Litchfield Board Discusses School Facilities

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Members of the Litchfield School Board continued to look to the future and plan for upgrades to their four elementary school buildings during their regular monthly meeting on Thursday evening, Feb. 20, at Sihler School in Litchfield.

Kendall King of King Financial returned to the board meeting, as the board approved $674,500 in general obligation working cash bonds. King told the board they got a good interest rate of 1.75 percent, and all the bonds were sold to Bank and Trust in Litchfield.

"I feel it's very fair to both parties," King said. "It saves the district by being able to directly place the bonds with a local institution."

The motion was approved unanimously with board member Mike Fleming voting present.

After the bonds were passed, King made a presentation to the board about how much they would be able to borrow to finance a project to bring all four elementary school buildings up to code. He said the district has the capability to borrow up to $21 million. King added that interest rates are favorable at this time, and that if the district borrowed $21 million over 20 years, it would not impact local property taxes.

"It's just a good time to finance a project like this," he told the board.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Fuerstenau said he'd never seen interest rates this low and felt it was important for the board to get themselves in a good position to decide on how to proceed. The district will also look into the state's capital development program, which could fund up to half the price of the project.

"We are really fortunate to be in such an excellent financial position," said Fleming.

The board approved a motion to allow King Financing to draft paperwork to borrow up to $21 million. They still have some time to finalize plans before deciding exactly how much to borrow.

After King's presentation, Dr. Fuerstenau made a presentation from the work study, held Jan. 30. The district currently has four elementary school buildings, which house 659 students in 70,838 square feet. Just to bring those buildings up to code would cost over $12 million in renovations. At the work session, the board began discussion options about renovating all the the buildings, renovating some and creating an addition or building an all-new elementary campus.

Dr. Fuerstenau said the next step will be inviting the architect back to the district on March 4, where he will provide some basic blueprints and ideas. At the next regular monthly board meeting on Thursday evening, March 19, he will make another presentation to the board.

"We have no approved plan yet on how to proceed," said Dr. Fuerstenau.

Fleming said he was glad to see they were moving forward, adding that he hoped to get some public input on the project. Board member Gregg Hires added that the work sessions and all the discussion about the facilities project have been done in open session, where the public is allowed to attend.

Other Business

Board members unanimously approved the consent agenda, including paying the monthly bills, the treasurer's report and minutes from all January meetings. In February, the district paid $194,653 in bills, including $106,091 from the education fund, $45,854 from the operations and maintenance fund, $33,720 from transportation and $8,988 from tort.

Dr. Fuerstenau said the bills are tracking fairly normal for this time of year, as is the treasurer's report. The district currently has $7.4 million in all funds, including $5.2 million in operating expenses and $685,461 in capital projects. Dr. Fuerstenau said the district would be getting some funding from Mid-State Special Education as part of the de-centralizing that was done last year.

The board also unanimously approved a first reading on a policy update about being a drug and alcohol-free workspace. It will be approved next month.

They unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Regional Office of Education for the Safe School program, which is an annual occurence. Dr. Fuerstenau said as part of the agreement, they send kids to the alternative school in Nokomis, which is offset by a state grant and costs the district $312.50 per student per quarter.

The board also unanimously approved the district's threat assessment team, which is a new state requirement. Members of the team are Superintendent Gregg Fuerstenau, principals Adam Favre, Jeremy Heigert, Russ Tepen and Doug Hoster, counselors Brenda Elvers, Paula DalCanton and Karen Cress and Litchfield Police Chief Kenny Ryker or a designee. At each building, that plan also includes a teacher familiar with the student.

Prior to the start of the meeting, the board met as trustees of the Fogleman Scholarship for about one minute. They approved a motion to update the records so Dr. Fuerstenau may sign papers for the farm.

Citizens Agenda

Litchfield High School Student Council President Ellen Fleming gave the board an update from the high school, noting the most recent blood drive had 27 donors and three double red donors. She said winter sports were wrapping up and spring ones were beginning, noting the scholar bowl team won third place in the Masonic Regional tournament. Fleming added the school continues a penny drive for Stamp Out Cancer and will present this year's musical, The Little Mermaid, the last weekend of March.

Information Items

Dr. Fuerstenau said there was no real fluctuation for the monthly enrollment report.

Curriculum Director Jennifer Thompson said the district recently completed the most recent training with Capturing Kids Hearts, and it included one teacher from each grade level and six from the high school. She said they have had nothing but positive feedback from the teachers, and administrators are working on how to incorporate it daily into the classroom.

Dr. Fuerstenau told the board that Dr. David Lett, career and technical education director will also return to the March 19 board meeting to give an update. District personnel will tour the Marshal school district on March 10, as well as Lincoln Land Community College on March 21 and Kaskaskia College as well to talk about the possibility of an automotive program.

Due to the presentations at the regular monthly board meeting on March 19, Dr. Fuerstenau recommended a special meeting on March 17 to discuss personnel issues, and the board approved. They will meet on March 17, at 6 p.m. at Sihler School, followed by the regular meeting on March 19, at 6 p.m. at Sihler School.

In a building and grounds update, Bob Witter reported they started electrostatic spraying in all the district buildings to disinfect them due to winter illnesses.

He reported that new doors have been installed at Panther Gym, and the bleachers in Simmons Gym will be repaired. Board President Julie Abel said she heard lots of positive comments about the Rick McGraw basketball tournament, and commended Athletic Director Mark Elvers for working on accessible seating arrangements. Witter added that as part of the repair process, he is getting a quote on adding four accessible seats to the bleachers in Simmons Gym.

Witter also reported the lane behind the high school campus will now be closed to through traffic due to security concerns. They will have a gate and voice intercom and passcode. LHS Principal Doug Hoster received a grant from the Kilton Foundation for this project.

Personnel

The board did not enter closed session before approving the monthly personnel report. They unanimously approved the voluntary transfer of Kelly Eldred from seventh grade social studies teacher to seventh grade language teacher in the fall.

Board members also accepted resignation from pre-Kindergarten teacher Kaitlin Heinz and Title 1 Family Coordinator Kayla Pennock at the end of the school year, Brittany Ronco as volunteer to the cheerleading program at the end of the season and Jake Walker, activities and high school custodian, effective Feb. 14.

The board also approved the hire of Daniel Carlson as high school social studies teacher and head football coach, Megan Stewart as the middle school girls track coach, Scott Merano as activities and high school custodian and Brooke Komor and Kim Flitz-Miller as aides to the Make-It program.

They also approved a request for family medical leave for high school science teacher Amy Jones.

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