It took members of the Litchfield School Board about two hours to dispatch their monthly business, which included passing a budget for the 2019-2020 school year. Board member Gregg Hires was absent from the regular monthly meeting, held Thursday evening, Sept. 19, at Sihler School in Litchfield.
The meeting opened with a public budget hearing, which lasted about five minutes. Superintendent Gregg Fuerstenau said the budget was the same as presented at the work session, which is expected to run $226,000 in deficit spending. Later in the meeting, the board would unanimously pass the budget, and Fuerstenau said he would submit it to county officials as well as the Illinois State Board of Education.
In other business, the board would unanimously approve the annual risk management plan, which allows the board to use tort funds. Fuerstenau said they would talk more about this plan at the November meeting when they talked about the tax levy.
The board also unanimously approved the coaching evaluation. Fuerstenau said the evaluation had been worked on by district athletic directors Mark Elvers and Lisa Shaffer, noting that board member Hires had been involved with the process as well.
"They feel this will meet the needs of our district moving forward," Fuerstenau said.
Board member Valerie Cain asked about the scoring system of the evaluation, noting there was a scoring process in the evaluation, but no criteria for whether or not a coach would be renewed. Fuerstenau said that would be part of the comments section, adding that each coach will set goals for his or her program.
Board member Mike Fleming said he was glad to see a written plan in place and hoped it would bring consistency in making good decisions.
The board would unanimously appropriate $720,768 to Midwest Bus Sales for eight new buses for the district. Funding will be financed through First National Bank in Litchfield with help from Bank and Trust in Litchfield and CNB Bank and Trust in Litchfield. Fuerstenau said the board approved the purchase at the August meeting, but had to approve a resolution to pay for them. Board member Mike Fleming abstained from the vote.
Board President Julie Abel asked if there was a delivery date in place yet, and Building and Grounds Coordinator Bob Witter said they hope to have all eight in place by the end of October. She also asked about training for the drivers, and Witter said they were planning a Saturday training for drivers once a couple of the new buses had been delivered. The new buses will have added length that the drivers will need to get used to.
"It's nice to have an updated fleet," Fuerstenau said. "We will return to the board with a rotation plan to keep our buses up-to-date."
In a final item of new business, the board unanimously approved the intergovernmental agreement with the School of Illinois Public Cooperative. Fuerstenau said currently the district purchases maintenance supplies from a Worksaver program, but this consortium could offer savings to the district. There is no cost for membership in the group.
One item they are particularly interested in is a flu spray made by Clorox that helps cut down on germs in classrooms.
Fuerstenau said they also offer to come in and audit the district's needs at no charge.
Fleming asked if there was any obligation to buy from this group, and Fuerstenau said there is no obligation.
During the consent agenda, the board unanimously approved the list of school district volunteers who have completed their paperwork and pending background checks. This is done in September and March.
The board also approved the treasurer's report, which notes the district has $8.8 million in all funds, including $5.5 million in operating funds and $1.3 million in the capital improvement fund (from the county-wide 1 percent sales tax).
"The district is in good standing," said Fuerstenau, noting they have received the first distribution of property taxes from the county. "Things are promising as we move forward."
Fleming abstained from the vote to pay $1.9 million in bills, which include $190,131 from the education fund, $96,756 from operations and maintenance, $855,868 from debt service, $11,327 from transportation, $739,119 from capital projects and $7,563 from tort.
Prior to the regular meeting, the board also met as trustees of the Fogleman Scholarship. Larry Halleman and Roger Krabbe of Bank and Trust in Litchfield were also present for the meeting.
The board unanimously approved tiling at the Fogleman Farms, using funding from the Dakota Access Pipeline for the improvements.
Halleman said they wouldn't be able to firm up solid numbers until after harvest, but they were looking to run a topography survey and then tile about 40 acres at the Macoupin County farm, 80 acres in Standard City and another 20 acres in Macoupin County if they could.
Also present at the meeting were Mike and Janice Bitter and their family, who farm some of the Fogleman ground. They have offered to match what the district tiles in order to have more tiling done on the farm. In return, the Bitters would get a ten-year right to farm contract with is renewable every two years.
Halleman said they are taking the advice of the advisory council on which farms to tile and how much.
He said the first year there would be no upcharge to the tenants because the tiling process leaves the fields in a mess, and the second year there would be half the upcharge.
Fleming asked how much the tiling would cost, and Halleman said between $925 to $975 per acre. Halleman said he sought five different bids and only received two. He added he would bring an exact proposal to the board before they start.
The board would also unanimously approve changing the formula for scholarship, using one-third of the assets to determine the scholarship award each year. Krabbe said this is the exact same formula that was used prior to 2015-2016.
LHS Student Council President Ellen Fleming had a volleyball game on Thursday night, so her dad, board member Mike Fleming, gave her high school report in her absence. He said fall sports were in full swing and that Student Council was busy planning Homecoming. This year's Homecoming court includes John Corso, Anthony Boston, Nick Braasch, Brady Bishop, Blake Rentz, Emily Senjan, Zoe Ashmore, Anna Baugher, Grace Flannery and Ellen Fleming. She said the students were looking forward to Homecoming activities, and encouraged community members to come and see the band's impressive show at halftime of football games. Her report also noted the students attended an assembly on violence.
Thomas Devore was listed on the agenda to speak during the Citizens' Agenda, but he was absent from the meeting.
Denise Bader addressed the board requesting they consider a schedule change for her daughter. She asked about the possibility of discussing it in closed session since it pertained to a student, but since it was not on the agenda, the board could not do that at the September meeting.
Bader said she felt the add/drop period for classes at the high school was too short at just three days, and said other schools have longer periods. She said she had gone up the chain of command, but had not been able to get the schedule changed.
Fleming said he would be glad to have a special meeting to accommodate a student's needs.
"The sooner we resolve the matter, the better," Fleming said.
Fuerstenau said in fairness to the administration, they needed some time before the special meeting. He added that the administration had been working on this process, and felt a fair offer had been provided.
Fuerstenau said the board could decide to host a special meeting with Bader, but that the administration would also be allowed to present what had been discussed thus far in the matter. He added that at this point in time, the high school will already be past mid-terms and felt it was too late to change the first semester.
"Obviously, my daughter and I have tried to work within the chain of command and were not successful," Bader said.
The board set a special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 9, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Radius Room at Litchfield High School.
Fuerstenau gave a six-day enrollment report, citing 1,395 students in the district on the sixth day this year and 1,410 on the sixth day last year.
Megan Anschutz, the director of nutrition services for the district's new OPAA food program, provided a report to the board about the new program.
"It takes a bit to get into the groove when it's a different approach than we've ever had," Fuerstenau said. "I dine three times a week at the school, and I highly recommend it."
Anschutz, a native of Staunton, said they have been working out a few kinks, but are currently serving more than 400 meals at the middle school and high school, and transporting meals to the other schools. She added that one of the biggest concerns was not being able to keep up with students' fruit and vegetable consumption.
In October, the program will be offering six different options every day at the high school and middle school in an effort to increase participation in the program.
Anschutz also had high praise for the district's cafeteria staff for working so hard to make the switch to the new program.
Madison Park Elementary School Principal Adam Favre said he's noticed that even when the food is transported to the elementary school that it still looks attractive to the students. Board member Mark Bloome said he was concerned the elementary students didn't have enough time to eat, and Favre said that's improving. Anschutz said it's been a bit of a learning curve, but that the state requires the students to serve themselves. She said they will continue to work on it.
Abel thanked Anschutz for observing the students and making changes as she saw fit to improve services in the district.
"Our staff is just doing a fantastic job," said Fuerstenau during the administrator reports. "There are a lot of good things happening in Litchfield schools."
Favre said the elementary schools had been busy hosting Grandparents' Day festivities, which were very well attended. He added that he's working on the district's YouTube channel to be able to share some videos of some of those events throughout the community.
Litchfield Middle School Principal Russ Tepen said the middle school students enjoyed a trip to Litchfield Municipal Airport for the annual RC Jet Rally in September, and that this year's school fundraiser topped $15,000.
Litchfield High School Principal Doug Hoster said both the middle school and high school attended an assembly on violence prevention and also participated in fire and tornado drills.
Curriculum Director Jennifer Thompson said the district is gearing up for the next Capturing Kids' Hearts training Oct. 10-11, and said it's already proving to be successful around the district. She added that she had a chance to observe first graders visit the high school for a biology 1 lab, and how much all the students enjoyed it.
Fuersteanau reminded board members of the next IASB Kaskaskia meeting on Oct. 22, in Bunker Hill, and encouraged them to participate in it.
He said that the first community listening session, held early in September, had been very positive.
"On behalf of the district, I want to thank everyone who participated," Fuerstenau said. "I think we got some very good thoughts as we move forward."
He said he also heard comments from parents and community members who wished they had come. The board scheduled a second community listening session on Monday, Nov. 4, beginning at 7 p.m., and the meeting location will be announced closer to the date. Fuerstenau said they were pleased with the meeting space at the Litchfield Public Library and had also been offered space at Lily Pad Learning Center. The format and the questions will be the same at this community listening session as the first one.
Fuerstenau and the board also scheduled two board work sessions in the month of October. The first will focus on facilities and will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 9, after the special board meeting. Board members will go through the health life safety reports for each of the elementary school buildings. Fuerstenau will also have professionals on hand to talk about some of the options, although no particular solutions will be promoted during the meeting. He said they want to have their projects in place as he has heard the state is working on a bill to match from 40 to 70 percent of capital projects.
The second meeting will focus on curriculum on Tuesday, Oct. 15, beginning at 6 p.m. at the high school. They will again present some of the academic changes they wish to make at the high school, including elimination of weighted classes and valedictorian and salutatorian awards. In addition, they will present MAP and school report card data. Fuerstenau said he hopes the board will be ready to make a decision on these changes by the December meeting.
Fuerstenau will be working with Hillsboro Superintendent David Powell to set up a joint meeting of the two school boards in early November to talk about the reorganization study. Commission members Dr. Bob Mulch and Don Karban were present at the meeting as well.
"We are hoping to get the boards together because they are going to develop trust in order to have open and frank discussion about this," said Dr. Mulch.
In a final few notes, Fuerstenau said he was very impressed by the tour of Corteva (formerly Pioneer), and the opportunities that are out there for students. He added that Dr. Lett will visit the board in October to discuss expanding the district's vocational program in the coming months.
Fuerstenau said he met with the district's academic advisory committee and said it was a positive experience. He added that the district complied with a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request from Tom Devore.
Board member Mike Fleming asked about an update on the roof over the high school gym, and said he was disappointed it hadn't been finished over the summer. Fuerstenau said he felt the turnaround was actually pretty quick in terms of roofing projects, and said they are just waiting on some product to be delivered to get it finished.
The board did not go into closed session at this month's meeting before approving two personnel items. They approved a maternity leave for high school special education teacher Victoria Knoche and hired Scott Zobrist as the freshman boys basketball coach.
This month's meeting adjourned at 7:33 p.m., just under two hours after it started. The next regular monthly meeting of the Litchfield School Board will be held on Thursday evening, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m. at Sihler School in Litchfield.