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School board eyes school funding for GMS softball program

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District educator and middle and high school softball coach, Michelle Smith, asked the board to transition middle school softball from a parent-funded sport to a school-funded activity.

The Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education is expected to vote next month on whether or not to transition the Gillespie Middle School softball program from a parent-funded to a school-funded activity next year following an extensive discussion of the issue during the board’s regular monthly meeting Monday night. The discussion comprised nearly half of the board’s relatively brief 40-minute open session.

Softball Coach Michelle Smith, who also is a part of the parent’s group raising funds for the program, asked the board to consider budgeting about $10,000 to fund the program. The board authorized middle school softball as a parent-funded sport in 2017. Since that time, the team has compiled records of 18-2 in 2018, 20-3 in 2019 and 18-2 in 2021 (there was no season in 2020 due to COVID-19).

“Performance-wise it has been a successful program,” Smith said. According to Smith, the program helps players also succeed academically. “They become leaders in the classroom as well as on the field. It helps them come in stronger and ready to participate as freshmen. We want to keep building on that success, both athletically and academically.”

Smith said past practice has been for the board to transition parent-funded programs to school-funded programs after four successful years. She cited boys baseball and girls basketball as programs that became school-funded after four years of demonstrated success.

While budgeting $10,000 per season, actual expenses for the program totaled $7,395 for the first year and $8,446 the second year. In 2022, when the season was suspended, the parents spent $375 for yard signs to support the team. Expenses so far for the 2021 season total $6,865 though the group is waiting to finalize the cost for transportation. The lion’s share of the expense, Smith said, is for transportation, with lesser amounts for game officials and coaches. Expenses for uniforms are minimal because the girls wear team-provided t-shirts with their own pants.

Smith said the parents’ group is projecting $10,675 for the 2022 season.

Smith said the program has sponsored a tournament in late July at Welfare Park with parents staffing the concession stand and selling t-shirts. Those tournaments typically raise about $3,000, which defrays about a third of the program’s expenses.

“We’d like to keep doing the tournament,” Smith said. “It’s our baby and we get to see a lot of teams from our area. It brings people into our community and they spend money here.” The parents group has agreed to continue hosting and staffing the event, she said.

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Smith said the season calls for 19 games with half of those being away games. As coach, she said she limits participation to 18 players because that is the maximum number of players she can take to playoff games at the end of the season. “I’d hate to get to play-offs and have to tell some players they can’t go,” she said.

Board member Dennis Tiburzi, however, strongly urged her to take on more than 18 players not only to create more opportunity but also to mitigate against the possibility of players being side-lined by injuries or other factors.

Answering questions from the board, Smith said a majority of players go on to play softball at the high school level. Last year, she said, nine out of 15 players went on to play high school softball, with the other six opting to participate in other sports.

Smith asked the board to make a decision next month or at the July meeting at the latest. The season starts the last week of July, which is before the school year begins. “They go into the school year already feeling like family,” she said.

Currently, middle school softball players pay a $100 fee which covers uniform costs, Smith said. The district’s standard athletic fee is $30. If the board chooses to make the sport school-funded, she asked that a decision also be made regarding the participating fee so parents and players can be informed in advance.

The issue is expected to be an agenda item for the board’s June meeting.

BUS BIDS

In other action, the board authorized Supt. Shane Owsley to seek bids for leasing/purchasing new or used buses. Owsley emphasized that collecting bids does not obligate the board to accept a bid and actually make a purchase. He characterized the move as more of an information-gathering project at this time.

Owsley presented an inventory of buses currently owned by the district, citing a need to keep closer track of the age of vehicles the district owns.

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“It’s much easier to budget if we know the age of our vehicles,” he said. The district currently owns several buses that are 20 years old with odometer readings ranging from 170,000 to 190,000 miles. “It’s getting to the point that the bandaids we put on them won’t hold.”

Owsley said his goal is to develop a fleet with no buses more than five years old. State law allows the district to claim depreciation on buses over a period of five years, he said, which basically allows the district to recover 80 percent of the cost over that period of time.

“My end goal, once we get rid of our 20-year-old buses, we never keep a bus longer than five years,” he said. “When the depreciation comes off, we trade that vehicle while it still has some value. We have buses now that have only junk value.”

BUDGET

In a series of related actions, the board voted to place an amended fiscal 2022 school budget on file for public review with an eye toward adopting the amendments next month,  directed Owsley to begin work on developing a tentative budget for fiscal 2023, and authorized 2023 expenditures from July 1 until the time a new budget is adopted.

Owsley said the amended budget for the current fiscal year reflects the unanticipated receipt of federal funds related to COVID-19 relief as well as the expenditure of those funds. He plans to provide a detailed presentation regarding the amendments before the board adopts the revised budget on June 27.

The current fiscal year ends June 30. The fiscal 2023 budget will cover revenue and expenditures anticipated from July 1 this year through June 30, 2023. The tentative 2023 budget is expected to be filed for public review in July with final adoption anticipated in August—a full two months after the start of the new fiscal year. The motion to authorize expenditures in the interim is a routine formality that allows the district to meet operation costs between the start of the fiscal year and the final budget adoption.

PERSONNEL

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jake Bilbruck as Gillespie Middle School social science teacher and post the position as vacant. Bilbruck, named Madison Communications Teacher of the Year in 2015, is a Gillespie High School graduate. He resigned as head high school football coach in January after coaching the Miners for three years.

In other personnel action, the board appointed Jack Burns as a volunteer assistant high school cross-country coach and appointed Jill Strole as a volunteer assistant middle school/high school cross-country coach. The board also voted unanimously to hire Casey Sholtis as the high school golf coach.

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On a motion by Bill Carter, seconded by Burns, the board voted to reappoint the following fall/winter coaches for the 2022-23 school year: Jeremy Smith, middle school head boys baseball coach; Tim Wargo, assistant middle school boys baseball coach, Michelle Smith, middle school girls softball coach; Jim Matesa, assistant middle school girls softball coach; Chase Peterson, eighth grade boys basketball coach; Korben Clark, seventh grade boys basketball coach; Celia Jubelt, eighth grade girls volleyball coach; Elizabeth Thackery, seventh grade girls volleyball coach; Kyle Lamore, middle school scholar bowl; Darian Gill, middle school cheer coach; Celia Jubelt, high school girls volleyball coach; Shelsie Timmermeier, high school assistant girls volleyball coach; Nate Henrichs, high school assistant football coach; Kevin Gray, high school assistant golf coach; Jacob Killebrew, high school assistant golf coach; Andrea Williamson, high school dance coach; Casey Sholtis, high school boys basketball coach; Eric Bogle, freshman boys basketball coach; Kevin Gray, high school girls basketball coach; Nikki Brawner, high school girls basketball coach; and Jarrod Herron, high school scholar bowl.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the board.

  • Approved renewing membership in Sourcewell, a purchasing cooperative through which the school purchases cleaning supplies and other commodities at discounted prices.
  • Approved the district Student Handbook for 2022-23, which reflects minor updates from the 2021-22 edition.
  • Approved the student fee schedule. Fees are essentially the same as for 2021-22 except for a 10-cent increase in lunch/breakfast fees and the addition of a $480 replacement fee for lost or non-reparable laptop computers.

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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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