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School board moves to buy more new buses

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Jerry Balzraine and Neil Balzraine present a check to Superintendent Shane Owsley from the Italian American Club of Benld. The check provided each Ben-Gil Elementary classroom with $25 dollars ($1,271 total).

In a relatively brief meeting Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education voted unanimously to enter into a lease-purchase arrangement to acquire three new school buses for the district’s Transportation Department. Two of the 77-passenger Bluebird buses are equipped with underbelly luggage compartments, Supt. Shane Owsley told the board, which will be useful for transporting equipment with athletic teams and other groups to “away” events.

The action is congruent with the district’s plan to update the bus fleet, with a goal of having no buses in service that are more than eight to 10 years old. The cost of the new lease-purchase arrangement amounts to $101,630 per year for five years. The district acquired three new buses last year under a similar arrangement.

In other action Monday, the board accepted bids to sell two surplus real estate parcels and voted to sell about 5,100 shares of Principal stock owned by the district.

Board members voted unanimously to accept a bid of $2,100 from Peter Vallerius for Lot 171, Block 10 of Martin’s Subdivision, Gillespie, and to accept a bid of $1,814 from Richard Roth for Lot 1, Block 10, Henderson Place, Gillespie. The lots were two of 21 parcels declared as surplus and offered for sale during the board’s July meeting.

With one dissenting vote, the board approved the sale of Principal stock owned by the district. The district’s auditors reportedly recommended disposing of the stock because state law precludes school districts from playing the stock market with public funds. The auditors, however, acknowledged CUSD 7 could legitimately retain the Principal stock because the shares were a gift to the district some years ago.

“They said having these stocks was appropriate?” asked board member Dennis Tiburzi, who cast the sole vote against selling the shares.

“That’s correct,” Board President Mark Hayes replied.

FISCAL 2024 BUDGET

The board voted unanimously to place on file for public inspection a tentative Fiscal 2024 district budget, with an eye toward formally adopting the budget at the board’s regular September meeting on Monday, Sept. 25. Monday night’s meeting was held a week earlier than normally scheduled to ensure the budget would be available for public review for the legally required minimum of 30 days before adoption.

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A budget hearing, during which Supt. Owsley will review details of the new budget, will be conducted at 6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25, prior to the board formally voting on whether or not to adopt the budget later during the regular meeting.

Last year’s budget called for expenditures of $16.3 million during the fiscal year. Owsley reminded the board that the new budget is subject to modifications up until the time it is adopted in September.

PERSONNEL

Following an hour-long executive session, the board voted to accept the resignation of Donnie Allen as assistant high school track and field coach, post the assistant’s position as vacant, and hire Allen as the high school track and field head coach. Allen will step into a vacancy created by the recent resignation of Jay Weber, who accepted a position as track and field coach at Blackburn College, Carlinville.

In other personnel action, the board accepted the resignation of Kyle Lamore as middle school Scholar Bowl sponsor and to post the position as vacant.

INTERGOVERNMENTAL AGREEMENT

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Tiburzi, the board voted to approve Supt. Owsley’s recommendation to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the Mount Olive and Staunton school districts to pool transportation resources to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of transportation special education students to and from participating facilities. The schools are members of the South Macoupin Association for Special Education (SMASE).

“It didn’t make sense for all of us to send buses to the same schools every day,” Owsley said. The agreement allows the CUSD7 to use its buses to transport students from other districts to special education classes and to allow other districts to transport students from CUSD7 for the same purpose.

Owsley said CUSD7 buses will be used to transport students to and from Carlinville and Mount Olive.

In other action, the board approved an Employee Information Service Administrator and Teacher Salary/Benefits Report and voted to approve a District Consolidated District Plan. Both were routine actions taken by the board on an annual basis.

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ADMINISTRATIVE REPORTS

During an administrative reports segment, Owsley and building principals reported on an Administrative Academy Legal Updates Professional Development session they attended on Aug. 10. Owsley said the presentation included more than 200 slides on new Illinois laws affecting education, including new legislation aimed at combating bullying in schools.

The new law nails down definitions of what constitutes bullying, and gives teachers and administrators 24 hours to contact the parents of students involved when they are notified of bullying.

“That means that if you get a report over the weekend, you have to contact parents before Monday,” Owsley said. “Teaching is not just reading, writing, and arithmetic anymore.”

Administrators also reported on a workshop led by Damon West, a motivational speaker and best-selling author. Now a college professor and sought-after speaker, West was a 20-year-old starting quarterback at the University of North Texas. After a career-ending injury, West became involved with drugs, including methamphetamine. In 2009, he was sentenced to 65 years in prison for his role as the Uptown Burglar, responsible for a series of burglaries that netted more than $1 million in stolen goods. In prison, he met an inmate who told him being in prison was like being submersed in boiling water. It can make you soft and weak like a carrot or it could turn you hard and distant like a boiled egg. The alternative, the inmate told him, was to become a “coffee bean.” The boiling water doesn’t change the coffee bean but the coffee bean transforms the water to coffee.

Paroled after seven years, West became an advocate for “becoming a coffee bean”—using the challenges life hands to an individual to change the environment around them in a positive way.

Owsley said he received a copy of West’s book, The Coffee Bean, for Christmas last year. He read it and determined to get West as a presenter for CUSD7 teaching staff.

“He is very well known and he comes with a price,” Owsley said. “I reached out to the Regional Office of Education and they were able to help us make it happen.”

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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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