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Manar Calls for End to General Assembly Scholarships

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Manar says he’ll work to abolish the “reward your friends program” and focus on making college affordable for struggling middle class families

BUNKER HILL, IL – Macoupin County Board Chairman and candidate for State Senate in the 48th District Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) today said that he believes that the public is tired of the continued abuse of the General Assembly Scholarship program and that the time has come for the legislative perk to be abolished.

“What started as a valuable program years ago aimed at increasing access to higher education for those with financial need has become a ‘reward your friends’ perk of being a state legislator,” said Manar. “Unfortunately the program has become rife with abuse and the public benefit that the scholarships intended to produce have been lost. It has become a program that too much serves the politically privileged.”

The program is not funded in the State budget. The cost, estimated at $15 million annually, is then forced onto the state universities to deal with. State financial support for public universities in Illinois has decreased substantially in recent years which has driven up tuition costs according to Manar. In the case of the Legislative Scholarship Program, public universities are required to bear the entire financial burden and total cost of each tuition waiver granted by a state legislator on an annual basis.

“On top of the recurring instances of abuse, we can’t continue to let the General Assembly Scholarship Program contribute to increased tuition costs at our public universities,” said Manar. “We need to give our public universities more support at the state level and aggressively look for more ways to make higher education affordable to middle class families in Illinois.”

Manar said that attempted reform efforts date back more than a decade in the General Assembly. As recently as 2010, a bill abolishing the program in its entirety passed the Illinois House of Representatives but was stalled in the State Senate. Manar notes that not every legislator abuses the program and many take proper steps to ensure only needy students receive awards. But Manar says the public has lost faith in the program and it is now beyond reform.

Students can receive a scholarship for undergraduate, graduate, or professional school as long as they attend one of the state’s ten public universities. Legislators are given complete discretion as to how they wish to distribute the scholarships each year other than a requirement that the recipient live in the district.

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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