Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night approved a resolution that lays the groundwork for issuing up to $1.8 in alternate revenue bonds to finance school facility improvements. Actually issuing the bonds, however, could be another three months or more away if the board ultimately decides to proceed with the bond issue.
Kevin Wills of Bernardi Securities, O’Fallon, the firm that would handle the bond issue, told board members the bonds would be repaid with revenue the school district receives from the County School Facilities sales tax. According to Wills, the school district receives $400,000 to $450,000 annually from the School Facilities sales tax. The bond issue would enable the district to leverage enough funds to pay for several major projects and pay off the bonds with money accruing from the special sales tax. Because the bonds will be repaid with an “alternate” revenue source in lieu of property taxes, the bond issue is not necessarily subject to a referendum election.
With the approval of the resolution Monday night, Wills said his firm would place a public notice in a local newspaper advising of a 30-day period during which local voters could petition to require voter approval for the bond issue. Under Illinois law, such a petition would require signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters who live within Community Unit School District 7. The 30-day petitioning period begins with the date of publication for the public notice.
Wills said his firm also will publish a public notice advising of a mandatory public hearing on the issue set for 7 p.m., Monday, April 24, at the district office. The public hearing coincides with the board’s regular monthly meeting for April.
“What you’re doing tonight is a first step,” Wills said. “You’re stating your intention to the public that you want to go down this route. You’re not committing to issuing bonds tonight or in this amount.”
In theory, the district could issue bonds at any time after the public hearing. Meeting the requirements for issuing the bonds essentially gives the board “elbow room,” according to Wills, to issue the bonds when interest rates are most attractive. While Wills said most bond issues of this nature are completed within 90 days, the board can opt to issue them much later. Noting that a new board will be seated April 24 following the April 4 Consolidated Election, Wills said the school has no obligation to issue bonds at all if the new board chooses to stop the process.
“All you would be out is the cost of publishing two public notices,” he said.
Because of the “cushion” built into the proposal, both Wills and Supt. Shane Owsley confirmed the actual bond issue would be less than $1.8 million. Wills said a more likely figure would be $1.6 million or less. Owsley said the final amount would be contingent upon estimates the district receives for projects currently on the “wish list.”
“We don’t have a firm figure,” Owsley said. Among the projects under consideration according to Owsley, are a circular drive in front of the high school, a new weight room, softball and baseball field improvements, and safety features.
“The Board has several projects it would like to get started,” said Board President Mark Hayes, “some maybe as early as this summer.”
“We need to prioritize and discuss that (list of projects),” board member Weye Schmidt noted. “Right now, we don’t know what we need.”
Regardless of the amount of the bond issue, Wills recommended structuring the pay down for 10 to 12 years and keeping the annual payments at about $200,000—approximately half of the district’s revenue from the School Facilities sales tax. “You can go out as much as 40 years,” Wills said. “Most investors don’t want to wait that long to get their money. Most districts that go that long are building a new facility. As a practical matter, you want something more like 25 or 30 years.”
With anticipated interest rates ranging from 3.74 to 4.25 percent, Wills said the bond issue could be structured for about 10 years and keep payments at the $200,000 level. “If we need to go out further, we can extend the term by one or two years to 11 or 12,” he noted. The board has committed 25 percent of School Facilities sales tax revenue to retiring bonds issued for construction of the BenGil Elementary School. In August, the district will make its final payment of $175,000 to pay off a five-year loan taken out to build the Gillespie Middle School STEM lab.
“Your payments are going to end up being about what you’re paying now,” according to Wills.
Wills noted that the alternate revenue bonds will not count against the district in calculating the district’s debt limit, meaning the district could borrow additional funds if the need arises or in the event of an emergency.
Wills also explained to the board that the School Facilities sales tax legislation ensures the tax cannot be revoked while school districts are using the revenue to pay off debt. Neither the county government nor voters themselves have the ability to end the tax.
If the revenue source were to “dry up” for whatever reason before the bond issue is retired, there is an underlying property tax levy that would be activated to service the debt. Because the levy is in place, Wills said the board would be required to instruct the County Clerk to abate that tax in lieu of the sales tax revenue being used for debt service.
“Your County Clerk is familiar with the process,” Wills said. “Several other schools have already blazed this trail, including some in Macoupin County.”
Board members approved a proposal presented by Gillespie High School Principal Jill Rosentreter to reconfigure the way grade point averages are calculated to selected senior valedictorians—a move that is expected to eliminate the phenomenon of having multiple valedictorians presenting speeches during commencement ceremonies. A GPA of 3.67 to 4.0 is an “A,” according to Rosentreter. In past years any “A” was counted as 4.0 regardless of where the student’s actual grade fell within the spectrum.
“We’ve had multiple years with multiple valedictorians,” Rosentreter said.
As a result of the board’s action Monday night, GPAs will be calculated on the basis of actual numerical values. High ranking students would be identified in the commencement program as cum laude, summa cum laude or magna cum laude.
“It’s a big change,” Rosentreter said. “This would minimize or eliminate having a valedictorian altogether.” She said some surrounding schools that use a similar system for calculating GPAs have the top student from the graduating class give an address or have the class president address the graduates.
“You can’t expect better performance without raising standards,” Owsley commented. “Right now an A+ and an A- count the same, and that just sounds crazy to me.”
Under the new system, students currently enrolled in high school will be subject to the former GPA standard. The new standards will be implemented starting with the 2023-24 freshman class.
Board member Dennis Tiburzi voiced some objection to the new system, saying he likes the idea of recognizing as many top-performing students as possible.
“I know there have been years when we had five or seven but I don’t remember having 15 or more,” he said. “I’d like to see data on when that has happened. I want to see that students are recognized.”
Tiburzi left the meeting before the issue came to a vote but it was unclear if he left because of his objection or needed to leave for other reasons. He also was absent for the bond issue resolution vote.
The board was in executive session for 80 minutes before returning to open session to take action on a number of personnel issues.
Board members voted unanimously to rehire all tenured teachers for the 2023-24 school year. The list includes 32 tenured teachers at BenGil Elementary School, 14 Gillespie Middle School teachers, and 21 Gillespie High School teachers.
In separate actions, the following teachers were rehired and granted tenure: Amber Allan, Chase Peterson, Jessica Kelly, Korben Clark and Jill Stole.
Additionally, the following non-tenured teachers were re-employed for the coming school year: Nikki Jenner, Katie Livers, Alex Plovich, Pete Visintin, Jay Weber, Rachel Bouillon, Radeana Taylor, Kaylee Collins, Jacob West, Ben McCullough and Cory Bonstead.
Board members voted unanimously to hire Brad Taupe as band instructor for the 2023-24 school year, replacing Zach Simon whose resignation was accepted last month.
The board voted unanimously to hire Jacob West as the middle school girls track and field coach for the 2023-24 school year, accepted West’s resignation as a high school assistant track and field coach, and posted the high school position as vacant.
Dennis Kellebrew and Glenn Kellebrew were hired as volunteer assistant bass fishing coaches pending routine background checks.
Board members voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a District Student Services Director.
The board voted unanimously to post vacancies for six elementary summer school positions, a middle school summer school English teacher contingent upon enrollment, a high school summer school English teacher contingent upon enrollment, a summer school drivers’ education position, and two summer school cafeteria positions.
On a motion by Schmidt, the board unanimously voted to adopt the school calendar for 2023-24. The newly adopted calendar started with teacher institutes on Aug. 14 and 15 with the first day of student attendance on Aug. 16 and the final day of student attendance on May 22. School holidays are set for Labor Day, Sept. 4; Columbus Day, Oct. 9, Thanksgiving, Nov. 22-26; Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 15; and President’s Day, Feb. 19. The winter break is slated for Dec. 22-Jan. 2 and the spring break will occur March 27-April. There will be no school on Oct. 27 and Jan. 3 for teacher institutes, and early dismissals on Oct. 25 and 26, Dec. 1, Feb. 2, March 1 and May 3. Commencement is set for May 19.
The board approved early graduation requests for the following students, provided the students meet all requirements for graduation: Cole Conner, Kylie Cordie, Logan Bethard, Nolan Hamilton, Ryder Koniak and Josh Feeley.
As part of a District Focus segment, the board recognized the eighth-grade girls volleyball team, which recently won a sectional tournament against Hillsboro.
“You did the school very well,” Owsley told the girls. “We’re very proud of you.”
GMS Principal Patrick McGinthy reported to the board about a couple projects undertaken by Kim Henderson. Henderson assigned her students to pick a notable personality to research and then perform a presentation in costume. A total of 33 students participated in a parent’s night event, presenting a first-person biography of the subject they selected.
McGinthy also took note of a project in which Henderson had students write poetry which was then collected into a hard cover book available for students to purchase.
In other action, the board:
- Authorized the district to participate in the National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance, a purchasing cooperative that provides discounts on goods and services.
- Authorized Supt. Owsley to either renew certificates of deposit as they mature or invest the funds with the Illinois School Districts Liquid Asset Fund+, depending upon which instrument offers the best interest rate at the time.
- Accepted a low bid from M & M Services to provide gasoline at a cost of $3.52 per gallon and diesel fuel at a cost of $3.90 per gallon.
- Voted to renew the district’s membership in the Illinois High School Association.
- Approved a schedule for regular monthly board meetings for the coming year. The board will continue to meet on the fourth Monday of each month, except December when the meeting is one week earlier to accommodate the winter break. Meetings start with an executive session at 6 p.m., followed by an open session at 7 p.m.