Panhandle Talks Reorganization, Audit

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The consensus at the Panhandle School Board meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, seemed to be that the idea of reorganization between the district and Morrisonville merited further discussion, but not in time to put it on the April ballot.

Superintendent Aaron Hopper said that he spoke with Dr. Kent Young, Superintendent at Nauvoo-Colusa, whose district deactivated 12 years ago and reorganized with Warsaw to form two new districts. Hopper said that he and Morrisonville Superintendent Dave Meister discussed some of the information that Young had sent and wanted to know if the boards were interested in forming a committee made up of one teacher, one board member and one community member to further discuss the reorganization. 

Hopper said that the committee would discuss such things as enrollment projections, student costs and curriculum needs for both districts now and in the future.

He added that in order to get the measure on the April ballot, the paperwork would need to be done by Jan. 19, which might be difficult to do in a normal year, let alone in the pandemic year. 

Board member Dana Pitchford agreed that shooting for April could be too early and that the next earliest opportunity, April 2022, could be a better option. She added that the idea is to have the work done and information out to the public by the time that the vote is on the ballot.

Board member Scott Cowdrey asked Hopper if deactivation looked like a favorable option for the district. Hopper said it would provide more opportunities for the students. He said that the key for the board is to look out into the future and see what is the next step.

Pitchford asked what steps could be taken right now to move toward the future. Lincolnwood Principal Ken Schuester, who was at Nauvoo-Colusa during the deactivation, said that forming a committee would be a good first step. He added that each aspect could take some time to determine what course would be best.

Cowdrey asked what the contract length would be for the agreement between the two districts. Hopper said two years at a time, with the payment costs for the students determined at that time. Hopper said when Warsaw and Nauvaoo-Colusa first entered their agreement, they met more frequently, but those meetings have become fewer and fewer as the years have gone on.

There were no objections to forming the committee, but also no member of the board committed to being on it. Hopper pointed out that it may not have to be the same board member every time, which seemed like possibly a better option. Hopper said he would also reach out to the teachers union for a volunteer for the committee as well.

The reorganization discussion was one of two items that took up the bulk of the first 52 minutes in open session. The other item was the presentation of the audit by Scheffel Boyle, which was approved 6-0, with board member Rick Bormida absent.

Josh Andres, the principal on the audit, recapped the funds for the districts, which had some changes due to MidState and the rental of the building to ROE. Andres also said that the districts cash balances also went from 4.4 million to 4.9 million and that the district’s equalized assessed valuation had increased steadily over the last five years. He added that this had allowed the district’s tax rate to steadily decrease while collections still went up.

Andres said that the opinion of the district’s financial statements was officially an adverse opinion because the district uses a cash basis, which is an acceptable form by ISBE, but does not use GAP.  Andres said that the district also received a qualified opinion due to note disclosure required by GAP.

Overall, Andres said that the district’s rating had improved from a 3.45, the review rating in 2019 to 3.8, the recognition rating in 2020, the highest rating they could receive, due to a higher rate of revenues to expenditures.

After Andres’ presentation, Nick Hoff, the lead for the audit, discussed three items that needed attention in the audit finding report.

Hoff said one of the items was a control deficiency due to Scheffel Boyle performing the audit. Andres said that 90 percent of the districts that they do audits for have the same problem and it is generally deemed not efficient or financially feasible to have two companies prepare the financial reports and the audit.

The other two items Hoff said were easy fixes, but needed to be done. The district was over budget by $3,300 in the IMRF fund and $9,000 in the tort fund and the report for the Title I payments was due on the 20th day of the month, not the 30th day, as the district had been submitting it on in the past. Hoff had worked with Superintendent Hopper and Donna Lemon on the items and believed the situation was fixed.

Andres also provided the board members with a letter disclosing any disagreements with management (there were none) and any journal entries during the audit, while Hoff went over some areas of improvement. He said that he, Hopper and Lemon would continue to work on classification of entries to keep from reclassifying some later on and suggested some credit card controls for the district. Scheffel Boyle also sampled the teacher retirement system contribution and one was calculated incorrectly, so there will be more attention paid to those in the future.

Andres ended the presentation by thanking the district and saying that he looked forward to working more with them in the future.

In other business, the board approved the consent agenda, which consisted of the October bills, September disbursements, Sept. 21 minutes and treasurer’s report, and the presentation of the library per capita grant.

In the administrative reports, Farmersville Principal Jana Masten said that the annual Health/Life Safety walkthrough was Oct. 14 and that teachers had remote learning plan days on Oct. 9 and 16. There were also fire drills on Oct. 7 with the Farmersville Fire department and on busses on Oct. 1 and Oct. 14. A much needed fall fun day was set for Oct. 16, with students painting pumpkins and participating in other fall activities.

In Principal Schuster’s report, he recapped the sports season at Lincolnwood, mentioning that the junior high baseball team won regionals, the softball team played in the regional championship and the high school boys golf team finished fourth in sectionals.

Raymond Grade School pictures were taken Oct. 15, while fire drills were held at RGS and LHS on Oct. 16. A tutoring program is also set to begin in the second quarter to help students, with study halls also implemented to emphasize homework completion.

RtI is now being implemented at the elementary level and it has been a positive and upbeat addition to the educational process according to Schuster, while some new protocols to the COVID routine will be made with the cold weather approaching.

In Superintendent Hopper’s report, he noted that he and agriculture teacher Monty Elvidge participated in an Agriculture Advisory meeting on Oct. 15 as part of the work with the Montgomery County CTE Consortium.  They continue to work with the county schools and Lincoln Land to develop new and innovative learning opportunities for students within the region and meet with agriculture professionals to develop new opportunities for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

Hopper also highlighted that Panhandle is part of a group that received a $915,194 grant from the USDA that will be used to enable Blackburn College to complete a distance learning project. The project will expand educational opportunities, increase the availability of STEM learning opportunities, increase dual credit courses and provide professional development.

Hopper’s report also announced that the ISBE school report cards will be released on Oct. 31, while the Panhandle Veterans Day Breakfast and assembly will not be held this November due to limitations associated with the pandemic. It was noted that the district values the opportunity to honor its veterans and will continue to recognize their service in future school year activities.

The board would go into closed session for 31 minutes and approved one resignation, from Johnathon Harris, upon reconvening.

Before going into closed session, Scott Cowdrey thanked the teachers, administrators, staff and all of those who helped keep the students in the Panhandle School District in class for 46 days. 

Cowdrey said that he gets notifications from the State Journal-Register in Springfield and sees schools in that area closing often and appreciates the hard work that goes into keeping the Panhandle schools open.

He added that while he knows that being at school isn’t the only thing that matters, he believes that it is a good thing and he’s thankful the district can provide that opportunity.

Linda Brown echoed Cowdrey’s statements and expanded them to the remote learning process as well, saying that she was able to watch one of her grandchildren work remotely with one of the teachers and was really impressed with the communication between the two.

Principal Schuster said that aspect was even more impressive because the teacher in question, Will Gunn, was not in the classroom that day, so he was also teaching remotely.  Schuster said that the staff is working diligently to give the students the best education possible, wherever they may be.

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