After lengthy discussion, members of the Litchfield School Board tabled an agenda item to approve a letter of support for the city of Litchfield in their efforts to extend the TIF district for another 12 years.
Mike Weber of PGAV Planners in St. Louis and Shelley Herman of the Litchfield Economic Development office were present at the meeting to answer questions. Herman told the board the TIF was originally established in June of 1998 and would expire in 2021. The city still has several lots which could be improved and is seeking a 12-year extension on the TIF.
"We need this vital economic development tool for growth out there," Herman told the board.
Weber explained to the board that the purpose of a TIF district is to help leverage private investment where it is lacking. During the period of the TIF district, all increases in property taxes are used for specific purposes aimed at further developments within the district.
To date, the TIF in Litchfield has created $57.8 million in private investment, and the city has spent $7.1 in TIF funds for improvements in infrastructure. Weber added that means the city has seen $7.43 in private investment for every $1 the city has invested. He said a good average for TIF districts is $4 in private investment for every $1 in city investment.
Most of the development has occurred in the Route 66 Crossing, just before Interstate 55. Weber said the four years remaining in the TIF district are not enough to complete projects.
"There are still substantial development opportunities available," he told the board, especially in Lot 61, which was originally slated to be an outlet mall. It will be split into smaller lots, but that requires additional infrastructure costs, like streets, water lines and utilities.
The city is offering all taxing bodies a 30 percent surplus each year of the TIF funds and can also help the school district with building projects or funding for vocational education.In order for the Illinois General Assembly to consider the extension, they require approval of all taxing bodies the TIF district affects.
Herman told the board they have already received letters of support from the Montgomery County Board, South Litchfield Township, Lincoln Land Community College and the Litchfield Park District. She added they still need to meet with the Litchfield Public Library District and the Airport Authority, but had received favorable comments from them so far.
Dan Peters of North Litchfield Township, who attended the school board meeting with Tom Baker, said their board had not decided yet whether or not to support the TIF extension. They meet on Monday, March 26, and he said he had some issues with it. Peters asked Weber how much money was generated every year, and Weber said it was fair to say the TIF generated $1 million in revenue annually. Peters said he wondered if the schools could use that additional revenue more than the TIF district.
Weber said it's hard to tell exactly how much money the school district would be losing, because there's no way to tell if the projects in the TIF would have happened without it in place. And without the TIF, it would be a hardship on the city to provide the needed infrastructure for economic development.
Weber added that in addition, Litchfield actually receives more in general state aid because the TIF district properties are not included in the formula used to calculate general state aid. Weber said based on 2016 numbers, the city would have received $164,000 in property taxes that went instead to the TIF district.
In addition to offering the 30 percent surplus, the city was offering funds for vocational training.
Board member Dennis Scobbie asked about the guarantee that the school district would see the money the city is promising, and Weber said the city is committed to this and would be drafting an intergovernmental agreement.
Scobbie also asked about property taxes, and Weber said that school districts do have a chance to lower property taxes at the end of the TIF, based on the additional revenue coming in when the TIF ends. He told the board 90 percent of school districts do not choose to lower the property taxes, but instead keep the levy rate the same to capture additional dollars when the TIF ends.
Board President Jennifer Reid said the school board was considering support of the TIF on the condition that it receives the 30 percent surplus and funding for vocational education. The board asked about seeing the official intergovernmental agreement before signing a letter of support. Weber said it had not been drawn up yet, but that the city could do that. Herman said they are trying to collect all the letters of support from taxing bodies by the end of March.
The board decided to table the motion to approve a letter of support until the intergovernmental agreement is finished, and said they would consider having a special meeting for approval if needed.
In addition to Weber's presentation, the board heard from Ryan Hortenstine of QNS Technology, based in Sullivan.
Currently Quality Network Solutions, Inc. supports 143 school districts in Illinois and Missouri with their technology needs. Hortenstine gave the board a history of the company, citing 73 employees and a broad knowledge of education systems.
The company is proposing a three-year contract to take care of all the technology needs in the Litchfield School District. In February, the board opted to terminate the contract of Kurt Land, who worked as the district's technology director. The service contract with QNS is $98,820 for the first year, $101,290 for the second year and $103,822 for the third year.
Board member Julie Abel asked if the company would help the district to inventory its technology needs, and Hortenstine said they do that twice a year. Abel also asked if the company provided service calls for staff and students, and Hortenstine said they have an 87.3 percent same-day resolution rate.
Abel asked if they service Chromebooks, which the students use, and Hortenstine told her yes. She also asked him if it would be hard for the district to break away from the company if they ever decided to go a different direction. Hortenstine assured her the district was going to love their services, but added if they do ever choose to do something different, the company would leave them in good shape.
The board approved the three-year contract unanimously.
In other business, the board approved a second reading of a physical education policy change, which explains the meaning of interscholastic or extracurricular activities. Board President Jen Reid abstained from the vote.
The board unanimously approved an amended calendar for the 2017-2018 school year to account for four days of missed school. Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger said the district took two days off for the flu outbreak and two days off for inclement weather. Under the changes, the final full day of student attendance will be May 29, with a half-day for students on May 30 and a teachers' in-service on May 31.
Board members also unanimously approved a proposed calendar for the coming school year. Poffinbarger said she works with the administrative team to balance the semesters as much as possible and abide by the rules of teachers' in-service days. The first official day of school for students will be Thursday, Aug. 16.
In other calendars, the board unanimously approved it schedule of board meetings for the year on the third Thursday of each month, beginning at 6 p.m. at Litchfield High School. Every other month, the board will also meet as the Fogleman Trustees, as Poffinbarger said they continue to strive for transparency. The November school board meeting will be switched to Tuesday, Nov. 13 to accommodate the annual school board conference in Chicago.
Under the consent agenda, the board approved monthly classroom volunteers, who have completed all their paperwork. They also approved $215,863 in monthly bills, including $99,969 from the education fund. Poffinbarger reported $4.375 million in all district funds, which includes the first two quarterly payments from the state for transportation and special education. She added the district has received four payments from the countywide one percent sales tax, totalling $333,025. That money can only be used for capital improvement projects.
The board heard a variety of presentations during the Citizens' Agenda.
Russell Elementary School Principal Andrea Lee introduced the team of fourth grade teachers (Amber Brookshire, Shelby Fults, Ann Pattillo, Jenna Stewart and Mary Taylor), who presented a science program to the board. Students were asked to create a pom pom launcher in their classes, and they brought their accomplishments to the board, even asking the board to try and craft their own.
Students participating in the demonstration included Nick Cochran, Melody Ellinger, Jayden Ellinger, Brooke Braasch, Sam Schwab, Darby Braasch, Alec Roach, Ava Ballard, Chloe Law and Conner Favre.
The teachers said the students worked together to investigate, design, build and improve their projects, which creates a more hands-on approach to learning. Lee praised the teachers and parents for getting all the supplies for the project donated.
Elementary music teacher Patrice Corso and art teacher Anne Perry-Wetzel introduced five students to the board, who were selected by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for their annual Picture the Music contest. The St. Louis Symphony received 400 pieces of artwork, and five Litchfield students were selected in the top 100. First grader Sydney Fleming, third grader Ady Fergurson and fifth grader Tessa Gordon were chosen as special recognition award winners, fifth grader Keeley Tabor was a blue ribbon award winner and fifth grader Claudia Derek received the Symphony Award for excellence among fifth grade entries.
This is the second year the district has participated in the program, and the musical piece this year was "Olympic Fanfare" by John Williams.
"The symphony chooses the music and we turn them loose to create something," Corso said. "And we're always impressed by what they create."
Litchfield High School wrestling coach Brian Lee introduced this year's state wrestling qualifiers, including Bailey Powell, Will Carlile, Cam Lee, Collin Davidson, Tyler Thiessen, Kyle Twitty and Blake Uehling. Lee said the wrestling team had a dual meet record of 28-2, and had four team members join the 100-Win Club this season, including Bailey Powell, Cam Lee, Tyler Thiessen and Blake Uehling.
In her monthly report, LHS Student Council President Breanna Seely talked about activities at the high school, including end-of-season awards for the boys basketball team, cheerleading squad and scholastic bowl team. She added that seniors had received their caps and gowns, marking the countdown to graduation even closer.
Seely reminded the board of the Music Boosters pancake and sausage breakfast on March 24. She said the Student Council will host a blood drive on April 13, and that they are collecting small items (like Chapstick, lotion and gift cards) for care packages for local families.
In a final presentation, Administrator Andrea Lee shared with the board about the NaviGate safety program used by the district. She said the software program enhances the safety plans already in place with the district.
All staff members have downloaded the NaviGate app to their phones, as well as the city's police chief and fire chief. The app allows for a variety of safety measures, including marking students as safe in the event of an emergency.
"Our number one priority is saving lives in an emergency," Lee said, in talking about the benefits of the software.
Poffinbarger thanked her for leading the charge in this measure.
"What we're doing is not highly publicized, but we are looking after safety first," Poffinbarger said. "Our plan is constantly changing."
NaviGate made a presentation to all staff members at a teachers' in-service earlier this year. Board member Julie Abel asked if the teachers were required to download the app, and Lee said they were not required to do so, but all did. She also asked how often the rosters were kept up-to-date, and Lee said the software is linked to the district's SkyWard software and updated every 24 hours.
Lee also showed the board the emergency buckets in each classroom, which include a class list and first aid supplies, among other items.
Board member Meg Wertin asked if bus routes and bus drivers were included, and Lee said bus routes have not been added, but they are working to create a binder of bus routes in the app.
Abel reported that the board's Finance Committee met in March. She said that they learned Macoupin County also has a one percent sales tax, and Litchfield has 16 students that reside in Macoupin County, so the district is going to work on getting its share of the sales tax.
In a few other notes, Abel said the district got $7,000 in revenue from a lawsuit involving price gouging with an IT company. She also said starting in the fall, the district will lose $1,200 per month in rental income from the Head Start program. It currently rents space in the Sihler School (pre-K) building, but will move to Lily Pad Learning Center this fall.
Board member Meg Wertin said the One Percent Sales Tax Committee met and toured the middle school and high school buildings.
"We opened every door and closet and climbed in them," she said. "Everyone on this committee has a good idea of what's going on in our buildings. Now we will come back together and see which direction we want to go."
In her superintendent's report, Poffinbarger reminded the board the May meeting will be moved to Tuesday evening, May 15, at 6 p.m. in the Radius Room at Litchfield High School. She also told the board that her contract was sought in a Freedom of Information Act request.
Poffinbarger said she also met with Zion Lutheran School Principal John Schaff about using facilities in reciprocal evacuation plans, and the district agreed.
After meeting in closed session for more than two and a half hours, the board approved items in the monthly personnel report.
The board unanimously approved a resolution to dismiss probationary teacher Nicholas Simmons at the end of the school year. He was a social studies teacher at the high school.
They also made several involuntary staff transfers of several staff members, including Joshua Hughes from middle school science to high school social science, Jostlin Rademacher from fourth grade teacher to middle school science teacher, Shelby Fults from fourth grade teacher to fifth grade teacher, Lisa Evans from second grade teacher to fourth grade teacher, Brenda Elvers from high school counselor to elementary counselor and Chris Headrick from elementary counselor to high school counselor. The motions for the transfer of Elvers and Headrick were approved four to three, with Abel, Ron Anglin and Reid voting against the measure.
The board unanimously accepted the resignation of LHS head wrestling coach Brian Lee. They also approved the resignation of assistant wrestling coach Jeff Thornton and volunteer wrestling coach James Powell, Jr., and board member Gregg Hires voted against both of those resignations.
The board unanimously approved Kendra Kirby as a volunteer middle school cheer coach.
They also unanimously approved one-year contracts with administrators including Adam Favre (pre-K and Madison Park), Andrea Lee (Colt and Russell), Pat Reents (LHS vice principal) and Jennifer Thompson (LMS principal). LHS Principal Doug Hoster is already in the middle of a multi-year contract with the district.
In a final motion, the board approved the honorable dismissal of certified employee Mark Hunt, pursuant to a reduction in force, effective June 30. Both Anglin and Jeff Seabaugh voted against that motion.
The board adjourned just after 11 p.m., meeting for more than four hours.