Hillsboro School Board Approves Deficit Budget

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After a budget hearing, the Hillsboro School Board approved a $21.5 million fiscal year 2020 budget during their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the unit office.

The budget projects a $500,000 deficit, but an $814,000 deficit in four of the five operating funds: Education, Operations and Maintenance, Transportation, and Working Cash.  The budget predicts a $5.6 million total fund balance at the end of the fiscal year; $2.3 million in the four main operating funds.

"We've got a real problem with our Education Fund," Superintendent David Powell said of an anticipated $800,000 fiscal year deficit.

The budget predicts $140,000 less this year in local property taxes per the previously negotiated agreement before the Coffeen Power Plant closure was announced.

"We don't yet know the exact impact of the closure of the Coffeen Power Plant," Powell said, looking down the road.

The unkowns? The value of the plant post-closure, the magnitude of the offsetting state funding increase, potential short-term "impact" funding from the state, or a negotiated agreement with Vistra "on what they are willing to pay after the closure," or the impact of a potential of solar power and storage at the plant site.

"I do expect that I will be invited to participate if there are negotiations with Vistra," the superintendent said.

He asked the board to plan this year for the impact of the plant closure that will only add onto this year's deficit next year.  That could include a "modest bond sale," but the superintendent cautioned, "there will be pain."

"After going through the study, we believe it is in the best interest of Montgomery County to build a new high school between Hillsboro and Litchfield," Dr. Bob Mulch from the Montgomery County Schools Study Commission said in a follow-up discussion with the board after the commission released its results last month.  "The first step is to create a new school district with two or three districts in the study."

That process will begin if school districts place school consolidation on the ballot.  If approved, a new school board would be elected and that board would begin the process of selecting a location for a new high school.  Funding for that project would again need approval from the voters.

Mulch said his committee has met with Hillsboro and Litchfield superintendents and reached a consensus that a joint Hillsboro-Litchfield school board meeting should be scheduled. President Greg Bellaver said he will move forward on scheduling the joint meeting.

The board will take some time to decide on a request from high school Principal Patti Heyen to add three advanced placement classes to the small list of courses that are grade point average weighted. The classes are a computer science class taught by John Sertich, a dual credit biology class taught by Amber Connor, and advanced placement art taught by Andrea Kumlin.

"It's only fair that if they're doing college work, they should be given the chance to earn the weighted grade point average," the principal said.

If approved, the weighted classes will take effect this school year.

High School student Austin Edwards and seven other students asked the school board to establish a "pilot club" this year and eventually an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) high school bass fishing team. The student proponents told board members they would raise their own funding, except for participation in the IHSA post-season tournament.

"Fishing is a great sport to add to Hillsboro High School," Edwards said.

Students who spoke described potential fundraisers as well as benefits from adding the sport.  The club would require sponsors who furnish eligible boats, a coach, and transportation.

The board will put the item on the agenda for the October meeting and a possible decision then.

After a presentation from Hillsboro High School FFA members Preston Lyerla and Madison Malloy, the board approved the chapter's annual trip to the National Convention in Indianapolis Oct. 30 through Nov. 1.  Board member Earl Meier asked members to return and report to the board after the convention.

Beckemeyer Principal Zach Frailey said that according to early standardized test score results, last year's fourth grade students were six percent above state average in language arts, and last year's fifth grade students tested 25 percent above state average.

Principal Heyen congratulated the golf team for winning a tournament in Mattoon, and Coffeen Principal Marci Gutierrez reported that her school has received a $3,000 Dollar General literacy grant.

Meier said he stopped in Beckemeyer for an excellent lunch at the cafeteria.

In presenting the months bills, Powell told the board that "every building is seeing the benefits of the school facilities sales tax."

As part of the consent agenda, the board approved annual agreements to participate in Okaw Area Vocational Center.

After a closed session, the board accepted the resignation of Dany Baker as high school girls golf coach and hired Charlie Collins as bus driver.

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