Members of the Litchfield School Board held their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, June 23, in the Litchfield Middle School cafeteria. All board members were present, and each had his or her own table to sit at for social distancing purposes.
Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau told the board that just that afternoon he received a 64-page document from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health offering guidelines on starting the school year this fall.
“We just got this today, and we’re going to spend the rest of the week going through it and trying to figure out how it looks in the Litchfield School District,” said Dr. Fuerstenau.
He said the entire document will be available to download on the school district’s website. Among the guidelines are that all students from grades pre-K through 12 and staff members are required to wear masks. Other guidelines include temperature checks before getting on a school bus or entering a school building, as well as social distancing and keeping less than 50 people in one common area.
Dr. Fuerstenau said he plans to work with administrators and staff to find the best fit for the 1,400 students in the Litchfield district. Among the options are in-person learning, remote learning and hybrid plans, which include some of each, although the state board encourages as much in-person learning as possible.
Once the administration comes up with a plan, they will hold a special school board meeting in July to approve the plan and communicate it to district families.
“We ask for your patience, as this is not the school district making the rules,” Dr. Fuerstenau said. “The Illinois Department of Health has the final say. But we have great people in this district, and I feel confident they will do the best they can to meet the instructional needs of our students and keep everybody safe.”
Board member Gregg Hires reiterated that the district is not making the rules and that if community members had concerns, they should take them to local legislators at the state level.
Prior to the start of the meeting, the board held a public hearing to present the amended budget. Dr. Fuerstenau said it had been on display in the unit office for the past 30 days, which is the reason their meeting was moved from the typical third Thursday of the month to Tuesday evening.
Among the changes to the budget were capital expenditures for the new camera security system behind the high school, as well as a bus loan from the transportation fund for the purchase of new buses. With no public comment, the hearing lasted less than five minutes, and the board would later unanimously approve the amended budget.
Board members unanimously approved the consent agenda, which included approval of early graduates for the coming school year. It also included a deletion of an activity account for the outgoing senior class and the addition of one for the incoming freshman class.
The board approved $253,557 in monthly bills, including $118,643 from the education fund, $35,458 from operations and maintenance, $20,567 from transportation, $75,457 from capital projects and $3,542 from tort. Dr. Fuerstenau said the bills included a $50,000 expenditure to Johnson Controls for a chiller at the middle school, but that the district received a grant for the project.
In his treasurer’s report, Dr. Fuerstenau told the board the district is tracking a little better than expected, due to the lack of some expenditures with remote learning for two and a half months. Grants that were not used during the past school year will carry over into the next one. The district currently has a balance of $7.8 million in all funds, including $5.8 million in operating funds and $895,698 in the capital projects fund.
In old business, the district unanimously approved a new set of district policy updates from the Press Plus service.
Under new business, the board unanimously approved a student fee schedule for the coming school year. The only change for this year was a slight increase in student meals, based on a price equity analysis and the district audit. Lunches for kindergarten through fifth grade students went up $.10 to $2.60 and lunch for sixth through 12th grade students went up $.15 to $2.90.
“That’s the only increase we are proposing this year,” said Dr. Fuerstenau.
Board members would also unanimously approve Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust for renewal of property and casualty insurance and worker’s compensation insurance. Dr. Fuerstenau said the premium was up 8 percent or about $13,000 over last year. He said the board had asked for an appraisal of all facilities, so the quote was adjusted for the new appraisals. In addition, they raised their sexual abuse coverage from $1 million to $5 million. He said worker’s compensation insurance went up because the district now has increased staff from Mid-State Special Education.
Dr. Fuerstenau said things at the district were “pretty status quo,” noting the board didn’t have an administrator’s report since school was out on March 17.
He added the high school hosted a beautiful graduation ceremony at Sky-View Drive-In on June 18. A video of the program is now available on the district’s YouTube channel, as well as new video of seniors offering advice to freshmen students.
Board member Mike Fleming, whose daughter Ellen was a senior, gave special thanks to the entire district for putting together such a nice program.
“I’m extremely proud of our staff,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “The whole thing was really first class.”
Due to the fact that students have not been in district buildings since March, Dr. Fuerstenau reported summer projects are ahead of schedule, and expected to be complete by July 23. He said they were finishing up air conditioning in six of the high school classrooms and were nearly finished in Simmons Gym as well. Due to the updates to the HVAC system, old boilers were no longer needed, creating extra storage space.
The district fixed the sewer line, which had been clogged with tree roots, and was also planning an expansion to the outdoor concession stand near the football field. He also gave special recognition to the staff members who are mowing district grounds this summer.
“It’s been a busy summer, but a good one,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “We are all ahead of schedule and ready to go.”
In a few final updates, Dr. Fuerstenau told the board that registration for the November school board conference would open soon, but they could sign up and not go if it would be cancelled due to the pandemic.
He also talked with the LEA (Litchfield Education Association) about a requirement to have a plan in place for an unsatisfactory evaluation. He added it was just a memorandum of understanding, and a committee has been established for an appeal to the evaluation.
Dr. Fuerstenau was excited that the district now offers 13 dual credit classes through Lincoln Land Community College and St. Louis University. He said it has been disrupted some by the pandemic, but they were working on it. Students from Hillsboro, Panhandle and Nokomis school districts are also eligible to participate in their dual credit classes through the Montgomery County Consortium, and Litchfield students may join dual credit classes in other districts as part of the same program.
The board spent nearly an hour in closed session before unanimously approving some personnel updates.
They hired Emily Long as a classroom aide at Madison Park and Stephanie Norwood as middle school yearbook advisor.
Board members approved administrators salaries for Adam Favre at Sihler and Madison Park, Jeremy Heigert at Colt and Russell, Russ Tepen at Litchfield Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson, Career and Technical Education Coordinator David Lett and Superintendent Greggory Fuerstenau. They also approved a request for an increase of 40 sick days for LHS Principal Doug Hoster.
The board would also approve Ron Gelsinger as a volunteer coach to the wrestling program and accepted the resignation of Lisa Schaffer as middle school athletic director.
Board members would adjourn after meeting for nearly an hour and a half. Their next regular monthly meeting will be Thursday evening, July 16, at 6 p.m.