewide averages.

The Illinois Report Card clearly shows that apparently no matter the money spent per student nor the student’s race, the average students who attend RCS learn the least, are ill prepared and thus perform among the very worse on the Illinois student assessment tests.

As we learned in the past, even with the consistent turnover of students, teachers and administrators over time, RCS continues to have the same poor results. The common thread over the many years of poor results is the same school board members who make decisions on the curriculum, pedagogy methods, and policies.

It’s the school board who is failing to be the change agent leaders RCS and our community so desperately needs. As a community we need to also invest in our children by becoming more involved in support of our schools and electing school board members who have energy and new ideas.

Three current school board members, all with over a decade on the board, are up for re-election in 2021. Board members are elected to a four-year term. With $25 million annually, do you believe you could expend $100 million and begin to turn our school district around within four years?

If so, the Rantoul City Schools needs new leadership on the school board. With over a year to prepare, won’t you please consider being the change agent our children, schools and community so desperately needs by running in the April 2021 election?

Jack Anderson is a resident of Rantoul.