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The Rock Island - Milan School Board has begun a discussion that most school districts are going to have to address sooner or later. The issue is private funding development.

Let’s face it, revenue from local property taxes is climbing slowly if at all and increased state funding in Illinois seems unlikely. As I noted several weeks ago, Chicago charter schools have been so successful privately funding school projects, it’s something public schools should copy.

In Rock Island, almost everyone in the community knows that the development director’s job has been a place to “justify” paying big money for the football coach. A $100,000-plus salary is justified because that person is also out raising money for the district.

Let me be clear up front that this is NOT an attack on Brian Stortz who currently holds that position. He is simply playing the hand that was dealt him and following his contract. But it’s time to change that way of thinking.

The district had piled on three jobs in an effort to entice him here. He was trained as a math teacher, put up a sterling record as a football coach in the suburbs, and then was also given the development job.

Those of you who have ever worked multiple jobs at the same time know that the outcome is predictable. The job that is your favorite, which has the most demanding boss, or for which you have the most training, is the one that ends up getting the most attention. The others get what’s left over.

In this case, in a school struggling to meet national standards for educating students in math, Mr. Stortz is needed in the classroom. On the football field, his team had a record of 3-6 last season.

But what has drawn the school board’s attention is that while the development director was paid $106,163 in salary and benefits in 2014-2015, only $119,510 was raised. After you figure in some additional expenses, that leaves $11,374 to be spent on students, or about a 10 percent return.

Most friends and alumni who support the Campaign for Excellence or Night of a Thousand Dreams, think they are giving funds that will enhance student programs and education. Until now, the reality has been that they are paying the football coach.

The school board is looking to change that with a goal of increasing development revenue by 30 percent and funds available by 18 percent, according to one plan outlined in documents provided by board members.

The program might include expansion of the Campaign for Excellence to include additional sponsorship and advertising opportunities. The development director would become a full-time position and fundraising would be done in house. As I understand it, the education foundation which is separate and raises money for scholarships, would remain as it is.

For those diehard boosters who want to see this as an attack on football, athletics or anything red and gold, nothing could be further from the truth. We just can’t keep doing things the way they have always been in the past. It’s time to plan for the future and thankfully the school board has acknowledged that.

Before I get off this soapbox, let me lob one more twist into the discussion: Alumni.

Schools leave a huge impression on students who pass through the halls and eventually graduate. These alumni long remember sports teams, bands and theater groups they were part of, and teachers who inspired them to eventually achieve great success.

But local schools do little or nothing to keep tabs on their graduates and take advantage of that continued emotional link to the schools they grew up in. If you want a blueprint to follow, just take a look at how colleges and universities take advantage of their alumni ties.

I have three children who went through school here. To my knowledge, with the possible exception of non-school organized class reunions, they have not been contacted since the day they received their diploma. Neither have their friends and classmates. Many have gone on to great careers and are earning impressive salaries.

The longer students have been out of school, the greater their earning power. It’s hard work to keep track of thousands of alumni, yet the potential payback could be enormous.

Former students could be a source of on-going financial support for the district in general or for specific programs they were a part of. Heck, if every graduate who ever played football at Rock Island High School donated $20 per year, you could pay the football coach far more than $106,000.

Alumni could also help with job shadows, internships or job placement. Some could return to speak about career opportunities, the importance of their education and what they would do differently if given a second chance.

Every school district has this wealth of resources available if it made the effort to keep in touch with and cultivate those graduates. Achieving this, and hiring professional development staff, will be commonplace in the future.

Props go to the Rock Island-Milan school board for grappling with this tough issue so in the future money given to support students actually will.

Roger Ruthhart is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He can be reached at rruthhart@qconline.com.

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