At the time of my election as mayor of Peoria, I committed myself to improving education for all Peoria youth. There is simply no more important issue facing the citizens of Peoria than ensuring that all of its students have access to high-quality academic programs and high-performance schools. This is not an easy task, but a task at which we must work day after day and year after year. At the end of another school year, I think this is a good time to reflect.
A number of steps have been taken to further educational opportunities and the quality of those opportunities for our residents. In the summer of 2006, I developed the position of Education Liaison, its sole purpose to help move education forward. I was fortunate to have Dr. Bill Collier take on this important initiative. One of his projects has been to work to increase communication among the various governmental bodies and the business community. To this end, he has taken on various tasks which could not be completed within the present structure of the city or the schools that serve our community. The Liaison is continuously challenging leaders to do more and to do things better.
Foremost among our other initiatives is the development of Peoria Promise—a scholarship program to ensure that every graduating high school student who lives in the City of Peoria gets the opportunity to attend Illinois Central College and earn a degree or certificate. Many of our societal ills will be impacted or even eliminated if our community is well-educated and our citizens qualify for the many jobs that are currently available, as well as new ones that will come with an expanded and enhanced work force. Fundraising will begin later this summer with a goal of raising at least $25,000,000 over the next several years. This is a large amount of money, but it can and must be raised if we are to solve these problems and attract jobs. It is not only about education. It is also about addressing our crime problems and the economic development of the greater Peoria area.
Recently I invited District 150, the Peoria County Board and the Peoria Park District Board to join the Peoria City Council in expanding and enhancing communications and cooperation among these four taxing bodies. Working together, we can do a better job for the people we have been elected to serve. The intent is to have these equally important groups meet in their entirety twice a year while their leadership teams meet an additional four times a year to be informed of the pending actions of one another. We need to look to the future and see where we can support each other. This will offer efficient and effective actions to the taxpayer.
In conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce, we will see how we can support public and private schools to recruit top level leaders—as the next few years will see a substantial number of high-quality administrators retire. I plan to work with interested citizens in supporting District 150 and providing a better understanding of the district’s finances and academic performance. We need to know what the short-term financial constraints are, but we also need to know what the long-term outlook is in order to enhance the district’s many programs. An overview of the finances used to operate the entire district should replace looking at what can be cut every year to meet the budget. Believe me, I’m not looking to stick my nose into the district’s financial matters (we in the City have our own important issues to address), but I think it is essential that we all have a thorough understanding of the financial position of the largest school district in Peoria.
While poverty in Peoria impacts many aspects of everyday life, nowhere is it as obvious as in our schools. We must address the economic plight of our citizens and to do so we must become more knowledgeable about poverty and its effects. Beginning in August, we will work with District 150, faith-based organizations and state and national leaders to bring in experts who will discuss the issue of poverty, its impact on our community and ways to combat it. Our Education Liaison will coordinate these discussions.
There are other initiatives we are addressing as well. Be assured that education was at the top of my agenda when I was elected Mayor, and it remains at the top today. We are making progress. Is it fast enough to satisfy everyone? No. But we are moving forward, and good things are happening in our schools and in our community every day. IBI