Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night approved a $14.6 million budget for the current fiscal year. In other action, approved a $51,000 software update and maintenance agreement for BenGil Elementary School heating and cooling system, and accepted notices of retirement from two veteran teachers.
Approval of the annual budget followed a 30-minute public hearing during which Supt. Joe Tieman offered a budget analysis. It is the third balanced budget for the school district in as many years after several years of deficit spending that landed the district on the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Financial Review” list. The new budget exceeds last year’s budget by roughly a half-million dollars.
“The budget is a plan,” Tieman said, noting that it could be impacted by natural disasters or other emergency spending. “If everything goes as planned and nothing happens, we have a balanced budget.”
Tieman said the budget includes about $400,000 in additional revenue resulting from the state’s new Evidence Based Funding formula for distributing state aid dollars. The budget is predicated on the state fully funding state aid in which case the district would receive about $9.1 million in state aid. However, Tieman noted the formula has been pro-rated at 90 percent, which would reduce the district’s slice of the state aid pie to $8.9 million. About $200,000 of the expected $400,000 revenue increase is committed to increased personnel costs resulting from the addition of several certificated staff positions last year.
“Last year, we added about $200,000 in new personnel,” Tieman said. “We’re carrying that forward this year, plus a three percent increase in salaries (dictated by the district’s contract with the teachers union).”
The lion’s share of the district’s state aid receipts—about $8.5 million—is earmarked for the Education Fund. The remainder, Tieman noted, will be parceled out to other funds for which the district is unable to levy sufficient taxes to cover expenses due to tax caps that are in place in Macoupin County. School districts in Macoupin County are subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) that limits increases in the tax levy to no more than five percent or by the consumer price index, whichever is less. The consumer price index typically is less than two percent, meaning that increases in the levy are restricted to that level.
For example, Tieman said the district is precluded from levying enough in local taxes to cover the anticipated $550,000 in expenditures from the Building, Operation and Maintenance Fund. Accordingly, the new budget shifts $180,000 in state aid to the Building Fund to supplement $370,261 the district expects to generate from local property taxes.
For the Education Fund, the budget anticipates revenue of $11,428,618 with $8,453,250 (74 percent) coming from state aid, and $1,445,659 (13 percent) coming from federal sources. Another $1,429,709 is expected to come from local property taxes. The budget anticipates $11,427,465 in expenditures from the Education Fund. About $7.4 million of those expenditures will be comprised of salaries for professional staff and other instructional costs. About a quarter of the expenditures will be for support services, including more than $500,000 for custodial salaries and benefits. A total of $1.2 million will go to other districts, primarily for educating special need students.
The budget anticipates $550,261 in revenue for the Building, Maintenance and Operations Fund, with expenditures projected at $550,000.
For Debt Service, the budget anticipates $1,147.356, all of which will be generated from local taxes, to cover an expected $1,076,227 in expenditures.
The Transportation Fund is expected to reap $546,768 in revenue, including $136,768 from local taxes supplemented with $410,000 in state funds. Expenditures are projected at $515,500.
The Capital Projects Fund is expected to benefit from about $424,000 in revenue from the County School Facilities Sales Tax. Expenditures are projected at $494,000, which includes $170,000 for a recently completed project to eliminate “hairpin” turnaround in front of the Middle School and improve stormwater drainage from the area.
The Illinois Municipal Retirement and Social Security Fund is expected to have revenue of $334,863, $234,863 coming from local taxes and $100,000 from state aid. Expenditures are expected to total $399,600,
Anticipated revenue for the Tort Fund, which basically covers insurance costs, is projected at $177,699, all of which will come from local taxes. Expenditures are projected at $170,000.
Working Cash, a fund designed to supplement revenue for various funds when needed to cover expenses, is expected to receive $31,000 in revenue from local taxes. There are no Working Cash expenditures anticipate, meaning this year’s revenue will be added to a beginning balance of nearly $2.5 million in Working Cash funds.
In total, the budget anticipates revenue of $14,650,566 for the school district, with expenditures of $14,632,292. That leaves a narrow surplus of $7,774 for the year, assuming there are no “surprises” on either the revenue or expenditure side of the budget.
Two funds—IMRF/Social Security and Capital Projects—are expected to have expenditures that exceed anticipated revenue, but both funds have substantial beginning balances to cover the deficit. IMRF/Social Security had a balance of $162,299 at the end of the last fiscal year, and Capital Projects had a balance of $568,336.
The Education Fund had a balance of $4,169,167 at the end of the last fiscal year. Combined with end of the year of balances for other funds, the school district started the new fiscal year with more than $8.2 million in surplus funds. Tieman warned, however, that about $5 million of that balance is in the Working Cash Fund and certificates of deposit purchased with the proceeds of the district’s successful lawsuit to recover damages for the loss of Benld Elementary School.
Combined with the expected surplus from this year’s budget, the district expects to end the year with $8,217,733 in surplus funds.
Tieman said the Illinois State Board of Education advises school districts to hold 20 percent of their total operations in surplus funds.
“We have well over 50 percent of our operational costs in reserve,” Tieman said. “I’m not throwing a parade because we all know that can go quickly.”
The full budget is or soon will be available for review on the district’s website at www.gcusd7.org.
HVAC SYSTEM CONTRACT
After several minutes of discussion, the board reluctantly voted unanimously to enter into a $51,000 contract with Technical Solutions & Services, East Peoria, to update software and provide maintenance for a computer-controlled system to monitor and control the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems at the Ben-Gil Elementary School. The company was the subcontractor that installed the controller system when the building was constructed.
Tieman told the board that the system is supposed to allow building manager Rob Graham to control environmental services via computer. Under Graham’s control, the system is supposed to permit Graham to restrict teachers to adjusting temperatures in their classrooms by no more than two degrees up or down. Additionally, it allows him to reduce heating or air conditioning to minimal levels in specific sections of the building during weekends, breaks and other periods when those areas are not occupied.
“That system is beginning to fail,” Tieman said, essentially precluding Graham from controlling the environmental systems. The problem, he said, is that the original software is outdated.
Tieman had high praise for the company, saying that whenever Graham had a problem, a company representative contacted him within minutes regardless of the time of day he called. Those maintenance services were offered free of charge, he said, because the service representative was able to resolve the problem via the internet without having to personally come to the site.
Though surprised by the $51,000 price tag, Tieman said the updated software should last eight to 10 years. He said the service representative pointed out to him that the cost averages out to about $5,100 per year. “That’s not out of line,” Tieman said, for a system to control an HVAC system that cost more than $500,000. Over the life of the contract, the system should pay for itself in reduced energy costs, he said.
The cost could be paid from the County School Facilities Sales Tax Fund or the Building Fund, Tieman said, either of which has sufficient funds to cover the cost.
The board eventually approved the contract on a motion by Dennis Tiburzi, seconded by Jenni Alepra. Several members paused to struggle with their decision before voting in favor of the measure.
Tieman advised the board that he is likely to come back next year with a proposal to install a similar system for Gillespie Middle School where the HVAC system currently is controlled manually. At that time, he anticipates computer controls for all three attendance centers to be merged and controlled from a single computer server.
BUS DRIVER COMPLAINT
Tieman pledged to investigate a complaint from several parents who attended Monday night’s meeting regarding an incident during which a bus left the elementary school before students from one class had boarded. Speaking on behalf of the parents, Leslie Chapman said the incident occurred about a month ago. He said he had planned to attend last month’s meeting of the board but missed it, requiring him to delay his addressing the board until this month.
The focus of his complaint was that parents allegedly were not called “when a whole class was left at the school.”
He said he went to the bus stop where his daughter is usually dropped off. When the bus arrived, he noticed that only about half as many students as usual disembarked and that his daughter was not among them. “I talked to the driver and he said, ‘I’ve got more than one kid to worry about,’ and then he drove off,” Chapman said.
Chapman said he then went to the school where he found that a class didn’t hear the bus call and were subsequently left behind. “The bus driver and this secretary both acted like this wasn’t a big thing,” he said.
Chapman also complained that the driver has been observed to pull away from bus stops before children who boarded had time to find a seat and sit down. He said he once saw the driver pull away before all the students who were to disembark had gotten off the bus. “He had to slam on the brakes in the intersection and back up,” Chapman said. “That’s my daughter’s safety and I’m sure every parent feels the same. He could wait another 10 seconds instead of trying to get through his route as quick as he can.”
Tieman said he would “take up this issue with the driver” but he bristled at the parents’ decision to wait a month before contacting the school, and he expressed disgruntlement over the issue being a topic on Facebook before the school was made aware of it. “I shouldn’t have to have a Facebook post forwarded to me to find out about this,” he said.
Tieman told the parents that if they ever see an incident they believe jeopardizes the safety of their children, they should call the school immediately. He said Transportation Director Gary Niehaus is assigned to respond to such complaints. If Niehaus’ response is unsatisfactory, Tieman said, the parent should contact Tieman directly.
“If their safety is in jeopardy, we want to know about it,” Tieman said. “We prefer to call the driver in quickly.”
Addressing the incident directly, Tieman said the students were with a teacher who is new to the district who did not hear the bus call. When it was discovered what happened, he said, the students were taken to the office and parents were supposed to have been called. “We know the kids were safe,” he said. “You should have received a call.”
He promised to investigate the driver’s alleged behavior and to communicate his findings to the parents.
“I will pledge to you tonight that I will track this down and get back with you personally,” Tieman said.
Board members voted unanimously to accept “with regrets” the retirement plans of third-grade teacher Tracy Petersen and Jack Burns, who teaches history, geography and drafting at the high school level. Petersen plans to retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year, while Burns will retire at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
The board also accepted the retirement of special education bus driver Janelle Cherry, effective Dec. 31, and voted to post a vacancy for that position.
Board President Mark Hayes said Cherry has worked for the district for 35 years. At the time of their retirement, Burns will have been employed by the district for 35 years and Petersen will have worked for the district for 31 years.
“That’s a lot of years of experience that just walked out of our district,” Hayes said. “Their shoes will be very hard to fill. They’ve influenced a lot of children over the years.”
In other personnel action, the board:
- Hired Judy Melchert as a full-time playground/cafeteria paraprofessional.
- Hired Jeff Nehls and Richard Mitchell as route bus drivers.
- Hired Cindy McCarty as a substitute bus driver.
- Hired Victoria Spencer as a middle school cheerleading coach.
- Posted a vacancy for a special education bus aide.
Tieman briefly discussed enrollment numbers collected on the sixth day of the school year, which shows the number of students enrolled in the district down by about 18.
“Our enrollment in general is very stable,” Tieman said. Sixth-day enrollment for this year was 1,294, compared with 1,312 last year and a five year average of 1,323. Total enrollment at BenGil Elementary was 625, compared with 648 on the same day last year. Gillespie Middle School enrollment was 301, up slightly from 292 last year; and Gillespie High School enrollment was 372, which is exactly the same as the sixth-day enrollment last year.
Tieman noted that under the Evidence Based school aid funding formula, the portion of the formula related to the student numbers will be based on total enrollment rather than attendance. The old formula factored in attendance rather than enrollment. For purposes of the school aid formula, the state will look at total enrollment on Sept. 30 which could vary slightly from the sixth-day enrollment.
In other action, the board unanimously accepted the Administrator and Teacher Salary and Benefits Report for the current school year. With a total of 81 certificated employees, the report projects the district spending $4,997,506 for base salaries, plus $12,500 in bonuses. The district will pay out $499,817 in retirement enhancements and $533,332 in other benefits.
During the administrative reports portion of the meeting, Gillespie Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter reported that representatives of the American Institute of Research plan to use GMS and its school improvement plan as a model for other schools the company works with statewide. Rosentreter said the company was drawn to the school’s initiative to improve math scores on school assessment tests.
“This is a great compliment to our School Leadership Team who worked this summer and then shared their initiative with all staff,” Rosentreter said.
Administrative reports presented for Gillespie High School and Gillespie Middle School also focused on recent activities and recent athletic successes.
“It sounds like some amazing things or happening inside the classroom and outside the classroom,” President Hayes commented.