Litchfield School Board Pulls HLS Amendments From State

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Litchfield School Board members decided to pull back health life safety amendments from the Illinois State Board of Education during their regular monthly meeting on Thursday evening, Feb. 18, in the conference room at Litchfield High School.

Board Vice-President Jeff Seabaugh and member Ron Anglin were absent from the discussion.

At their regular December 2015 meeting, the board authorized Steckel Parker Architects to submit an application of health life safety amendments at Sihler, Madison Park, JD Colt and Russell elementary schools, on behalf of the school district. The firm did a comprehensive report, including pictures, of health life safety violations in all the buildings during the fall.

Superintendent Jeff Strieker said he thought the district should wait until after the April 2 board goal training workshop with Larry Dirks, a field service director for the Illinois State Board of Education. Strieker said he contacted school board members individually, and the majority of the board wished to have the process paused for the time being.

"It might be a good idea to hold it for now, until after the ISBE training," Strieker said. "This happens sometimes, and would not put us in violation or anything."

Board member Gregg Hires asked what the board specifically wanted to review.

"We've got the photos, and it cost us a pretty penny," Hires said. "These schools have major issues. What is the training going to change?"

Strieker said it would not necessarily change the amendments, but that the whole process of the training, which would include some community members outside the district, would provide a vision and a direction for the school district. He added that at this time, the submitted health life safety violations are expected to cost the district around $13 million to fix in the entirety.

"That could be a  concern financially to do them all at once," Strieker said. "And I don't know about the practicality of trying to renovate all of them in just one summer."

Strieker said that Governor Bruce Rauner proposed in his state budget to restore general state aid funding to all school districts at 100 percent. Currently, the state prorates general state aid at less than 90 percent. Strieker said that if that funding is restored, the district could possibly look at reinstating some of the programs or positions that had previously been cut. He feels like if the district approves the $13 million in health life safety renovations, that the opportunity to reinstate those programs would be significantly compromised.

Board President Jeff Helgen said he sees the training as a really good platform for gaining a vision for the district.

"Since it's only a few months to wait, it seems logical to postpone it for now," Helgen said.

Board member Dennis Scobbie agreed, and said he would like to see it slowed down as well.

"It's a great idea to pull it back," Scobbie said. "It gives us a chance to get more community involvement and take a closer look at the list of renovations to see what needs to be done first."

Board member Donna Wujek said she also felt uncomfortable proceeding with the application at this time.

Strieker felt like after the training, the district would be able to pinpoint exactly how the dollars should be spent. The board agreed, and he said he would call the state and have the application pulled back for now.

"I think it's important to get a vision for the kids of Litchfield," Hires said. "The elementary buildings have been stagnant for the past 30 years, and it's important to get that vision on paper."

During the Citizens' Agenda portion of the meeting, former school board member Dan Peters addressed the board about his concerns about the application. He brought former building trades teacher Bob Sneed with him, and they also felt the district should pull back its application.

"We'd like to see it pulled back from the state for a chance to dig deeper and spend more time on the application," Peters told the board.

Other Business

In addition to the discussion of the health life safety amendments, the board unanimously approved this year's Fogleman Farms report, which was presented by Larry Halleman of Bank and Trust in Litchfield.

Halleman said this year, he had to soften the rents some for the tenants, which means the board would see about $15,000 less next year in rents. He also talked about the investments of the Fogleman Farms portfolio, which the bank makes on behalf of the school district. He said they are all safe, guaranteed funds.

"Our goal is not to have any money that's not making money," Halleman said.

He also reported the district would receive over $140,000 from the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Of that money, the district would have to decide how to best utilize about $115,000 of it. The remaining $25,000 would be split among the farmers over three years to cover damages of the pipeline project.

This year, the district will be able to disperse $211,122.45 in scholarships. The scholarships are renewable to graduates for up to four years at $2,500 each. Since the trust was established in 1986, the district has awarded $2.8 million in more than 2,200 scholarships.

"This is a wonderful program," Halleman said. "Mr. Fogleman was very generous, and it was set up very, very well. A lot of trusts don't last this long."

Citizens Agenda

Litchfield High School Student Council President Megan Evans reported that winter sports were wrapping up at the high school with boys basketball regionals beginning on Monday night. She added that the girls basketball program ended its season in the second round of regionals, and that three high school wrestlers made it to this year's state tournament. She added that the scholastic bowl team competed in the Masonic sectional tournament on Saturday, and would host regionals, beginning March 7.

This year's school musical will be "Hello, Dolly!" Evans said parts have been cast and practices are underway for the performances, which will be held April 21-23. Strieker said the first night of the performances would be the Litchfield Rotary Club's dinner theater performance. Evans said they are also once again offering the Angel of the Arts program to raise funds for the production. More information is available in the high school office.

The Student Council hosted a blood drive on Feb. 5, with 45 units of whole blood donated. She said they had several members of the community participate in the drive. They are also organizing a collection of items for "comfort baskets" which will be given to local cancer patients.

In a final few notes, Evans said practices have now started for spring sports. She also passed out order forms for shirts to benefit the family of Grace Herschelman of Hillsboro.

Information Items

Strieker passed out the monthly enrollment report, noting the district is down ten students since the start of the school year.

He reminded the board about the Illinois Association of School Boards training on March 29, at Greenville College. The speaker will be Larry Dirks, a field service director for the Illinois State Board of Education.

Strieker presented the board with a certificate from Litchfield Middle School guidance counselor Paula DalCanton, for the board's support during National School Counseling Week.

He met with two representatives from HSHS St. Francis Hospital about their health needs assessment and ways to engage the school district in their four main areas of concern, including mental health, dental, obesity and cancer. They are planning to work together to establish a program in the schools and coordinate more community outreach events together.

Strieker gave special thanks to Bank and Trust, which manages the Corwin, Baker and Kilton trusts. This year, the school district is the recipient of more than $40,000 in grant funding through the Corwin and Baker trusts. He also thanked the teachers who applied for the grants.

Strieker had high praise for John Rogers and the Litchfield Street Department for its work in fixing a water main break near Colt School, and making sure the school district was well informed of the progress.

Board member Meg Wertin asked how many parents attended the financial aid meeting, and LHS Principal Doug Hoster said about seven. They are planning to work with guidance counselor Brenda Elvers on ways to increase participation in that program.

In a final note, Strieker encouraged the board to check out the district's revamped website at www.lcusd12.org. He said they continue to work on broadening communication efforts for the district.

Personnel

After nearly an hour in closed session, the board approved its monthly personnel report.

The board unanimously approved the maternity leave of third grade teacher Whitney McSperritt from May 2 through the end of the 2015-2016 school year, accepted the resignation of high school biology teacher Christine Micancin at the end of the school year, approved Betsy Newkirk as a volunteer high school girls softball coach for the 2016 season and approved a one-year unpaid leave of absence for fourth grade teacher Keira Scheldt.

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