Members of the Community Unit School District 7 teachers union have rejected the school board’s initial contract offer as the current contract ticks down to its final days.
About 50 district school teachers, many wearing union t-shirts, attended Monday night’s regular monthly meeting of the board in a show of solidarity in support of the union’s demand for a more lucrative contract offer.
Reading from a prepared statement, Michelle Smith, president of Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 528 told the board that union members “overwhelmingly” voted to reject the board’s initial financial offer.
“As you can see, teachers are here tonight in support of a fair contract–one that shows appreciation for the work done during a pandemic,” Smith announced. “We ask that the board reconsider their financial offer and offer an increase to the salary schedule that provides for a cost of living increase to the Gillespie teachers that show up every day for their students.”
Citing ongoing negotiations, Board President Mark Hayes declined to disclose details of the contract offer to the BenGil Post. The previous four-year contract will expire at the end of August. The last contract was negotiated over a period of about two months.
The current contract was ratified by the union and approved by the board in October 2017. It raised base salaries and called for raises of one percent for each of the first three years and 1.25 percent in the final year. Coupled with the increase in base salaries, the raises amounted to about three percent per year—substantially less than the five percent annual raises teachers enjoyed under terms of the previous four-year contract.
Supt, Shane Owsley said he felt union representatives and representatives of the board “left off on good terms” and that he looked forward to resuming negotiations in July. The board’s negotiating committee includes Hayes, Jenni Alepra and Bill Carter, with Owsley and the board’s attorney serving in advisory capacities.
In other action Monday night, the board approved an amended budget for the current fiscal year, heard details about a proposed new TIF district in the city of Gillespie, and approved the purchase of a $50,000 intercom system.
AMENDED BUDGET APPROVED
With board members Becky Hatlee and Don Dobrino absent, the board unanimously approved an amended budget for the current fiscal year. The action was preceded by a brief public hearing during which Supt. Owsley outlined changes to the budget.
The most significant change reflects an increase in revenue and expenditures in the Education Fund resulting from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal funds the district received as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. State law requires all revenues and expenditures to be accounted for in the budget, which necessitated amending the budget prior to the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
The amended budget reflects and increase in Education Fund revenue from $12,201,529 to $12,397,448, and an increase in expenditures from $12,391,146 to $12,557,065.
Additionally, due to an oversight, budgeted expenditures from the Debt Service Fund was increased from $1,181,858 to $1,188,608 to cover the cost of a lease payment that was inadvertently committed from the original budget.
Budgeted amounts for all other funds are unaffected.
In related measures, the board adopted a resolution authorizing Owsley to begin work on a new budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and end June 30, 2022. The tentative new budget will be delivered to the board and is expected to be approved in September following a 30-day public review period and public hearing.
Additionally, the board approved a resolution authorizing “necessary expenditures” between July 1 and the budget adoption. Those expenditures will include payroll, operations, maintenance, debit service and other expenditures essential to the district’s operation.
TIF DISTRICT DISCUSSION
Gillespie City Treasurer Dan Fisher and Peace Corps Fellow Ethan Fogg briefly addressed the board regarding a proposed new Tax Increment Finance district that would encompass an area on the city’s southwest side in the area of the water treatment plant and SuperBowl bowling alley. Included in the area are a number of vacant residential lots owned by the school district and vacant nuisance properties owned by the city.
School districts typically oppose TIF districts because they capture increases in property tax assessments that otherwise would go to the school district. TIF districts essentially freeze property tax revenues at the level they are at when the district is formed. As improvements are made to TIF district properties or property assessments increase, the TIF district “captures” those increases. The resulting funds can then be reinvested in infrastructure improvements or incentives within the district. The funds cannot be used for salaries.
According to Fisher, the city plans to promote the construction of energy-efficient residential homes for sale to young families, retirees and other purchases interested in high efficiency, “green” homes. New homes will be equipped with solar panels, high-efficiency windows, high-efficiency insulation and other features to reduce energy consumption.
“We think we can make these homes very attractive to buyers,” Fisher said.
He said his own home has been updated with solar panels, insulation and other amenities to increase energy efficiency. “My energy bills are almost nothing,” Fisher said. “Ameren basically charges me for having a meter.”
To mitigate against property tax losses to the school district, Fisher said the city is committed to using 50 percent of tax increment funds within the TIF district with the remaining 50 percent to divided between the city and the school district.
“With a TIF district, we’re not able to build just one house but 10 houses, 15 houses or 25 houses,” Fisher said, Those new houses will result in property tax revenue increases. “You will get 25 percent of that right off the bat.”
Additionally, the development will enable the school district to sell off vacant residential lots it currently owns within the TIF district. Fisher noted that the school district’s building trades program built a handful of new houses in past years that will be located within the TIF district when it is formed. “I’m not saying you’d have to do that on your other lots, but it’s a possibility,” he said.
According to Fisher, a Gillespie developer owns 16 lots in the proposed TIF district and is expected to develop those lots with energy-efficient homes. For lots owned by the city, the city will issue a request for proposals to choose a developer.
While the TIF district ostensibly is a city project, Fisher said the city wants to partner with the school district. “Otherwise, it won’t work,” he said.
Fisher said the city’s goal is to establish the new TIF district by the end of this year with new home construction to begin in 2022.
As part of the project, Fogg said the city is seeking a $70,000 grant from the Illinois Housing Development Authority to demolish derelict houses in the proposed district area. To that end, he and Fisher asked those attending the meeting to complete an anonymous survey assessing housing needs in the community and other factors that will play a role in successfully applying for the grant.
Others can complete the survey by visiting growgillespie.org.
Later in the meeting, the board approved a resolution finalizing the sale of two vacant lots in the 800 block of Frances Street to Shannon Johnson and Lance Hammann. The lots, located within the proposed TIF district area, were sold to the high bidders for a total of $6,500.
INTERCOM SYSTEM PURCHASE
The board unanimously approved the purchase of a new intercom system from Hart Technologies, based in East Peoria, for $50,700.56. The new system will replace the 30-year-old intercom system that was installed at the High School/Middle School complex 30 years ago when the building was constructed. The older system failed last year and could not be repaired. Owsley said Hart Technologies submitted the lowest of three bids for the system. The new system also will have the capability to extend internal communication to BenGil Elementary School.
In the area of personnel, the board voted to hire Elizabeth Logsdon as a birth-to-three-year-old parent educator. Board members also voted unanimously to hire Jane Weber and Alexandria Plovich as first-year, non-tenured elementary school teachers.
Darian Gill was hired unanimously as a paraprofessional (classroom aide) tentatively assigned to the high school, and Kristin Bertolis was hired as a one-on-one student aide at BenGil Elementary School.
The board voted unanimously to post vacancies for two full-time substitute teachers for the coming school year, but Dennis Tiburzi cast the sole vote against a measure to hire two additional elementary teachers for the 2021-22 school year.
The board voted unanimously to appoint Joe Kelly and Mackenzie Kasarda as volunteer assistant middle school softball coaches.
Board members voted to accept the resignation of Victoria Spencer as Gillespie Middle School cheer coach and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted the resignation of seventh-grade basketball coach Tim Wargo and posted the position as vacant.
In other action, the board:
- Voted unanimously to accept the bid of Blue Cross/Blue Shield to continue providing health care insurance for district employees. Owsley said Blue Cross/Blue Shield was one of only two bidders and the second bid had significantly higher premiums. Under the new contract, the premium will increase by 2.52 percent. Under union contracts, the district pays the first $605 of monthly premiums and evenly splits the remaining costs between the district and the employee.
- Accepted bids from Prairie Farms Dairy to provide milk for the 2021-22 school year, Aunt Millie’s Bakeries to supply bread and Kohl’s Wholesale to provide food products. All three vendors have supplied their respective commodities for the district’s food program for the past several years.
- Accepted a Consolidated District Plan newly required by law to maintain eligibility for state and federal funds. The plan basically is a survey to ensure school districts are non-discriminatory in the expenditure of state and federal funds.
- Approved an annually mandated prevailing wage statement committing the district to use only contractors and vendors who pay their employees prevailing wages as determined by the Department of Labor.