Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education voted Monday night to seek bids for nearly $500,000 in improvements to the high school vocational classroom space. Approximately $400,000 in vocational education funds released to the school district by the state would be coupled with a $50,000 Life Safety improvement matching grant to pay for the project if the board decides to proceed. Ultimately, Supt. Joe Tieman told the board, the district would be able to buy improvements worth a half-million dollars with an investment of only $50,000 in local funds.
In addition to extensive discussions regarding the vocational building project, the board heard a report from a local teacher whose expertise in Holocaust studies has provided local students with unique insights into the Holocaust and its historical significance, discussed a proposed realignment of the South Central athletic conference, and handled a number of routine actions regarding personnel.
On a motion by Bill Carter, seconded by Mark Hayes, the board vote unanimously to seek bids to remove and replace the roof on the existing vocational education building. That action was followed by a unanimous vote to seek bids to expand the building with a 30-by-76-foot addition, with options to increase the size of the addition to 40-by-76 feet or 60-by-76 feet. In conjunction with those actions, the board authorized Tieman to apply for a 50,000 state matching grant and approved application for a Life Safety amendment.
“We have $400,000 in the bank to be used for vocational education,” Tieman said, referring to a state grant recently announced by State Sen. Andy Manar. That money, coupled with the $50,000 maintenance grant and the district’s $50,000 in matching funds, would cover the estimated cost of the roofing and expansion project with $15,000 to spare.
“We can use that $15,000 to buy a piece of equipment or something else we need,” Tieman said.
Tieman reported that school architect Tom Hyde had prepared cost estimates for the project. Those estimates put the cost for re-roofing the existing building at $120,000. Hyde estimated the cost of a 30-by-76-foot addition at $284,000. Architectural fees, engineering fees and contingency reserves would bring the total cost of the project to $485,000.
Tieman said that extending the existing building by more than 30 feet would require relocating a greenhouse currently located south of the vocational building. Hyde’s estimates for building larger expansions, including relocating the greenhouse, came it at $595,000 for a 40-by-76-foot expansion, or $758,000 for a 60-by-76-foot addition.
Bidding the project will give the board the numbers it needs to consider whether or not to proceed with the project. “The price tag for this could come in $100,000 less or it could come in $100,000 more (than Hyde’s estimates),” Tieman said. “If the numbers come back right,” Tieman said the board could then vote on proceeding with the expansion.
If the board chooses to go with an addition larger than 30 feet, Tieman said it may have to make a decision on how to pay for it. “If we go over half a million for a larger addition, we will have to think about where those funds will come from,” he said.
If bids come in that are consistent with the architect’s estimate and if the board chooses to go with the smaller addition, Tieman said the entire project can be accomplished with an investment of only $50,000 in local money. “We can do this with just $50,000 of our own money,” he said. “To me, we’re getting a half-million project for $50,000.”
Depending upon how the bids come in, Hayes encouraged board members to consider going with a larger addition. The $400,000 grant that is driving the project, he said, may well be a one-time opportunity.
“We may never see that money again,” he said, noting that a 40-feet addition would add more than 3,000 square feet and a 60-foot addition would add upward of 4,000 square feet. “With this new consortium we have, we could become a vocational education hub. We’d have the room to do it. Now is the time to do this.”
Hyde is expected to develop bidding specifications, advertised for bids and make a more detailed presentation to the board when bids are in hand.
As part of a District Focus segment, the board heard from Katherine “Katie” Prange, a high school English and accounting teacher who has been heavily involved in studying the Holocaust. Prange holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and has made multiple trips to Europe to view concentration camps and speak with survivors. Those experiences have enabled her to bring speakers who are Holocaust experts to the Gillespie school district to speak to and interact with students.
She was among those attending an observance of the 7th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp, along with more than 200 Auschwitz survivors, earlier this year. She wrote about the experience in an essay published Feb. 2 in the State Journal-Register.
“Their message to us,” Prange told the board, “was to let the world know, to keep their stories alive and for those of us who hear their stories to bear witness.”
After receiving a scholarship from the Candles Museum, founded in 1995 in Terre Haute, Ind., Prange became a friend of museum founder Eva Moses Kor, on of twins upon whom Joseph Megele conducted cruel experimentation. Prange recalled traveling with Kor to Poland and later to Romania where Kor’s family was the only Jewish family in a small community. There Prange met one of Kor’s childhood friends who “stood by as a Christian and watched Eva and her family being deported” by the Gestapo. She said the experience was “probably one of the most impactful moments of my life.”
Among the speakers Prange has brought to the school were Carl Wilkens, the only American to stay behind in Rwanda during the 1995 genocide who saved more than 400 orphans, and the director who crafted a documentary film about Eva Kor.
She said she recently secured a grant to provide students with pages salvaged from diaries written by young students during the Holocaust.
“Being able to walk in the footsteps of the survivors makes it easier for me to talk to kids about tolerance and what hatred can do and how easily it can spread,” Prange noted.
Tieman said Prange is “just one example of teachers on our staff who do things differently and go above and beyond the classroom.” He said her efforts to explain the Holocaust to high school students is especially important as the national memory of the Holocaust fades. He said 60 percent of high school students nationwide have never heard of the Holocaust. In the past five years, the number of Americans who believe the Holocaust never happened has doubled from seven percent to 14 percent.
SOUTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE
Tieman notified the board that East Alton-Wood River, a former member of the South Central Conference for athletics, has formally applied to rejoin the conference. At some point, he said, he will ask the board to take a position on whether or not to favor the school’s admission into the conference.
Adding East Alton-Wood River would bring the total number of schools in the conference to 11 and could pose significant issues in regard to scheduling games. He said the Gillespie High School football program currently plays an all-conference schedule, competing with the other nine schools before reaching the end of the season. Adding a school, he said, would put the school in the position of having to rotate competitors from one year to the next.
If a second team comes forward with a request to join, bringing the total number of teams to 12, Tieman said it would create the potential for creating two six-team divisions. If even more schools were added, it would create a potential for creating divisions assigned according to the size of the schools.
“At this point, this is in its infancy,” Tieman said. “At some point, we would like the board to weigh in. I’m going to be hard to convince this would be a better set-up than what we have now.”
Dennis Tiburzi, a former athletic director, said an 11-member conference would pose a multitude of problems. “I doubt the conference would vote to have an 11-team conference without adding another one to make it 12 teams.”
Weye Schmidt asked about the potential for the conference to admit East Alton-Wood River and kick-out another school to retain a 10-team conference.
“That could happen,” Tieman said. “It has happened, but I don’t foresee that happening with this situation.”
The board met in executive session for about 80 minutes before returning to open session and taking action an a number of personnel issues.
In separate actions, the board voted unanimously to extend contracts by one year for all three building principals—Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto, Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter and High School Principal Sean Owsley—and voted unanimously to increase salaries for all three administrators in accordance with the appropriate salary schedule for the 2020-21 school year.
Board members voted unanimously to hire Janelle Cherry as a substitute bus driver, and hired Jason Brown as a district custodian.
The board voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Pam Strausbaugh as a paraprofessional (classroom aide), effective Feb. 19, and voted unanimously to post the position as vacant.
Board members also voted unanimously to post an open position for a Title I reading teacher position with a preference for a candidate with a reading specialty certificate and an open position for a Technology Integration Specialist.
On the recommendation of the Superintendent, the board voted to participate in the Golden Apple Accelerator program which provides opportunities for holders of bachelor degrees to accelerate the acquisition of a teaching certificate. Tieman said the emphasis of the program is on certifying teachers for Spanish, science, math and other hard to fill specialties.
Under terms of the program, the district agrees to provide one day a week off for participating employees to attend on-campus programs. The bulk of the coursework, however, will be offered online. The district also is agreeing to commit $4,000 per candidate for two years of teacher mentoring in the event the board hires a person who obtained a teaching certificate through the accelerator program. Tieman emphasized the district is not obligated to hire anyone who uses the program to obtain a teaching certificate.
Board members also unanimously approved a seniority list for teachers. Tieman said the list had been reviewed and approved by the teachers union. The list is no longer required by law. Answering a question from a board member, Tieman said the list is not a criteria for selecting teachers for Reduction In Force. In the event of a RIF, the district relies upon evaluation grades for non-tenured teachers.
The board also unanimously approved a Threat Assessment Plan which identifies protocol for responding when a student is believed to be in danger of harming themselves.