Recently Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis spoke of the Peoria School system saying , “The quality of our
education system is the number one factor influencing our ability to grow Peoria, and we're not going in
the right direction."
In a subsequent interview, the Mayor stated regarding education: "We have to do more and we have to
do it better,”"...right now Peoria's public school system is holding the city back."..."Make no mistake
about it, we're not going in the right direction,”...“People are not coming into our city because they
think it's a good education system. You can't put lipstick on the pig."
The Mayor does at least two things with what I consider to be incendiary statements. First, he blames
local educators, administrators and vicariously the children and families of the district themselves for
the problems in and with the education system as he perceives them, and second, our Mayor blames
the lack of community economic growth and development on the same set of individuals. In essence, it
seems that the Mayor’s opinion is that if all persons associated with the education system were better,
or if the education process were better, then the City could advance economically and become more
attractive to new families, talent and individuals considering relocation.
I would ask, could someone please wake this Mayor up? He seems to have reached paradoxical sleep,
otherwise known as REM.
Although the Mayor tried to clean up his statements by saying that the teacher’s do their work without
“applause” and that the board has had “many things laid at its feet for years”, the Mayor’s reconciliation
of the economic advancement or non-advancement of Peoria is revealed to be nothing more that the
blame game played out openly. I and we won’t simply allow him to place the economic failure of large
segments of Peoria upon District 150’s educators and administrators many of whom are performing up
and above the call of duty every day in order to impact our children and vicariously uplift this
First, the education system in Peoria is not authorized, implemented or born within a vacuum. The
District follows guidelines, procedures and standards outlined by the Illinois State Board as well as the
National Education Association (NEA). So if the district is going in the “wrong direction” because of any
of these things, which are not the district’s fault, but the fault of the system itself. The Mayor could
hardly change any of those things himself.
Secondly, and more importantly, if this city is unattractive to individuals and businesses considering
relocation, the apprehension would more likely be due to the City’s lack of policies for growth and
failure to create a sustainable economic environment for all of its citizens.
What do I mean? Peoria District 150 is comprised of over 60% Black student population. Many of the
students graduate and go on to live their adult lives in this community. On the other side of the “school
and education experience”, we should ask, when has the City Of Peoria ever seriously undertook the
task of fostering the growth, and development of Black owned business in Peoria? In other words, what
has the City specifically done to provide opportunity to Black individuals and families in Peoria through
the advancement of business and business models?
Certainly we are blessed with a Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce and leadership of the Illinois Black
Chamber which runs through the heart of Peoria by its leader Larry Ivory. However, what has the City
done through any initiative to serve, invigorate or energize such a large, underserved segment of our
Black education and economic advancement through business growth and development is a highly
interrelated and interconnected issue. There is no excuse that the City cannot foster better
opportunities and deliver a more vigorous effort. According to a recent report by “Site Selection
Magazine” , Illinois ranks 5th in the nation for placement of corporate location and business expansion.
It seems that Illinois is ripe and ready for growth, expansion and business opportunities across the
board. The question is how many businesses that expanded into Illinois were Black owned businesses
and how many of them expanded into Peoria? In fact what has Peoria done to grow its current base of
Black and minority owned businesses outside of individuals who work road and highway construction?
If the Mayor wishes to talk about the education system being “factors influencing our ability to grow
Peoria” let him begin with City policy towards the growth and development of the Black community and
Black business within the community. Let our Mayor explain why the heart of the Black community,
61605 zip code, continues to suffer 47% poverty and nearly 30% unemployment with a median annual
income of its citizens of $12,000 or less without a City sponsored emergency economic growth and
development plan to address the issues? Statistics are more than 3 to 4 times that of the national
average. Yet, our Mayor blames the suffering of our city on those going into the city every day
attending to one of the City’s most urgent needs, our children’s education.
Does our Mayor not know that within the heart of the City, kids of all ages can get at least 2 meals a day,
that they may not otherwise receive, from the schools district? Does the Mayor not know that in inner
city high schools such as Peoria Manual for example, kids can (and do) arrive as early as 6:45 AM for
tutoring and leave as late as 5:00 PM most days for additional after school tutoring help from teachers
dedicated to the academic success of District 150 students?
Is this Mayor unfamiliar with the efforts of the school District in providing technical and vocational
training and education opportunities through the revamped Woodruff Career And Training Center? Does
this Mayor not realize that in many District 150 schools, administrators, staff and community partners
network together, without the assistance of the City, to find ways, methods, means and resources for
the children of poor families in order to help them stay engaged in education through the provision of
uniforms, and other necessary items?
Does this Mayor not know that there are scores of District 150 children, many of whom live under dire
circumstances, such as no lights and or heat and in some cases, not even a home, who continue to make
“A” and “A-B” honor rolls due to persistent and consistent efforts and encouragements of teachers and
opportunities sought out and secured by District 150 administrators?
As both a parent and one actively engaged within Peoria Public school System at nearly every level, I am
appalled at the Mayor’s statements and suggestions that this city is going “in the wrong direction”
because of its education system or that the current efforts of nearly everyone connected to that system
can be associated with being a “pig with lipstic”.
I would recommend that the Mayor not simply use emotive critical words, but begin to facilitate the
healing process by formulating plans to address the economic blight and emotional disparity that has
occurred within Peoria resulting from poverty and the impoverished condition of its people.
The Mayor and Council can begin by committing the necessary TIFF dollars to District 150 for facility
improvement within the most devastated areas of our community. Our children deserve to be educated
in modern environments and under conditions which reflect that ALL of our children are of concern and
thought of by the leaders of this community.
Simply put, Mayor Ardis, put your money where your mouth is!
Pastor Harvey Burnett
New Bethel COGIC
Peoria Assn. Of Pastors