School Board Welcomes Dr. Fuerstenau

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In his first meeting at the helm of the Litchfield School District, Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau dispatched of district business in just 41 minutes. Dr. Fuerstenau started as the new superintendent of the Litchfield School District on July 1.

"It's been a very good couple of weeks, and I'm glad to be here," he told the board.

Board President Julie Abel said the board was glad to have him there. Absent from the July meeting were board members Ron Anglin, David Belusko and Mike Fleming.

In new business, the board approved a first reading of board policy updates from Press Plus to be officially adopted next month. Dr. Fuerstenau said many are five-year review updates from the legal counsel.

The board also unanimously approved legal services for the district from the Monticello-based Miller, Braun and Tracy law firm. Dr. Fuerstenau said they have no retainer and charge a fee of $250 an hour for consult.

"I have quite an extensive background with them in Taylorville, and many other districts in our region use them," said Dr. Fuerstenau said.

Under the consent agenda, the board unanimously approved Dr. Fuerstenau to begin preparing a budget for the 2019-2020 school year. They also unanimously approved a renewal of hazardous transportation areas within 1.5 miles of the school district, where students may be picked up by bus.

For the month of July, the district approved $1.03 million in bills, including $357,651 from the education fund, $32,356 from the operations and maintenance fund, $23,316 from the transportation fund, $110,895 from the capital projects fund, $168,826 from the tort fund and $340,536 from the fire prevention and safety fund. 

As of June 30, the total balance of all district funds was $6.9 million, which is up nearly $2 million over this time last year.  

"We're in a much better position than the previous year," said Dr. Fuerstenau. "That speaks well of Della Witter (business manager for the district), the administration and staff for bringing that budget in."

Information Items

Dr. Fuerstenau asked Building and Grounds Coordinator Bob Witter to give an update on several summer building projects, and said Witter had done an outstanding job managing them.

Witter said that Ameresco has been working on window replacement and parking lot replacement these past few weeks, and the gym floors in both Panther Gym and Simmons Gym have been refinished. Air conditioning work has also been done at LMS and LHS.

"It's been a busy summer at LMS and LHS," Witter said. "But we're very pleased."

They did run into a bit of a delay in the cafeteria upgrade. When they were extending a drain to put in the new appliances, they tore up part of the floor and found a cast iron pipe that had been completely rusted out. Witter said he did not know how long it had been rusted out.

Because of that, they couldn't tie the appliances into the drain. Witter said that local plumber Dan Heise has been part of many projects at the school over the years, and thinks he knows another way to the drain. 

Board member Gregg Hires asked if Witter had an estimated time the project would be finished. He said this was a setback, but if Heise can find his way to the drain, they hope to continue work throughout the weekend. Kinney Contractors said they would also work throughout the weekend, and Witter hoped they had the concrete floor poured by Monday. If all goes well, Witter hopes the cafeteria work will be done by the end of the week.

"We should all be very proud of the people working for our district," Witter said. "Whatever they're doing, they want it to be the best it can be. I think the teachers and students will notice things are in better shape when they come back to school."

Hires added that the new vans Witter purchased for the district are great.

"That's good," Witter said with a smile. "Because next year I'm coming back to the board to ask for two more."

Abel thanked Witter and all his staff for their hard work, and said it was exciting to drive around the district buildings and see all the work being done this summer.

Administrator Jennifer Thompson provided an update on registration for the school year, noting 301 students have already been registered online as of the July meeting. Online registration began July 15.

"It's going pretty smoothly," Thompson said, adding that she and Christy Holliday do their best to reply to parent concerns about registration within an hour. "We've had a few bumps with Skyward, but everyone's been great."

Registration is set for Friday, Aug. 2, at the Litchfield Middle School cafeteria, unless work is not finished there. Thompson added that 60 families have paid for registration through the online service RevTrack, which is new this year. Abel asked how families would submit paperwork, like vaccination forms for kindergarten students, and Thompson said they can be brought to registration or on the first day of school.

Superintendent's Report

In his first superintendent's report to the board, Dr. Fuerstenau said they had one FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request from the attorney general's office to resubmit some information. Dr. Fuerstenau said the matter had been resolved.

He also reported that he heard from Dan Hough of the 708 Board, and the Litchfield School District was awarded $43,000 for the position of social worker/community liaison, currently held by Larry Blevins. Dr. Fuerstenau said they asked for $58,000, but we're very pleased to receive $43,000. He said they would put the remaining $15,000 in the budget and continue to keep the counselor available to students and families.

Dr. Fuerstenau said he continued to work with Litchfield Police Chief Kenny Ryker on a school resource officer, as well as administrators Doug Hoster and Jennifer Thompson on how the position would look. It will be discussed further when the Litchfield city administrator returns from vacation.

In a meeting with Hillsboro Superintendent David Powell, Dr. Fuerstenau told the board that ten to 12 Hillsboro students would be relocated to Litchfield as the Montgomery County Housing Authority makes some upgrades. The Hillsboro School District will pick up those students in Litchfield and transport them to Hillsboro, as they will eventually return to the Hillsboro School District.

"That way they don't have to be displaced twice," Dr. Fuerstenau told the board. "It just makes sense."

He also told the board they would need to apply for an administrative cost waiver with the state, due to paying two superintendents' salaries last year. Dr. Fuerstenau said districts are not allowed to have an increase over 5 percent in administrative costs from one year to the next.

"We can apply for a waiver since we fall under the 25 percent increase," Dr. Fuerstenau said. 

He added that there will be a public hearing on the waiver before the August board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 15, beginning at 5:45 p.m.

Dr. Fuerstenau told the board the district's pre-kindergarten program received a Gold Circle designation once again, recognizing the quality of early learning and development programs.

"It speaks well of our staff and administration," Dr. Fuerstenau said. "It's a good feather in our hat."

He told the board that staff members would be part of an in-service training, "Captivating Kids' Hearts" on social and emotional training Aug. 5-6 with 50 teachers participating. The other half of the teachers will participate later in the year.

"It's a way of treating kids that maintains their level of respect," said Thompson. "It reduces the number of outbursts, helps students feel safe in school and keeps them in school."

Dr. Fuerstenau said they would work with the Staunton and Carlinville school districts on this training in the future as well to help save on costs.

In addition, Dr. Fuerstenau told the board that he continues to work with LHS Principal Doug Hoster on changes in academic recognition at the high school level, and will bring that idea back to the board in the near future.

He added that the district will continue to work on a coaching evaluation form, with plans to bring it to the September board meeting. Mark Elvers, athletic director at the high school, asked some other districts to send examples of their evaluations, and Litchfield will begin looking at those to create their own form.

Dr. Fuerstenau reminded the board it's time to begin planning for the annual school board conference in Chicago this November.

He also talked about two upcoming meetings. The first will be Monday, Aug. 12, beginning at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Land Community College in Litchfield, together with school boards from Panhandle and Hillsboro. Dr. Bill Phillips and his team will be on hand to discuss results of the school reorganizational study in a PowerPoint presentation. A roll call of all three boards will be held, but no decisions will be made at this meeting. It will be open to the public.

The second meeting he asked board members to consider is a work session to begin talking about community listening sessions and budget discussions. He said it will help board members understand the formality of a budget. That meeting will be held on Thursday evening, Aug. 8, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Radius Room at Litchfield High School. The meeting will be open to the public, but no decisions will be made that evening.

Personnel

With no closed session, the board approved the monthly personnel report 3-1, with Hires voting against it. The board hired Anthony Robinson as seventh grade boys basketball coach. A 2008 graduate of Litchfield High School, Robinson has been volunteering his time with the basketball program for the last few years.

They also hired Justin Ripley as assistant golf coach. Ripley currently serves as eighth grade boys basketball coach and an assistant coach with the track program.

The board also approved an assignment change for Mark Hunt, who will move from high school attendance and behind the wheel instruction to alternative educational setting (AES) classroom teacher for the coming school year.

The meeting adjourned at 6:41 p.m. They will meet again on Thursday evening, Aug. 15, beginning at 5:45 p.m. at Sihler School in Litchfield.

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