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Macoupin County opposes closure of Postal Facility

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OPPOSES CLOSURE OF SPRINGFIELD POSTAL FACILITY

Board Adopts Resolution Opposing Closure Citing Job Loss, Inefficiencies and Negative Impact on Small Business

Carlinville – From Shipman north to Virden, all zip codes that begin with “626” in Macoupin County have the potential to be greatly affected by a change underway by the United States Postal Service.

“As a County Board, this is an issue that we should take a stand on knowing that it will impact not just communities in Macoupin County but all of Central Illinois as a region,” said Board Chairman Andy Manar.  “What is at stake here is the loss of 400 regional jobs and a mail delivery system that is less efficient and more costly for small businesses.”

By a unanimous vote, the County Board voted 23-0 at Tuesday’s meeting to demonstrate their opposition to the closure of a mail processing and distribution center located in Springfield that currently provides mail service to all those zip codes beginning with “626,” most of which are in the northern two-thirds of the County. Nineteen of Macoupin’s twenty-six townships are serviced through the Springfield Processing Center on Cook Street.

The Postal Service is currently studying the potential closure of the Springfield facility along with as many as 250 others nationwide.

Manar cited the importance of the postal system to the economy of rural communities.  He said he has been in contact with employee labor representatives, elected officials in Springfield and Sangamon County and recently attended a public hearing conducted by the Post Office at Springfield High School regarding the potential closure.

The City of Springfield and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce have also taken action to oppose the closure.

In addition to the impact that this closure could have on the efficiency and effectiveness for individuals and business in Macoupin County, estimates have also indicated that more than 400 jobs may be lost and hundreds of thousands of dollars in local sales tax revenue as a result.

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James O’Connell, President of the Lincoln Land Area Local 239 American Postal Workers Union was on hand at the Board meeting on Tuesday in Carlinville, relaying to Board members some of the potential effects.

“I would like to thank the Macoupin County Board for standing up to oppose to the closure being considered in Springfield.” said O’Connell.  “This truly shows me that many people are starting to notice and understand just how widespread the impact could actually be, far beyond the boundaries of Springfield and throughout much of the Central Illinois region if such a change is made.”

As stated in the adopted resolution, the operations of the Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. United States Post Office Mail Processing Center would be transferred out of state to St. Louis.

In August, the Macoupin County Board also adopted a resolution opposing the closure of six post offices in Scottville, Eagarville, Hettick, Piasa, Sawyerville, and Nilwood, all of which are located in the County.

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School district apparently eyeing food management service

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Bill Fritcher representing Opaa! Food Management said they provide both hot and cold entrees, and schools can tailor offerings to meet their needs and budgets.

Representatives of a food management company pitched their vision for reshaping school lunch and breakfast offerings at Community Unit School District 7 schools during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education. Later, however, the head cook at BenGil Elementary School expressed doubts about what the company promised to deliver. “They make it sound like it’s all a gravy train,” said Jackie McKinney. “It’s not.”

No action followed a 20-minute presentation by Bill Fritcher, Business Development Associate, and Angie Eden, a food service worker, from Opaa! Food Management, Inc., Chesterfield, Mo. There was no clear indication whether the board or district administration is leaning toward contracting with the company.

Founded in 1978, Opaa! Provides food management services to more than 800 schools in 250 school districts spread out over seven states. The company serves 21 schools in Illinois, including the nearby Staunton, Litchfield, Jersey and Nokomis school districts. The company claims a 97 percent retention rate among its client schools.

Fritcher, a former administrator in the Neoga school district, said the company emphasizes home-cooked foods made from scratch. Opaa! provides both hot and cold entrees, and schools can tailor offerings to meet their needs and budgets. Hot entrees include items such as roast turkey, meatloaf, cheeseburgers, pizzas and spaghetti. The company also serves a variety of cold sub sandwiches. Again, depending upon the details of its contract with a school district, the company can provide a salad bar, along with fresh fruit.

Breakfast offerings can include hot or cold cereal, waffles, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast burritos. Some client schools offer a “breakfast on the go” option where students can grab a breakfast item during the mid-morning hours of the school day. As part of its service, Opaa! would provide an all-day “Gulp Station” with dispensers of lemonade, iced tea and water.

“There’s a lot of local control over menu items,” Fritcher said. “If a school doesn’t want us serving coffee to students, we don’t serve coffee.”

Fritcher said the school district would continue to set pricing for school lunches and breakfasts, collect payments and control the revenue stream. The district also would continue to own food service equipment and facilities. At a minimum, Opaa! would place it’s own employee as a food service manager, but other food service workers can be either Opaa! employees or employees of the school district. In either case, the school district would have final say over who is allowed to work in the school district.

“You’d have control of who is working in the school and is around your kids,” Fritcher said.

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According to Fritcher, the company emphasizes presentation.

 “We want the food to look good so kids will eat it,” he said. “We strive to make it enjoyable for the kids.”

Client schools submit photos of daily offerings to the home office for approval, Eden said. As an example, she cited an instance when she submitted a photo from Neoga that included broccoli as a side item. The home office said the broccoli looked too brown and demanded it be replaced with fresher produce.

Fritcher said the company employees an executive chef to create recipes and standards for food served to students. The chef has created a number of streaming videos used to train on site staff.

Key to the operation is a computer program for food management. Eden said the program monitors what food the district has in the freezer and pantry, and adjust menus to best utilize resources on hand. The program also provides a portal parents and students can access to see weekly menus.

A food management contract would be subject to state bidding requirements, according to Fritcher. To start the process, the district would create a Request for Proposals to solicit bids. If Opaa! Is the successful bidder, the company would offer a five-year fixed price agreement, renewable on an annual basis. Either party would be able to end the contract upon a 90-day notice.

During a public comment period, McKinney alleged Opaa!’s promises have not matched reality in nearby school districts. The head cook at Litchfield, she pointed out, quit soon after Opaa! took over. Pizzas and some other food items, she said, do not match the company’s claims.

“We were told this is not about the money, it’s about the choices,” she said. “If you want more options, someone needs to tell us.”

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McKinney said she has been employed by the district in food services since 2002. The proposal to hire an outside food management company, she said, comes as “a slap in the face.”

McKinney predicted problems if the district contracts with Opaa!, particularly in the elementary school.

“I don’t see how our kindergarteners are going to be able to carry their own tray and serve themselves,” she said. “They’re going to drop their trays. We get our kids through the serving line in five minutes so they have time to sit down and eat. When they have to make their own tray, how long do you think that’s going to take?”

McKinney also predicted issues with food sanitation when young children with runny noses and/or dirty hands are expected to serve themselves from the food line.

During a public comment period, Jackie McKinney, head cook at BenGil Elementary, alleged Opaa!’s promises have not matched reality in nearby school districts.

McKinney said an outside company cannot be expected to know local students like local food service workers know them.

“I watch for a little boy who comes through my line every day because I know he doesn’t get food at home like he does here,” she said. “We’re here for the kids and I don’t think these people are.”

In a somewhat related matter which could facilitate transitioning to an outside food service, the board accepted with “regret” the retirements of head high school/middle school cook Penny Feeley and GHS/GMS cook Janice Hammann, both effective on June 30.

PERSONNEL

The board took action on a number of personnel issues following an executive session of about one hour.

In separate actions, the board voted unanimously to rehire the following fourth-year teachers and grant them tenure for the 2024-25 school year: Nikki Jenner, Katie Lievers, Alex Newton, Pete Visintin and Jacob West.

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The following non-tenured staff were hired for the 2024-25 school year: school nurse Rachel Bouillon, fifth grade teacher Radeana Gentzyel, speech pathologist Kaylee Collins, special education teacher Jaiden Braundmeier, kindergarten teacher Jessica Yeager, fist grade teacher Sydney Owsley, band teacher Brad Taulbee, chorus teacher Ben McCullough, Tim Biggs, special education teacher Cory Bonstead, and Dalton Barnes.

On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Mark Hayes, the board rehired the following tenured teachers for 2024-25: Lorraine Strutner, Jody Dunn, Melissa Bussmann, Tracy Hostettler, Darrick Urban, Kara Saracco, Kelly Lyons, Holly Nejmanowski, Jennifer Parker, Anastasia Hobaugh, Cate Plovich, Amy Price, Nickie Barrett, Jessi Luketich, Mindy Savant, Karissa Smith, Beth Sees, Valerie Jubelt, Carrie Scott, Dana Tieman, Marcia Johns, Colleen Favre, Celia Jubelt, Jamie Schmidt, Nancy Schmidt, Lori Emmons, Vanessa Barrett, Amy Geddes, Lisa Ballinger, Amber Allan, Kim Henderson, Christina Blevins, Chase Peterson, Jessica Kelly, Tammy Garde, Nate Heinrich’s, Casey Edgerton, Kyle Lamar, Stephanie Wilson, Elizabeth Thackery, Shanna Conner, Matthew Browner, Jeremy Smith, Rachelle Prough, Jarrod Herron, Jill Stole, Korben Clark, Kayla Wills, Nikki Browner, Kevin McNichols, Katie Orange, Robert Macias, Casey Sholtis, Jennifer Brown, Jeff Nelhs, Mark Goldasich, Troy Barker, Michelle Smith, Holley McFarland, Michael Bertagnolli, Mary Schuette, Nichole Stoecker, Amy Goldasich, David Edgerton, Ashlee Gibbs, Stuart Ringer, Kelly Bully, Whitney Page and Stephanie Bray.

The board accepted “with regret” the retirement of BenGil Elementary teacher Dana Tieman, effective at the end of the 2027-28 school year. The board also accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of GMS paraprofessional  Ella May Roemer, effective at the end of the 2024 fiscal year, and posted the position as vacant.

Board members accepted the resignation of high school paraprofessional Darian Gill, and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted Gill’s resignation at the GHS/GMS cheerleading coach and posted that position as vacant.

Board members unanimously agreed to post vacancies for the following summer school positions: high school math, English and drivers’ education; middle school math, English and science; and six elementary positions. Additionally, the board posted two summer school food service positions.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation of long-time GHS head women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted the resignation of Korbin Clark as GMS seventh-grade basketball coach and posted the position as vacant.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Elizabeth Eaker as a volunteer assistant dance coach, pending verification of certification and a background check. In separate actions, the board agreed to appoint Foley Seferi and James Bryant a volunteer assistant high school football coaches, pending verification of certification and a background check. 

By a unanimous vote, the board accepted the resignation of district custodian Owen Parker, and posted the position as vacant. The board also voted to post vacancies for two full-route bus drivers for the 2024-25 school year, and hired Billie Bowles as a substitute bus driver, pending verification of certification and a background check.

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REPAVING

The board awarded a $62,524 contract to DeLaurent Construction Co., Inc., Wilsonville, to repave five district parking lots. DeLaurent was the low bidder for the project. The contract will be paid from proceeds of a $1.6 million alternate revenue bond sale for capital projects.

Supt. Shane Owsley reported that he is starting to gather estimates for other upcoming projects to be underwritten with bond revenue, including a project to refinish the high school gym floor, a project to reline the all-weather track and a major HVAC project.

SURPLUS WEIGHT ROOM EQUIPMENT

On Owsley’s recommendation, the board accepted a list of surplus weight room equipment and agreed to offer the equipment for sale via sealed bids. The equipment, which includes stationary bikes, running machines, free weights, benches, dumbbells and racks, was replaced with new equipment as part of a recently completed project to renovate and re-equip the weight room.

EARLY GRADUATION REQUESTS

During a District Focus segment, the board recognized high school women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, who is retiring after a career of 16 seasons. Kevin is pictured with his wife, Elaine.

On a motion by Bill Carter, seconded by Weye Schmidt, the board unanimously approved early graduation requests for Maria Alger, Eliana Barrios-Madison, Owen Baugh, Gage Bonds, Abby Carter, John Q. Halterman, Eva Hidden, Felicia Lambert, Emma Luckshis, Ashley Markulakis, McKenna Montoro, Kaden Reiffer, Abigail Sharp, Jayden Stangle, Cooper Wentler, Ashton Whitlow and Avery Young. The students will be allowed to graduate at the end of their eleventh year of high school at the end of the current school year, provided all graduation requirements have been met.

DISTRICT FOCUS

During a District Focus segment, the board recognized high school women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, who is retiring after a career of 16 seasons. High School Principal Jill Rosentreter noted that Gray led this year’s team to the Sectional Tournament in Beardstown after winning their first regional championship since 2012. The team also won its first County Tournament since 2002, and celebrated 26 wins—the most ever.

During the Carlinville Rotary’s All-Star Game, Gray was named Rotary’s Coach of the Year.

“On behalf of CUSD 7 and all you former players, we express much gratitude for your many years of service, dedication, leadership, wisdom and professional demeanor on and off the court,” Rosentreter told Gray.

Also during the District Focus, a group of fifth graders told the board about their recent field trip to Busch Stadium, where they learned about practical math applications and other subjects.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the board:

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  • Gave final approval to the 2024-25 school calendar, calling for the first day of school attendance on Aug. 14 with the last day of school set for May 29, or earlier if no emergency days are used.
  • Approved a schedule of board meeting dates for the coming year. The board will meet in executive session at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month with the open session beginning at 7 p.m. The December meeting is set one week earlier on Dec. 16 to avoid conflict with the winter break.
  • Awarded the annual bid to supply fuel to low bidder M & M Service Co., Carlinville.
  • Voted to renew the district’s annual membership in the Illinois High School Association.
  • Rescheduled the April board meeting from Monday, April 22, to Tuesday, April 23, to avoid a conflict.

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Benld Council enacts ordinance against water meter tampering

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Benld resident Katie Jenkins appeared before the council to ask that the city consider establishing a three-way stop at the intersection of Illinois and Dorsey Streets. She said the intersection is a school bus stop and traffic often drives through the area at high speeds, endangering children who are present.

The Benld City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance establishing a fine of $500 against the property owner when an incident of water meter tampering is discovered. The ordinance is aimed at deterring property owners or tenants from reconnecting water services that have been disconnected for non-payment.

In other action, the council voted to eliminate the deadline from its agreement to sell the former site of First National Bank to Derek Tiburzi for redevelopment as a business location.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio told the council last month that persons who reconnect water services after they are shut off for nonpayment are technically “stealing” water. The Macoupin County State’s Attorney has been reluctant to prosecute such cases as a criminal matter, however, because it is not possible to prove who reconnected the service beyond a reasonable doubt. The ordinance relieves the city from proving who tampered with the water meter by making the property owner responsible for an ordinance violation rather than a criminal charge.

Under the new ordinance, the property owner will be held responsible whether they or a tenant actually tampered with the meter. Moreover, the ordinance allows the city to add the fine to the water bill associated with the property if it hasn’t been paid within 30 days, and require it to be paid before reconnecting the service. While water service accounts are supposed to be in the tenant’s name, Verticchio said existing ordinances make the property owner ultimately responsible for unpaid water bills.

In a somewhat related matter, the council voted specifically to shut off water service to a home where the owner moved out and allowed a tenant to move in without having a property inspection done and without reassigning the water service account to the new tenant.

“Shut the water off,” Verticchio said after being advised of the situation. “I’ll write you a note saying it’s okay if you want me to.”

Council member John Balzraine moved to shut off water service to the residence in order to have the consensus of the council on record. His motion was approved by a unanimous vote.

The council very briefly discussed measures to enforce the city’s ordinance that requires a housing inspection before allowing new tenants to move in. Verticchio said the city already has an ordinance establishing a fine for evading the home inspection requirement. Under the ordinance, property owners are required to provide the city with the names of tenants or persons buying properties contract for deed. Additionally, property owners are required to have a home inspection done by the city housing inspector and to pay for that inspection to be performed. Failure to comply with any of those requirements is subject to a fine.

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“You already have all that,” Verticchio advised.

WATER RATE INCREASE

The council voted unanimously to increase water rates for Benld customers in response to a recent increase imposed by the City of Gillespie, which provides treated water for the Benld system.

“We are getting an increase from Gillespie,” Mayor Jim Kelly said. “Like it or not, we’re going to have to raise our rates. Even with this increase, we still have the second cheapest rate in Macoupin County.”

City Clerk Terri Koyne said a home using 5,000 gallons for water per month will still their bill increase from $76 to $82.50 for water and sewer. The minimum bill for water and sewer will increase to $22.50.

In a related matter, Koyne said the city is still experiencing problems with the U.S. Postal Service delivering water bills, with bills often being lost or delayed in the St. Louis postal hub. She said residents who have not received a bill by the first of the month should call City Hall to find out what they owe.

TIBURZI SALES AGREEMENT

On a motion by Balzraine, seconded by Mickey Robinson, the council voted unanimously to accept Mayor Kelly’s recommendation to eliminate a deadline from an agreement to sell the former site of First National Bank in the 200 block of East Central Avenue to Derek Tiburzi. Tiburzi was the high bidder to purchase the property from the city in April 2022 after the city condemned the property and razed the deteriorating two-story brick building. Tiburzi agreed to pay $6,000 down plus monthly payments of $1,000 for 24 months for a total purchase price of $30,000.

The original agreement required Tiburzi to erect a permanent building for business enterprise within three years.

Last month, Tiburzi and members of his family appeared before the council to ask for an indefinite extension on the deadline because contractors had advised them the soil was improperly compacted to support a building.

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Mayor Kelly said the city’s action eliminates the deadline, allowing Tiburzi to continue to make monthly payments after which he is expected to build a business building as soon as feasible. The only restriction remaining is that Tiburzi build a business facility rather than housing or some other building.

DEMOLITION PERMITS

The council took no formal action, but briefly discussed and directed Verticchio to write a draft ordinance regarding permits for demolition projects. The discussion followed an incident last week during which the city was required to bring in a private contractor to finish knocking down a brick building across the street after it became unstable in the midst of workers attempting to raze the structure by hand.

“We have no permit for demolition,” Mayor Kelly told the council. The initial proposal includes a $250 fee for the permit, plus a requirement that the property owner post a $1,000 bond.

Ald. Dustin Fletcher suggested requiring the demolition site to have adequate fencing for safety considerations, and a system to notify the city when workers are on site. If the building on Central Avenue had collapsed, he said, the city would have no way of knowing if workers were trapped under the debris. Emergency workers could have wasted time and effort searching for people who might not even be there.

Fletcher also said exposed basements should be inspected before contractors fill them in to ensure they are not improperly backfilled with construction debris.

EXECUTIVE SESSION

Following a 20-minute executive session, the council voted unanimously to declare as public nuisances the following properties: 209 North Illinois, 111 South Sixth, 111 South Main, and 304 North Fourth.

STOP SIGN REQUEST

Benld resident Katie Jenkins appeared before the council to ask that the city consider establishing a three-way stop at the intersection of Illinois and Dorsey Streets. She said the intersection is a school bus stop and traffic often drives through the area at high speeds, endangering children who are present.

Mayor Kelly referred the matter to committee and noted that making the intersection a three-way stop would require a new ordinance.

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In the meantime, Ald. Fletcher said he would ask the Police Department to patrol the area during times when school buses are picking up and discharging children.

BACKHOE RENTAL

In other action, the council agreed to rent a backhoe from Equipment Share, St. Louis, for 1,584 for one week.

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School board approves three-year contract

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By a vote of 6-1, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education approved a new three-year contract with the union representing the teaching staff during a special board meeting Monday night.

The action followed an hour-long executive session during which board members discussed contract provisions behind closed doors. Upon returning to open session, Peyton Bernot moved to ratify the contract with a second from Kelli Vesper. The measure passed with Dennis Tiburzi casting the sole negative vote.

Members of the teachers union ratified the contract a week earlier.

The new contract calls for a wage increase of 3.5 percent in addition to the step increase, which averages two percent. Wages will increase 3.25 percent in both the second and third years of the contract, for a total increase of 10 percent over three years. The district’s share of health insurance costs will go from $605 per month plus one-half of the balance to $615 plus one-half of the remaining cost for coverage. In year two, the district’s contribution increases to $625, plus one-half of the balance. The district’s share will increase in the third year to $635, plus one-half of the remaining cost for coverage.

Compensation for coaching and sponsorship duties was increased by $500 per activity. The hourly rate for instructional duties, such as summer school, homebound instruction, etc., is increasing from $30 to $35.

The tiered system of awarding 12 to 18 days of sick leave is now standardized across the board at 12 days. The contract also gives administrators the ability to deny personal day requests if more than seven persons district-wide have requested the same day off.

The new contract was negotiated over a period of several weeks using an innovative negotiating technique called Evidence-Based Negotiations. Both sides of the process were required to provide a rationale for each concession proposed. The less adversarial negotiating program was moderated by a representative from the Illinois Association of School Boards.

Union Secretary Jennifer Parker appeared at Monday night’s meeting to thank the negotiating committee and the board for their work on reaching an agreement.

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The district now turns its attention to reaching a contract agreement with non-certificated staff. Action on that contract is likely later this month.

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