Litchfield Board Studies Career Education Program

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Members of the Litchfield School Board learned more about a new career and technical education program coming to the district during their regular monthly meeting on Thursday evening, Oct. 17, in the Radius Room at Litchfield High School.

Dr. David Lett, former superintendent of the Pana School District, has been hired in Litchfield as the coordinator of the new Career and Technical Education program, expected to get underway soon throughout the district. In his 30-minute presentation, Dr. Lett told the board how excited he is to launch this program in Litchfield.

"There is so much potential in this community," he told the board. "It's about making kids aware of the possibilities that are out there. But the adults will have to change their mindsets. We tend to funnel kids to college, and that's not always the best path."

The three primary goals of the program will be to develop positive working relationships with the business community, develop regional based partnerships and integrate kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum with careers counseling.

Dr. Lett told the board that student debt is at an all-time high, adding that wages have not kept up with the increased cost of a college education. One of his first goals is to visit Litchfield businesses to find out what kind of job opportunities are out there for local students.

The ultimate goal for the program is to provide job shadowing, internships, guest speakers, career days, business showcases, job fairs and even future employment.

Dr. Lett talked briefly about the brand-new Macoupin County consortium, noting that Senator Andy Manar helped the county to secure $2 million in grant funding to use in several school districts. He said they would reach out to the Hillsboro and Panhandle school districts as potential participants in the program. He said there are 2,600 students within a 15-mile radius of the school district.

"Litchfield is a natural hub for career and technical education," he said. "The possibilities are endless."

The district is looking to Maine Township High School and Marshal High School as examples of some successful career and technical education programs. They will also look to the University of Illinois Extension office and model the iDream and the iCreate programs.

"We've got a lot of really good things in the works," said Litchfield Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau. "We're starting to lay a foundation and take evaluation of what we have."

Dr. Fuerstenau added he is one of 37 superintendents in the United States to visit a new career and technical high school in Colorado later this year.

Board President Julie Abel said this topic will be the theme of one of the next community listening sessions the district hosts.

Other Business

After the annual audit presentation from Scheffel Boyle, the board unanimously approved the audit for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Before the presentation, Dr. Fuerstenau said the district received a good audit and gave credit to Della Witter, who serves as the district's business manager, for all her hard work.

"If you see her, let her know that she did an outstanding job," said Dr. Fuerstenau.

This year's audit was presented by Steve Pembrook and Katelin Feldmann, a 2011 graduate of Litchfield High School.

In making his presentation, Pembrook told the board they will see the word "adverse" in the financial opinion, but it's solely because the district uses a cash-basis audit, which is fairly common for the Illinois State Board of Education. Board member Mike Fleming asked if there was anything they could do to remove that word from the audit, and Pembrook said they would have to go to an accrual-based audit, which would add about 100 pages to the report.

"That kind of audit makes sense for bigger district and other government bodies," Pembrook said.

The district did receive an unmodified, clean opinion on their audit, which is the highest category a district can receive. A 4.0 is the best score a district can receive, and Litchfield earned a 3.9, earning them financial recognition by the Illinois State Board of Education. Pembrook told the board the only way to raise their number is to go from a 120-day cash balance to a 180-day balance.

Pembrook presented several reports to the board, noting that overall the district did a good job in compliance areas. This year, the firm looked at the district's free and reduced lunch program, and had only one finding, that there was a family who received benefits from the program who should not have.

In his financial reports, Pembrook said the education fund saw an excess of $407,000, as well as $500,000 in working cash bonds that were moved to the education fund. Last year, the district was in the black $224,000 in the education fund.  Operations and maintenance had an excess of $116,000 and a $7,000 excess in the transportation fund. Pembrook said it can be very challenging for school districts to break even in the transportation fund. Other funds were mostly neutral.

Pembrook said one highlight of the report is that the district has $973,000 in its capital projects fund from the county-wide one percent sales tax.

Before concluding his report, Pembrook cautioned the board that the district currently has a $45 million unfunded liability in the teachers' retirement system.

"Fortunately right now you don't have to fund this at a local level," Pembrook said. "But you could have to some day."

Under the consent agenda, the board approved the addition of a Pop Culture activity account at the high school, as well as minutes from several previous regular and special meetings, the monthly bills and the treasurer's report.

Dr. Fuerstenau reported the budget is tracking normal for this time of year. He said board members would see a payment for the purchase of new buses, as well as a third payment for the roof project at the high school, which is now complete. The board approved bills totaling $432,244, including $229,288 from the education fund, $39,687 from operations and maintenance, $33,502 from transportation,  $128,785 from capital projects and $1,282 from tort.

The treasurer's report shows $7.2 million in all funds, as of Sept. 30, including $5.5 million in operating expenses and $686,051 in the capital projects fund.

Dr. Fuerstenau also reported that an issue with Mid-State Special Education has been resolved and the district will begin receiving those funds from the state.

Information Items

Dr. Fuerstenau reminded the board of a change in date for the November board meeting to Tuesday evening, Nov. 19, beginning at 6 p.m. at Sihler School. The meeting has been moved as the board will be attending the annual school board conference in Chicago later that week.

He also provided an enrollment report, noting the district has 1,388 students, down from the six-day enrollment figure of 1,394.

In administrator reports, Curriculum Director Jennifer Thompson reported the in-service for all staff, held Oct. 10-11 has been well received. She said they had an excellent turn out for the Capturing Kids Hearts training.

"I think they left with a better understanding of what we are trying to do," Thompson said. "They left feeling some connections."

She added that two of the board members, Julie Abel and Mike Fleming, attended the training for non-certified staff.

"It was fantastic," Abel said. "It was really great to be with the staff and hear their stories. I have a further appreciation for what they do."

Fleming echoed her sentiments, and said he also got a lot out of the training personally and was happy to see the staff so engaged.

Building and Grounds Coordinator Bob Witter said he also enjoyed spending the day with the staff and listening to what they had to say.

"It did show pride in our staff and what we're all about," said Dr. Fuerstenau. "Everyone is valued."

Thompson gave special thanks to Lincoln Land Community College for hosting the training. Madison Park Elementary School Principal Adam Favre said many teachers are already implementing what they have learned.

In his report, LHS Principal Doug Hoster gave a shout-out to Student Council sponsor Jo Brummet on a very successful Homecoming week. He said they had very few problems and commended the students on a fun week. In addition, Hoster will be traveling soon to Maine Township High School to learn more about their geometry construction trades class.

Superintendent's Report

In his report, Dr. Fuerstenau reminded the board that the next community listening session will be held on Nov. 4, at the Litchfield Public Library, beginning at 7 p.m.

He added that he and board member Mark Bloome will be attending the next meeting of the Kaskaskia Region of the Illinois Association of School Boards on Monday night in Bunker Hill.

Dr. Fuerstenau pointed out the district is now the proud owner of eight new buses, as well as one new lift bus that was picked up in August. One of the new buses was parked in front of the school during the meeting for board members who wanted a tour. Witter expects they will have three in service by Monday morning, and will pick up the others over the next few weeks. He said they sold seven old buses for $7,000 each.

Witter said the bus drivers and aides are very grateful to the board for the update in the fleet, and Dr. Fuerstenau said they will soon put together a rotation for the purchase of new buses in the future.

The board will also meet at the Hillsboro Unit Office for a joint meeting between the two boards on possible reorganization on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m.

And they will host another work session on Nov. 12, at 6 p.m. at LHS to discuss the levy. Dr. Fuerstenau said he is still waiting on information from the county assessor's office.

Citizen's Agenda

LHS Student Council President Ellen Fleming was at a volleyball game, so her dad, Mike Fleming, provided her report, which highlighted Homecoming week and how much fun students had. He said Student Council hosted a blood drive on Sept. 27, collecting 34 units of blood and 13 first-time donors. In a few other items, the report mentioned this year's school musical will be The Little Mermaid, students have just submitted their Voice of Democracy essays and the scholastic bowl team begins practice this week.

Parent Dr. Denise Bader returned to the board this month to share concern that the board did not vote on the issue of her daughter's schedule. She met with the board and administration in closed session on Oct. 9 and was allowed time to present her concerns, but the board did not take any action at that meeting.

"Your job is not to be a rubber stamp, but a gavel of justice," she told the board.

She shared with the board that she has created an email address at fixlitchfieldschools@gmail.com, and encouraged others to share with her. Dr. Bader also had some concerns with the district's website being hard to navigate.

After five minutes, Abel interrupted her remarks, noting the district only allows five minutes to speak during the citizen's agenda.

Personnel

The board did not meet in closed session before approving the monthly personnel report. They approved maternity leave for pre-K teacher Kaitlin Heinz, approved the hire of Sarah Pence as an aide to the Make-It program and accepted the resignation of cook Sara Taylor.

After meeting for nearly an hour and a half, the board adjourned. They will meet again on Tuesday evening, Nov. 19, beginning at 6 p.m. at Sihler School.

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