Panhandle Talks Full Sports Co-Op With Morrisonville

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Whether it be through consolidation or deactivation, the combining of the Panhandle and Morrisonville school districts has been discussed often for more than a decade, with Morrisonville nixing a consolidation proposal at the polls in 2014 and Pawnee’s school board stopping a three-way consolidation in 2011.

As discussion continues on the latest proposed incarnation of the Panhandle-Morrisonville merger, administrators in Raymond have a proposition that would take one much discussed element out of the equation.

During the Panhandle School Board meeting on Monday, Jan. 25, Lincolnwood Athletic Director Josh Stone spoke to the board members about extending the current co-op agreement with Morrisonville for golf, baseball, basketball and soccer for two years, while also establishing co-ops in volleyball, softball, girls basketball at the high school level and volleyball and girls basketball at the junior high level. The move would make Lincolnwood and Morrisonville co-op partners for all sports at the junior high and high school levels.

According to Stone, the reason for the proposal is that enrollment is trending downward in both districts and combining forces would allow the schools to continue to offer sports and remain competitive. He added that it also keeps students playing at appropriate levels, saying that in many cases you wouldn’t want a sixth grader facing an eighth grader or a freshman going up against a senior.

Stone also said that going to a full co-op would also take one item away if reorganization with Morrisonville becomes a reality and would allow those working on the project to focus on what really matters - academics.

With a new two-year co-op window opening next year with the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), the high school sports governing body in Illinois, Stone said he believes that the time is now to complete the co-op.

Superintendent Aaron Hopper, who along with Principal Ken Schuster supports the proposal, said that he invited Stone to speak about the proposal as an informational item at the January meeting, but a vote wouldn’t take place until February to give board members and community members the chance to ask questions. Three board members, Scott Cowdrey, Rick Bormida and Brett Slightom were absent from Monday’s meeting.

Board President Terri Payne asked about the locations of the co-op teams in the proposal and whether that was tied to the co-op agreement. Stone said it was and that the proposal planned for all high school sports to be at Lincolnwood and all junior high sports to be at Morrisonville, which would follow the proposed reorganization of having high school in Raymond and junior high in Morrisonville.

Currently, high school boys basketball, soccer and golf are played at Lincolnwood, while baseball is played in Morrisonville. In junior high sports, Lincolnwood hosts baseball and signed an agreement to host softball in 2020, while Morrisonville hosts basketball.

Board member Gabe Pope asked if Morrisonville was on the same page regarding the proposal. Hopper said that their board had discussed the options as well and had some logistics to iron out. He said that they are planning to vote on the proposal in February as well.

Hopper also said that the proposal is two-pronged, with the renewal of the existing co-ops one aspect and the new co-ops another. 

He added that Lincolnwood and Morrisonville students were surveyed about both the co-op and the expansion of programs to get their feedback on the decision.

Payne asked if there would be issues with providing transportation for junior high athletes. Hopper said that the process would be more streamlined since all the high school programs would be going to the same place, as well as all of the junior high programs. Stone said that the district already provides transportation for players in the junior high basketball co-op and didn’t think it would be a big factor.

Payne also asked if the hiring of coaching staffs would be the responsibility of the host school. Hopper said that he would speak to Morrisonville about this, but he believed that was true.

The proposed co-op will be discussed further at the February meeting.

Parking Lot Project

While no action was taken on the co-op, the four members of the board at the meeting did approve six items from the agenda, including the consent agenda.

One of the items was to hire Hurst-Rosche Engineering to complete a parking lot study at a cost of $8,200. Hurst-Rosche’s proposal was one of three the school received for the project which aims to solve the drainage and lighting issues that have plagued the lot for a number of years.

The proposal calls for a survey of the lot, along with core samples and a lighting study. The engineers would then bring back a recommendation to the board for the project, which had previously been estimated to cost $480,000.

Payne asked Hopper what Cowdrey’s thoughts were on the proposals since Cowdrey (an architect) was one of the strongest advocates for the engineering plan. Hopper said Cowdrey thought all three proposals were solid and all three companies were easy to work with.

Pope asked if there was really any need to change the direction of the drainage in the parking lot. Hopper said that it depends on how much of the parking lot is graded off and whether a retention pond is needed.

Pope also asked if the proposal included oversight for the project, with Hopper saying that would be an additional cost.

Hopper said that the purpose of the engineering plan is to maximize the district’s spending on the project, whenever they decided to move forward on it. He mentioned that the project could be delayed until the district’s revenue from the county-wide capital sales tax is more stable (after COVID).

In addition to the engineering approval, the board also approved the first reading of board policies as presented, the continuous service lists and increased pay for substitute teachers to $125 for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year and established a pay rate of $115 for substitutes for the 2021-2022 school year.

Hopper said that the district is currently paying substitute teachers $11.15 per hour, $40 below one neighboring district, and have had a shortage of subs this year, using only one outside the district. He said the increase puts Panhandle on a more level playing field and the $115 equals $16 per hour so the district is still well ahead of any minimum wage increase in the future.

The board also approved the technology report, which included a purchase of laptops for students on the district’s regular renewal schedule. Hopper said that usually the purchase would be discussed at a later date, but some schools have yet to receive orders they placed over the summer so Hopper suggested making the purchase early so they are received by fall 2021.

Also in the technology report, Hopper highlighted the expanded use of YouTube by district teachers and camera upgrades by the school. He said that Technology Coordinator Robert Straub is also working to set up two distance learning labs that the school is building through a $118,000 grant they received, which required a 15 percent local match.

The labs include three large monitors, six cameras, new microphones and training for staff. The labs also will expand computer science learning opportunities for younger students.

Board member Dana Pitchford commended Hopper and the technology team for staying on top of technology opportunities and that the district seems to be in a good place. Hopper commended Straub and his team, along with the teachers, for providing innovative learning opportunities for students.

Hopper also updated the board on curriculum needs and the district’s finances.

Hopper said that he has been working with the district curriculum team on updating the course catalog and when the catalog is complete the district will host a night for parents to explain the changes in weighted classes and dual credit opportunities.

He said that they are also looking at two reading curriculums at the elementary level and continue to work with Lincoln Land Community College and the Danforth Research Center in St. Louis to provide additional agriculture-based opportunities for students.

In finance, Hopper said the district has received $650,000 in general state aids, which is on pace for full funding this year. He added that they have received half of their payments for transportation, but have budgeted that one general aid payment go to transportation if necessary.

Hopper said that there may be issues with payment for food service, with state and federal revenue behind two or three months.

In addition to the aid, a new cycle of Cares Fund grants is opening up, with schools allowed to spend down the grants until Sept. 2023. Hopper said the district is trying to find the best way to utilize those funds.

He also said that the capital sales tax has been pretty consistent, averaging $23,000 for the district since April 2020. Hopper said the district needs to be prepared if the state changes funding and districts need to reduce their budgets by ten percent in the future.

In community comments, Darrin Daugherty pointed out a comment from Facebook praising administrators for interacting with students outside at the start of the school day, but asked if it was the most effective use of the administrators time. Both Hopper and Lincolnwood Principal Ken Schuster said that time is both fun and productive and allows administrators the chance to make connections with kids they may not make inside the building. Hopper added that it’s just the start of a long line of 35-plus hardworking staff members working to make a positive experience for the students to start the day.

Daugherty also asked if a traffic flow study would be done during the parking lot project to make drop off and pick up procedures more efficient. Hopper said that those ideas and the layout of the parking lot would be taken into account.

In the administrative reports, Hopper said that the district did assessments in August, October and January and have seen the percentage of students needing urgent interventions go down. Kindergarten students improved 39 percent in math and eight percent in reading, while first grade students improved 14 percent and 18 percent in those same categories.

At Raymond Grade School, students showed improvement between the fall and winter assessments, while the same trend occurred at the junior high and high school as well.

Overall, the district’s percentage of students who needed urgent intervention was cut nearly in half in mathematics, with 12 percent more students performing above their benchmark from the fall assessment to the winter assessment. Reading also went up four percent from the two assessments.

“This is remarkable as students, families, and our staff dealt with a pandemic, curriculum and schedule changes and the increased use of technology within the school district,” Hopper said in his report. “The growth of learning within the district should be celebrated as our staff, students and families have worked together to meet the needs of our students and to continue to make Panhandle a great place to learn.”

Farmersville Grade School Principal Jana Masten highlighted the school’s fundraiser for the American Heart Association, which raised $2,733.27, and the rest of the January calendar.

At Raymond Grade School and Lincolnwood Junior and Senior High School, Schuster said that the school’s RTI (response to intervention) program now gives students data regarding their own test scores. He said that this allows RTI teachers to share with the students where they are growing and helps the students build confidence and a relationship with their teachers. It also helps teachers understand which students are doing better and why they struggle at different things, according to Schuster. 

Pitchford asked about another item on Schuster’s report, an “Imagination Vacation” on Jan. 12-13 for Title One teacher Susan Koller’s students.

Schuster said that Koler and technology teacher Carrie Matthews created a virtual field trip for students through reading, with Koller providing books and Matthews adding a computer aspect. Schuster added that both teachers dressed up for the vacations and it was a great experience for the students.

The board would go into closed session to discuss personnel matters at 8:03 p.m. and would reconvene into open session at 8:33 p.m. with no further action taken.

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