Litchfield Board Approves Annual Budget

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Members of the Litchfield School Board unanimously approved a $16.9 million budget for the 2015-2016 school year at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, Sept. 22, at Madison Park Elementary School.

Just prior to the regular meeting, the board hosted a public hearing about the annual budget. Board member Jeff Seabaugh was absent for the budget hearing, but arrived later for the regular meeting.

Superintendent Jeff Strieker said the district did not yet have the final audited numbers for the end of last year balances, but he felt confident with the numbers and the budget as it was presented.

He noted a $1.3 million deficit in the budget, but said it was mainly due to the fact that the district received $1.2 million in local property taxes in June, which count toward last year's fiscal year. Strieker added that he did have to fill out a state requirement form on an explanation of how to balance the district's budget because of the deficit, but told board members they should not be overly concerned because the overall fiscal picture is not too bad.

One thing that could help reduce the budget in coming years is a large group of retiring teachers at the end of the 2017 school year.

In looking at this year's budget, Strieker said the district had sold $500,000 in working cash bonds and $500,000 in health life safety bonds. The working cash bonds will be abated into the education fund to help catch up on expenses, and the health life safety bonds have been used on several projects in the district including a new HVAC system at the high school as well as some roofing work there.

"We are still looking to have a positive balance on all our funds at the end of the year," Strieker said.

He then opened the floor to public comment on the budget, and there were no questions.

During the regular meeting, board members unanimously passed the budget as presented. Prior to the meeting, the tentative budget had been on display at the unit office for 30 days.

Citizens Agenda

Litchfield High School Student Council President Megan Evans told the board the high school had been very busy with Homecoming activities that week. She added that Student Council was planning a blood drive on Oct. 2.

In other club news, she reported that the FCA hosted a See You at the Pole event on Wednesday morning, and was also raising funds to help support a child in Africa. The FCCLA was putting together a basket for the Litchfield McDonald's Firefighter Night fundraiser on Oct. 7, and was also meeting weekly on Monday evenings.

Strieker said he had planned to introduce long-time district bookkeeper Brenda Scott, who is retiring on Oct. 2, after more than 32 years of service to the district. However, she had been ill this week and was unable to attend. Strieker publicly thanked her for all she has done for the district during her career.

Although he spoke after the board met in closed session, Thomas Crabree of Stifel Nicolaus addressed the board about their bond indebtedness as part of the Citizens Agenda.

Strieker said he discussed with the board about the overall structure of their debt service, as well as the district's outstanding debts and payment plan.

He also addressed pending legislation about a property tax freeze and what that would mean for school districts, as well as a county-wide facilities tax. That idea was presented to all school districts in Montgomery County last October, but did not have enough support of the districts to be placed on the ballot. Strieker said the presentation was merely for informational purposes and that the Litchfield district was not interested in it at this time.

New Business

Under the consent agenda, Strieker made an amendment to pay the monthly fee to Commerce Trust Company for the debt service. The bill sent in August was only for the interest and not for the principal, and the error was just reported Tuesday morning. Strieker said they could wait until the October meeting to approve it, but the district would have to pay a late penalty on the bill, and the board agreed to the amendment.

In addition to passing the budget, the board unanimously gave permission to Strieker to submit the district's application for Recognition of Schools to the State Board of Education. This is done on an annual basis, and last year, all schools in the district received the highest "fully recognized" rating.

Board members approved a five-year review to school board policies, and Strieker said the only real changes were updates to dates on the policies after five years. The board also approved the first reading of several other board policies that will be officially approved next month. Among those were the changing of names to new administrators. Strieker said they were also changing the pre-K enrollment. Currently, the district policy allows students outside the district to apply for open seats in the pre-K program. He said that the district has maintained a waiting list for the last several years, and is changing the pre-K enrollment to match kindergarten through 12th grade, being that students must live in the Litchfield School District or there is a waiver offered to students of Litchfield faculty members who live outside the district.

In a final item, the board approved the annual Risk Management Plan, which allows the district to use tort funds to address things of legal liability, including insurance and building and grounds work. Strieker praised  the Safety Committee for its hard work over the years in maintaining the district's high level of safety. He attended his first Safety Committee meeting, and said he was impressed by the participation by all levels of district employees.

"You've got a good thing going here for the safety of our students and our staff," he said.

Information Items

Strieker presented a monthly enrollment update, noting the district was up about 25 students since the start of the school year.

He also praised Litchfield Middle School for hosting a Rachel's Challenge event on Friday, Sept. 18. The program on anti-bullying and positive lifestyles is done in memory of Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed at Columbine High School.

"She led such an inspirational life," said LMS Principal Jennifer Thompson. "A lot of her writings were changes she wanted to see in the world. We can already see some of it taking hold in our building. It's the best money we've ever spent."

Strieker said they are looking into bringing the program to the middle school every three years.

He added that he also attended his first Academic Advisory Committee meeting, and was impressed at the information the faculty shared on ways and ideas to improve the district.

In a final item, he thanked new board members Dennis Scobbie and Meg Wertin on completing additional board member training with the Illinois Association of School Boards.

Personnel

After meeting nearly two hours in closed session, the board approved its monthly personnel report.

Among the items approved were an increase in bus route time to four hours on the Star route for Bob Witter and 4.5 hours on the Eagle route for Lyn Hearn.

They also approved Dan Newkirk as middle school wrestling coach at step A1 and Garrett Talla as volunteer high school wrestling coach. Board members approved Brittany Laird as a high school guidance secretary and Christy Randle as district information technology assistant.

They approved contracts for the administrative team including Adam Favre, Doug Hoster, Mark Hunt, Andrea Lee and Jennifer Thompson.

The board approved the personnel compensation for district-exempt employees, including Kurtis Land, the new information technology assistant, Terri Eppinger, Teresa Alexander and Ali Luckett.

In a few final items, the board approved Della Witter as an IMRF authorized agent, Kris Adamson as the board's recording secretary and approved the 2015-2016 non-certified salary schedule.

Also after closed session, the board ratified a one-year contract with the Litchfield Education Association. The board approved a motion to approve Larry Halleman to engage in discussion pertaining to matters about the Fogleman Trust and Mark Hunt to negotiate the sale of the district's property at 504 East Water Street.

After meeting for more than three hours, the board adjourned at 10 p.m. They will meet again on Thursday, Oct. 15, at JD Colt Elementary School. Prior to the start of the meeting, the board will tour the school to look at health life safety issues.

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