Members of the Litchfield School Board unanimously approved a purchase of the building at 2001 Eilerman Avenue in Litchfield, near Lincoln Land Community College for $682,112.76.
The site could potentially be used as a vocational center in the future. Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau said the board would hear a complete update on the district’s career and technical education program at their March meeting.
With all board members present, the board held its regular monthly meeting on Thursday evening, Jan. 21, at Sihler School.
The building vote was held following just over two hours in closed session at the end of the meeting. Also in closed session, the board unanimously approved the need for confidentiality still exists pertaining to closed session minutes from January 2020 through December 2020. They will remain closed.
They also accepted a letter of retirement from Lea Jones, family and consumer sciences teacher, at the end of the school year and approved family medical leave for middle school teacher Jostlin Rademacher from May 12 to May 24. Both passed unanimously.
In a 5-1 vote, the board approved a two-year contract extension for the superintendent, through June 30, 2024. Board member David Belusko voted against the extension, and board member Val Cain had left the meeting before the vote.
With no public comment and no citizens agenda, the board moved into the consent agenda, which was approved unanimously.
Dr. Fuerstenau said that the bills reflect this time of year, plus grant expenditures. He said the district is receiving general state aid, but is not getting categorical grants, adding he does expect to receive the grant funding before the end of the school year.
The superintendent also reported the district got word they will receive $1.5 million in grant funding from the latest federal government stimulus package. Since it comes in the form of a grant, the district will have to spend it to get it. They will have three fiscal years to spend it. Dr. Fuerstenau said the district plans to spend it partly on technology upgrades and has already ordered Chromebooks they hope will arrive in June.
He added they are planning a robust summer school program to help kids catch up from the past year of remote learning. More information about summer school will be provided at the February board meeting.
In a final note, Dr. Fuerstenau added the district did sell $7.5 million in health life safety bonds, which will be invested until construction projects start on the elementary school projects. Board President Julie Abel gave special thanks to the local banks who helped secure the loans at a great savings to the district.
During January, the board approved $201,458 in bills, including $115,154 from the education fund, $32,982 from operations and maintenance, $27,779 from transportation, $7,121 from capital projects and $18,422 from tort. The balance of all district funds as of Dec. 31 is $24 million, including $8.2 million in operating funds and $14 million in capital projects.
Under old business, the board unanimously approved a second reading of Press Plus policy updates that were first presented at the December meeting.
Dr. Fuerstenau said the district got off to a great start to the second semester on Jan. 4, and had returned to five-day, in-person learning each week. He added that district-wide, 85 percent of the student population was in-person learning.
In an update to sports, Athletic Director Mark Elvers said the district will be able to play middle school volleyball, and that practice begins on Monday. Their first game will be Feb. 2 in Vandalia with their first home game on Feb. 4, against Hillsboro.
Middle school boys basketball and high school boys and girls basketball will be allowed to have practices, open gyms and scrimmages, but no competitions at this point. The IHSA has another meeting on Jan. 27, and more information will be provided then.
“The kids are ready, and we’re excited to get going,” Elvers said.
Board member Mike Fleming asked about spectators at sporting events, and Dr. Fuerstenau said he will continue to meet with other South Central Conference superintendents to evaluate it. At this time, they are looking to only allow home fans at competitions and no more than 50 will be allowed. Dr. Fuerstenau said the plan is that all South Central Conference districts will offer the same plan in terms of allowing spectators.
Abel asked if the district would be able to stream sporting events to the YouTube channel for fans who can’t attend in person. Elvers said they are working on making sure that’s in place.
“It’s so important to get back to some semblance of normal,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “We’re doing everything that we can possibly do that we’re allowed to do.”
In his report, Litchfield High School Principal Doug Hoster said 50 students are signed up for the school play, which will be High School Musical this year. It will be filmed in cohorts of ten students and dubbed together. They are hoping to show the finished product at Sky-View Drive-In, similar to graduation last year.
Hoster said the school also continues to look at a summer school program, possibly including a special elective cross-curricular course about Lake Lou Yaeger.
He added that about 80 percent of high school students have returned to in-person learning with the remaining 20 percent being split on those succeeding and those struggling.
In a final note, Hoster said they were working with Student Council on the possibility of a spirit week with some outdoor activities and the potential of hosting Prom/Post Prom in a tent outdoors. All are still under discussion.
At the middle school, Principal Dr. Russ Tepen said they are seeing a slight influx of in-person learners, giving credit to school resource officer Shane Grammer for his help in reaching out to families. He added they are also discussing different summer school ideas, noting a lot of kids would benefit from it. The middle school is currently working on MAP testing.
Dr. Tepen said they are also seeing an increase in lunches to about 230 per day with more than 50 breakfasts served. They also continue to host spirit weeks throughout the year to keep kids engaged.
Jeremy Heigert, principal at Colt and Russell elementary schools reported things are going well as students continue to return to in-person learning.
He gave a shout-out to art teacher Ann Perry-Wetzel, as she was honored for giving a stellar presentation on “Art as the Agent of Social Change” at the Illinois Art Education program. Madison Park Elementary School Principal Adam Favre added that she has tutorials online on YouTube that are great for both kids and adults.
Heigert said that Hearts United gave a donation to the district for the elementary school social worker and counselor position. In a final few notes, he said the schools also continue to finish up MAP testing and are looking at safe ways to host Valentine’s Day activities.
In his report, Favre said he is working with music teacher Patrice Corso on safe ways to host the spring musical program. At this point, they are not planning for it to be in person.
Favre said they are also looking forward to celebrating 100 days of school in February.
Dr. Fuerstenau said the bus drivers are glad to be back working five days a week and are looking forward to trips for sporting events as well.
He told the board they had two water main breaks at Colt School, but no water in the building. The breaks did cause some dirt in the water lines, but the maintenance staff was able to get it fixed.
Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson said she still has some Wi-Fi hotspots available for any students needing internet access. She added they are starting to look ahead to a more normal fall school year and have resumed discussion about a new math curriculum. Abel asked if the remote learning changed what they were looking for, and Thompson said they were already planning to look for a program with a technology component.
Dr. Fuerstenau said the first rapid COVID tests were scheduled to arrive at the district on Friday. The district is part of a pilot program with the state, and the tests are offered at no charge with a parental waiver on file. The only cost will be the disposal of the biohazard waste, which is minimal. The district will also be able to use the testing for athletes as well as students working on the musical.
In a final note, Dr. Fuerstenau said Litchfield High School would be home to a COVID vaccine clinic through the Montgomery County Health Department on Saturday, Jan. 23. Staff from Litchfield and Panhandle school districts will be vaccinated there, while staff from Hillsboro and Nokomis school districts will be vaccinated in Hillsboro.
“The Montgomery County Health Department is doing this right,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “They waited until they had enough vaccines to do all the districts.”
The board met in open session for nearly an hour, followed by just over two hours in closed session. They will meet again this week for two special meetings on Tuesday, Jan. 26, and Wednesday, Jan. 27. Both meetings will be in closed session to interview candidates for the Litchfield High School principal position, as Hoster will retire at the end of this school year.