Connect with us

Community News

School board renews building principals’ contracts, tables action on renewing skyward software

Published

on

Illinois State Scholars introduced to the CUSD 7 Board of Education Monday night are (back row, from left) Alyssa McDaniel, Luke Hatlee, Levi Hatlee, Brynn Baker, Lanie Doty, Kyle Kasarda and Ashton Bethard; and (from row, from left) Josh Ranger, Iris Page and Madison Niemeyer. Unavailable for photo: Emmery Pau, Katie Polo and Isabella Wallace.

Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night recognized this year’s crop of Illinois State Scholars, heard an extensive presentation regarding the school district’s bond status, and agreed to hire an area accounting firm to conduct the district’s annual audit. But the board balked at renewing a contract with Skyward Software for three years, choosing to table the issue until administrators can explore negotiating more attractive terms.

During a District Focus segment, High School Principal Jill Rosentreter presented GHS seniors who were named Illinois State Scholars. Rosentreter told the board the 13 GHS seniors are part of the top 10 percent of high school seniors from 726 high schools throughout Illinois. Illinois State Scholars are chosen on the basis of SAT test scores and sixth-semester class rankings.

“These young men and women not only excel in the academic arena, but they are also well-rounded students involved in a multitude of extra-curricular activities, clubs and committees, part-time jobs and volunteer services within the community,” Rosentreter said. “These students represent CUSD 7 at its finest and we can be proud to have them serve as role models for all other students.”

This year’s State Scholars include Brynn Baker, Ashton Bethard, Lanie Doty, Levi Hatlee, Luke Hatlee, Kylie Kasarda, Alyssa McDaniel, Madison Niemeyer, Iris Page, Emmery Pau, Katie Polo, Josh Ranger, and Isabella Wallace.

“Along with every staff member and school board member, It has been our pleasure to be a part of your educational experience,” Rosentreter told the students, “and we look forward to watching your continued success.”

BOND PRESENTATION

While the district has no plans for any capital projects that require issuing bonds to finance them, financial consultant Kevin Wills of Bernardi Securities—the firm that has handled the most recent bond issues for the district, including bonds issued for construction of BenGil Elementary School. Part sales pitch and part informative presentation, Wills’ presentation to the bond scrutinized the district’s financial position over the previous five years and offered an assessment of the district’s current bonding capacity.

Wills identified Bernardi as the “leading bond underwriter in Illinois” for both municipalities and school districts. “We’ve underwritten more bonds than anyone else in the country that issues bonds in Illinois,” he said. Apart from administering the mechanics of issuing and selling bonds, Wills said his company takes responsibility for helping school boards determine the limits of their bonding capacity and choose the type of bonds that make the most sense for the district.

When a bond issue is undertaken, Wills said, Bernardi is committed to offering bond sales first to local investors before offering them elsewhere. “They (local investors) know your district,” Wills said. “If we have to go elsewhere, we are prepared to do that.”

Advertisement

As long as the district has outstanding bonds that have not been retired, Wills said Bernardi is obligated to provide a detailed analysis of the district’s financial factors every year. That report, which Wills provided Monday night, covers the previous five years. He pledged to return next year to present an updated report. The report is required by the federal securities exchange, though there are apparently no penalties if it is not done. “No one goes to ‘bond jail’ or anything,” Wills said, adding that the intrinsic value of compiling the reports is to establish a record of financial data investors can consult in the event the district opts to issue bonds in the future.

Kevin Wills, O’Fallon, of Bernardi Securities addresses the CUSD 7 Board of Education regarding the status of the school district’s bond indebtedness.

That district’s last bond issue was in 2017 to build BenGil Elementary School, meaning Bernardi will provide annual financial reports at least until those bonds or retired, assuming no additional bonds are issued.

Wills told the board the district currently has a debt ceiling of $11,544,00, which is 13.8 percent of the district’s total Equalized Assessed Valuation. The district is indebted in the amount of $10,865,000 in principal. Still, the district’s bonding capacity stands at about $7.6 million because the BenGil Elementary bonds were exempted from the debt ceiling via special legislation.

Another limiting factor is the amount of revenue the district has available for debt service. Currently, the district has $489,000 annually as a debt service base, $430,000 of which is being used to service existing debt.

Wills also broke down the district’s bond debt between bonds that are callable and those that are not. Within that list, he noted was $165,000 in bond debt that could be paid off early, saving the district $2,000 to $3,000 in interest costs. But there is no interest advantage to the early retirement of bonds bearing specific call dates for the final payoff.

PERSONNEL

Board members voted unanimously to extend three-year contracts to each of the district’s building principals—High School Principal Rosentreter, Middle School Principal Tara Cooper and BenGil Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto. That action, as well as other personnel action, followed a 90-minute executive session during which the board discussed personnel issues behind closed doors.

In other personnel action, the board accepted “with regret” the retirements of elementary teacher Lorraine Strutner, effective at the end of the 2024-25 school year, and information technology team member Stephanie Bray, effective no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignations of Jennifer Brown as high school cheerleading coach, and Matt Brawner as high school assistant boys basketball coach.

The board also voted unanimously to appoint Jay Weber as a volunteer assistant Middle School/High School track and field coach, and to hire Alex Ottersburg as a volunteer Middle School/High School track and field coach, pending a routine background check.

Advertisement

Board members voted unanimously to approve evaluation instruments for the positions of Maintenance Director, Transportation Director and District Mechanic. Supt. Shane Owsley told the board that the evaluation document for the Mechanic position, the only position of the three covered by union contract, had been approved by the union.

SKYWARD CONTRACT

After questions raised by board member Jenni Alepra, the board tabled action on an offer from Skyward Software to enter into a three-year contract at the rate currently paid by the district. According to Owsley, Skyward indicated the district could renew for one year but would face rate increases in the future. The Skyward system is the portal parents and students can use to access homework assignments, grades and other information. It also is used to manage report cards, attendance data and other information.

The district entered into a contract with Skyward last year but teachers and administrators reported concerns about a lack of technical support and “bugs’ in the relatively new program.

“I never felt we got the support we paid for,” Alepra said, suggesting the company should offer to rebate the cost of the first year. She said the company basically used the local school district to launch a pilot program.

Rosentreter said the program is serving its purpose but administrators and staff are still learning to navigate its complexities. “It was a brand new program and I don’t think it was ready,” Rosentreter said. “It was unfair to us.”

“Exactly,” Alepra agreed. “You hit the nail on the head. I think they owe us money or they should give us the first year free to sign a three-year contract with them. I feel like we helped them get their pilot program off the ground.” She said the district paid overtime expenses for Information Technology staff and incurred other costs to get the program to perform as it should.

Ferdinand Girardi, 95, appeared before the CUSD 7 School Board to offer a brief history lesson about the establishment of the current school district 60 years ago.

Based on the discussion, Board President Mark Hayes agreed to table the issue. The company imposed a mid-March deadline to accept the three-year contract, but Hayes said the board is likely to have a special meeting before the offer expires. In the meantime, Owsley is expected to approach company officials to see if he can negotiate a refund.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Former school board member Ferdinad Girardi of Benld appeared before the board to comment about the creation of Community Unit School District 7 in 1962. Now 95 years old, Girardi said he was on the Benld School Board when members agreed to “annex” the Gillespie and Benld school districts. He said the move was defined as an annexation because board members would not support a consolidation.

As part of the agreement, he said, Benld was told “there would always be a school in Benld.” Following the loss of Benld Elementary School to mine subsidence more than a decade ago, CUSD 7 opted to build an elementary school adjacent to the Gillespie High School/Middle School complex.

Advertisement

“You bought land and built a school here,” Girardi said. “You could have done the same thing in Benld.”

He admitted it is was “too late” to bring up the issue after the fact but he wanted to “put a bug in someone’s ear.” In the meantime, he suggested the current board should approach Mount Olive about establishing a South Macoupin School District.

“Mount Olive is suffering,” he said. “You should be meeting with them to make one South Macoupin School. You’d save money in the long run.”

SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT

Owsley reported to the board that he is in the process of meeting with school bus providers to determine the most cost-efficient way to replace aging buses in the school district’s transportation fleet. He said several buses are approaching 175,000 miles and will soon need to be replaced. He said he already has met with two companies to discuss the merits of leasing or leasing to buy buses versus outright purchasing.

He also reported a meeting with Keith Moran, a Tax Increment Financing district consultant working with the City of Gillespie to establish a new TIF District. TIF districts accrue revenue by capturing increases in property tax revenues within the district over the life of the district. School districts often oppose such districts because they preclude the school district of gaining revenue from increases in evaluation but Owsley said he negotiated a deal for the district to get 20 percent of the revenues earmarked for the Tax Increment Fund. Additionally, he said, the district owns a number of vacant lots within the new district that the board may want to consider selling to developers for new home construction.

In other action the board agreed to again hire Loy Miller Talley, PC, to perform the state-mandated annual audit. The company has performed the audit for the past several years and agreed to perform the audit for he current fiscal year at a cost not to exceed $10,170.

Advertisement
Share this story

Comments

comments

Community News

School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

Published

on

By

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.

Advertisement

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.

Share this story

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Community News

Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

Published

on

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.

Share this story

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Community News

Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

Published

on

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.

Share this story

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Trending

×

We need your support. If you value having timely, accurate news about your community, please become one of our subscribers. Subscribe