Litchfield District Proposes Lower Tax Rate

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The Litchfield School District is proposing a lower tax rate for the 2019 property tax levy, which was discussed by board members at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, Nov. 19, at Sihler School.

With all board members present, Superintendent Dr. Gregg Fuerstenau provided a 30-minute presentation on tax levies. He identified common terminology and talked about the history of levies in the Litchfield School District. 

This year, the school district has hosted a couple of community listening sessions to foster a better relationship with the community. Dr. Fuerstenau said many were concerned with rising property taxes, and the district is taking the first steps in providing relief to local taxpayers.

"We appreciate your hard work to get that lowered," said board member Mike Fleming. "It's important for economic development and it's very positive for our community.

During his presentation, Dr. Fuerstenau told the board that many of the funds are capped by the state, adding that they would look at three funds not capped, including IMRF (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund), Social Security and tort. 

This year, the district is asking for a decrease of $310,964 in those three funds.

Last year's tax rate was 4.86198, and this year's estimated rate is 4.5736, which is a decrease of .2883.

"We will continue to look at this," Dr. Fuerstenau said. "Our levy is going down this year. Other districts in our area are going up or trying to stay the same."

He reminded the board that the district has no control or authority over the assessed value of property. 

"This will not have an impact on anything that happens in the classroom," said Dr. Fuerstenau.

He said the district will continue to look at ways to lower the tax rate, but he will need to watch the impact on the district's budget, as well as state funding.

The board unanimously approved the tentative levy, which will be on display at the unit office before approval at the next school board meeting on Dec. 19.

Following his levy presentation, Dr. Fuerstenau introduced Kendall King of King Financial, who gave a 30-minute presentation on issuing $600,000 in working cash bonds.

King talked largely about the district's need to keep up its debt service extension base (DSEB), in case the state would issue property tax caps. He explained that if property taxes in the state were to become capped, the district would only be able to issue bonds for their current indebtedness. 

King said the Litchfield School District has three short-series bonds left that will be paid off by 2021. He added the bonds could be used for health life safety issues or could be saved for a larger project.

The issuance of these bonds would raise the tax rate a bit for this year's levy, reducing it .24, instead of .28.

Fleming asked about King's fee, and he said it was 2 percent, and would be built into the financing of the bonds.

The board was agreeable to the issuance of bonds, and King will bring back a proposal to the December meeting.

Other Business

To start the meeting, Board President Julie Abel asked for a moment of silence to honor the recent tragedies in surrounding communities. Several board members and administrators wore red in memory of the Vandalia students killed in a car accident on Nov. 16.

Under new business, board members would unanimously approve a yearly contract renewal with Environmental Consultants for air quality monitoring in all buildings. Fleming asked if Building and Grounds Coordinator Bob Witter was happy with their services and Witter said they are great to work with.

The board would table a first reading of policy updates from the state, as the Illinois State Board of Education plans to add items to the list.

Under the consent agenda, the board approved payment of $521, 428 in monthly bills, including $277,501 in the education fund, $55,106 in operations and maintenance, $32,250 in transportation, $147,594 in capital projects and $1,976 in tort.

Dr. Fuerstenau reported that the total balance of all funds at the end of October is $6.8 million, including $5.2 million in total operating funds and $642,060 in the capital projects fund. He added that the state is currently making its payments and local tax assessments continue to come in as well.

"Things are tracking where they need to track at this point in time," he said.

Citizens Agenda

Litchfield High School Student Council President Ellen Fleming was unable to attend, so her dad  (board member Mike Fleming) gave her report.

Her report said the Student Council hosted a Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 8 and also put up and took down American flags in downtown Litchfield for the holiday. The group will also host a blood drive at the school on Friday and are planning a Christmas door decorating contest.

Winter sports have started at the high school, and the cheerleaders added three new members for basketball season. Students also have a chance to nominate a teacher for this year's endowment award.

Information Items

Dr. Fuerstenau recognized all the board in honor of School Board Members Day on Nov. 15. Each board member received a certificate in honor of his or her service, as well as a plant.

"We do appreciate your efforts and dedication to our children, staff and the community as a whole," said Dr. Fuerstenau. "We don't say thank you enough."

He added the district had a good turnout for parent-teacher conferences, with the exception of the high school, which is a fairly common trend. Fleming asked if there's anything the district could do to improve that at the high school, LHS Principal Doug Hoster said they continue to try new things, but often, current technology gives parents all the information they need.

In enrollment news, Dr. Fuerstenau said numbers remain steady at 1,389.

Witter reported the switch from air conditioning to heat went fairly well, except at Sihler School, where it didn't work. Since they started that process early, the district was able to remedy the problem before the cold snap, as the heat has been fixed.

In addition, all the new buses are now in service. Witter said there are a few punch card items remaining, but that the buses ride very well. Seven of the old buses have been sold, and the oldest bus still remains with the district. At this time, Witter wants to hang onto that bus as a back-up during the busy spring sports season. Fleming said the new buses look nice, with Dr. Fuerstenau adding they have a first class fleet.

Administrator Reports

Each of the district administrators had a chance to speak, and all highlighted good things going on throughout the district in response to the Capturing Kids Hearts training.

Curriculum Director Jennifer Thompson reported she met with teachers from all grades on updating the math curriculum, and that they hope to make a decision in the spring. She added she took two regular education teachers and three special education teachers to a workshop on co-teaching, which they will be implementing next year in the high school.

LHS Principal Doug Hoster said he visited Maine East High School to look at their geo-construction math classes, which they hope to add to LHS next year. He also gave special thanks to Student Council sponsor Jo Brummet for the success of this year's Veterans Day program at the school on Nov. 8. He invited the board back to the school for a program on Nov. 26, at 2:30 p.m. to honor this year's Voice of Democracy winners. The Patriot's Pen winners will be honored that same day at Litchfield Middle School at 1:45 p.m.

LMS Principal Dr. Russ Tepen gave special thanks to teacher Jennifer Fleming for her work on this year's Patriot Pen essay contest, and reported the school submitted 340 essays. He added that more than 90 percent of their students qualified for a recent Friday Success Day at the Edwardsville YMCA, and that the top fundraiser award winners would enjoy a limo lunch this week to Pizza Hut.

Jeremy Heigert, principal at Colt and Russell elementary schools said both buildings are sharing the character word of thankful during the month of November by doing community service projects like writing letters to veterans and carolling in retirement communities. Colt students held a coin drive and raised $200 for Hearts United.

At Madison Park and Sihler, Principal Adam Favre reported on the success of the Capturing Kids Hearts training in his buildings. He added that the district continues to work on finding ways to engage parents on social media and is working on a request for a community calendar.

Abel thanked all the administrators and teachers for embracing the Capturing Kids Hearts training and making a difference with the students.

Superintendent's Report

Abel said many of the board members attended the most recent community listening session, hosted by the district. Community member Jim Odle thanked the board for reaching out and listening to the feedback. He encouraged continued cooperation between the city and the district, as there was a problem with the Veterans Day parade, which was cancelled earlier this month. He also suggested some students could volunteer and help with the Meals on Wheels program in the community. 

Mayor Steve Dougherty was in attendance at the meeting, and he and Abel said they feel that communication between the city and school district is improving.

In a report of the joint school board meeting held with the Hillsboro School Board, Dr. Fuerstenau gave the board a procedural packet on how the consolidation process works. It was the same information given to Hillsboro School board members at their meeting. Abel said the board will continue to educate itself on the process and will stay in communication with the Hillsboro board.

Dr. Fuerstenau said that the district received its annual school report cards and that all buildings in the district received commendable status.

"It was very good and showed growth," he said. 

The school report card is available on the district's website, and Dr. Fuerstenau said Litchfield is one of the only districts in this area to earn a commendable designation in all buildings.

"That speaks volumes to our staff and administration," he said.

He reported the district received one FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request from Smart Purchasing, adding that it's a relatively routine one the district gets often.

In CTE (career and technical education) news, Dr. Fuerstenau said he went to Colorado to see an innovation center in Cherry Creek and was very impressed. Six high schools feed into the innovation center. He said Dr. David Lett would return to an upcoming board meeting to talk about his research in sharing vocational resources in this area. The district has met with other school districts in Montgomery and Macoupin counties about providing additional opportunities in this area. Dr. Lett will talk about his progress at an upcoming Nite of Networking on Dec. 12, at the Litchfield Country Club.

In a final note, Dr. Fuerstenau asked the board how to proceed on the findings from the facility study. Fleming said he felt new construction was the most cost effective, and the board agreed. Dr. Fuerstenau will bring more information to the December meeting.

The board did not meet in closed session before approving the monthly personnel report. Board members unanimously accepted the resignations of high school volleyball coach Jeremy Heigert, high school football coach Tom Priddle, cook Tammy Miller and instructional tutor Jenny Fergurson. They also approved Art Fuller as a volunteer wrestling coach for the middle school program.

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