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School board seats new members, conducts bond issue hearing

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Community Unit School District 7’s Board of Education on Monday night seated newly elected board members

Community Unit School District 7’s Board of Education on Monday night seated newly elected board members, elected officers for the next two years, took another step toward issuing about $1.6 million in alternative revenue bonds, and tentatively discussed projects on which the money might be spent.

A brief public hearing on the bond issue was held following the first of two executive sessions, though no members of the public attended to comment or ask questions, and no written statements were submitted. Kevin Wills of Benardi Securities, O’Fallon, described the hearing as a legally mandated second step toward issuing bonds sometime within the next six months. Last month, the board approved a resolution announcing its intention to issue up to $1.8 million in alternate revenue bonds for facilities improvements. The school district plans to pay off the bonds using proceeds from a School Facilities Sales Tax approved by Macoupin County voters. 

“This is the second step in the process, you took the first step last month,” Wills told the board. “Any time you issue bonds without direct voters approval, state law requires you to have a public hearing.”

Next month the board is expected to vote on whether or not to authorize Bernardi Securities to start structuring the bond sale and establishing parameters for the bonds. That step will be followed by a resolution to actually sell bonds, which could happen as early as May but more likely will occur sometime later. Details of the bond issue are contingent upon market conditions, the total estimated cost of projects the board chooses to prioritize and whether or not a pending application for a $500,000 federal grant for kitchen improvements is successful.

“Nothing has changed since last month,” said Wills, referring to considerations affecting the bond sale. The board expects to keep annual payments to retire the bonds at or below $200,000 (about half of what the school district receives in school facilities sales tax revenue) with the term limited to 10 years.

Board member Weye Schmidt indicated he would be reluctant to approve the bond sale until it is known whether or not the district will receive the $500,000 federal grant, which would reduce the amount financed via the bond sale. “I don’t want to borrow more than we need,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt also asked to change the language of authorizing resolution from “$1.8 million” to “no more than $1.8 million.” Wills said that change would be acceptable. “You don’t lock into the specific amount until the next step,” Wills said. Tentatively, the board and Wills have discussed a bond issue of $1.6 million if the district’s federal grant application fails.

Responding to a question from newly seated board member Peyton Brent, Wills said the district can place proceeds from the bond sale in interest-bearing accounts to draw some interest as the district draws down on the funds. Under terms of the bond sale, the district has three years to spend the money.

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Essentially, the bond issue is a mechanism to generate a large sum of money it would otherwise take 10 years to accrue from sales tax proceeds. The fact the district is dedicating an existing revenue source to pay off the bonds precludes the requirement for voter approval via referendum. 

Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to authorize Supt. Shane Owsley to work with architects to develop tentative plans and cost estimates for various facilities improvement projects the board may consider funding with proceeds from the bond sale. Because the alternate revenue source the district will use to repay the bonds is School Facilities Sales Tax revenue, the money can be spent only on permanent capital improvements to school facilities.

“I’m looking for the board’s blessing to sit down with our architects and say, ’This is what we want’,” Owsley said.

The “wish list” includes safety upgrades for the kitchen area used for food services, some of which are dependent upon the district receiving the $500,000 federal grant.

“There are some of these I’m going to recommend whether we get the grant or not,” Owsley told the board.

Board president Mark Hayes (right) honors Becky Hatlee’s service to Gillespie CUSD 7

High on the list of priorities is creating a circular drive and small parking area for visitors in front of the high school. Owsley said that project would take a lion’s share of the bond issue funds but would clarify where the front door of the high school is located, create a drop-off area for students and improve security.

“Right now people park at the Dairy Queen and walk all the way across the front to the door, or they come to the back and come in through the breezeway, which gives them access to our kids,” he said. The project would allow the district to “highlight” the archway—a remnant of the old Gillespie High School, according to Owsley. 

This list also includes the construction of new press boxes at the district’s baseball/softball fields, along with upgraded bathrooms. The new bathrooms are important, Owsley said, to preclude opening portions of BenGil Elementary School so spectators can use the bathrooms.

“A lot of things on this list are to keep people out,” Owsley said. “It doesn’t make sense to open our bathrooms and let people come in.”

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Upgrades in the cafeteria include the possibility of removing tile flooring and reverting to a polished concrete surface, both for sanitation and maintenance.

Owsley also has his eye on a new weight room. Maintenance Director Brian Paige said the north wall of the gymnasium, replaced following extensive tornado damage several years ago, is leaking. He said roofing contractors have blamed the masonry while the masons say the roof is the issue; current plans are to treat the wall with some sort of permanent sealant. Paige said he also is dealing with problems with decorative glass panels used as accents on some building windows that are “rotting from the inside out.” He said school officials have been unsuccessful in getting the manufacturer to honor a 25-year warranty. In the meantime, another company stepped to replace panels that have actually rotted, but that does not address panels that are likely to fail in the future. Both the gym wall and the glass panels may become a part of the ambitious capital plan financed with alternate revenue bonds.

In somewhat related action, the board voted to join the TIPS Procurement organization, a purchasing collective that utilizes bulk purchasing power to acquire materials at attractive prices. Owsley told the board that TIPS is a source for lower-cost glazing products the district may need to buy for bond-funded safety projects. He said the board may be asked to join other cooperatives in the coming months as the list of projects comes into better focus.

“There are a lot of these cooperatives and they all seem to have their own niche,” Owsley said.

BOARD REORGANIZATION

Prior to addressing the major agenda Monday night, newly elected board members were sworn in and officers were named. Before swearing in board members who were elected during the April 4 consolidated election, the retiring board certified the election results, declaring as winners Mark Hayes with 677 votes, Weye Schmidt with 702 votes, Amanda Ross with 672 votes and Kellie Vesper with 661 votes for four-year terms, and Peyton Bernot with 562 votes for a two-year, unexpired term. Mike Bellovich was unsuccessful as a write-in candidate with 246 votes.

Kevin Wills of Benardi Securities, O’Fallon, described the hearing as a legally mandated second step toward issuing bonds sometime within the next six months.

Hayes, Schmidt and Ross were incumbent members, with Ross having been appointed to the board after the resignation of Jenni Alepra earlier this year. Vesper is a new member, stepping into a position previously held by Becky Hatlee. Bernot was elected to an unexpired two-year term remaining on the late Don Dobrino’s term of office. Jack Burns, who chose not to run for election, was appointed to replace Dobrino, served two years but chose not to run for election. Ironically, Hatlee was first appointed to the board four years ago after Bernot resigned from his previous term on the board. 

The new board will have the same officers for the next two years. Hayes was again declared board president after he was nominated by Bill Carter and Schmidt moved to close the nominations. A 20-year veteran of the board, Hayes has served as president for 16 years and two years as vice. Schmidt was re-elected as vice-president by declaration after being nominated by Ross, and Carter was re-elected secretary by declaration upon being nominated by Hayes.

Kathy McDaniels was appointed to continue as the board’s recording secretary, and newly elected board member Vesper was named by Hayes to serve as the board’s representative to the South Macoupin Special Education Cooperative.

Hayes also made the following committee assignments:

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  • Building and Grounds: Carter, Hayes and Bernot.
  • Finance: Schmidt and Dennis Tiburzi.
  • Athletic: Carter, Tiburzi and Ross.
  • Policy: Hayes Carter, Schmidt and Bernot.
  • Superintendent Evaluation: Schmidt, Hayes and Carter.
  • School Improvement: Tiburzi (BenGil Elementary), Ross (Gillespie Middle School), and Bernot (Gillespie High School).
  • Community: Bernot, Vesper and Schmidt.
  • Crisis Plan Review: Hayes.
  • District Improvement: Tiburzi.
  • Parent-Teacher: Vesper.
  • Strategic Plan: Schmidt and Ross.
  • Contract Negotiation: Hayes, Carter and Ross.

Immediately after the board reorganization, the board entered into a 30-meeting executive session, returning at 7 p.m. for the previously scheduled bond hearing. Once the hearing was concluded, the board entered into a second, 60-minute executive session to discuss personnel and other issues.

PERSONNEL

After the second of two executive sessions, the board took action to appoint teachers for the district’s summer school program, and took other personnel action.

On a motion by Tiburzi, seconded by Schmidt, the board voted unanimously to appoint Vanessa Barrett, Marci Johns, Jessica Kelly, Jennifer Parker, Amy Price and Karissa Smith as summer school teachers at BenGil Elementary School. In separate actions, Casey Edgerton was appointed as Gillespie Middle School summer school English teacher, Shanna Conner was appointed as Gillespie Middle School summer school math teacher, Mary Schuette was appointed as Gillespie High School summer school English teacher, and Jennifer Brown was appointed Gillespie High School summer school driver’s education teacher.

Penny Feeley and Janice Hammann were appointed as summer school food service workers.

The board approved Laura Peterson and Chase Peterson as Gillespie High School/Middle School volunteer assistant cross-country coaches and appointed Donnie Allan as Gillespie High School assistant track and field coach.

Four seniors were named as Illinois State Scholars including Macy Fosnock, Emily Schoen, Jenna Clark and Shelby Geisler.

In other personnel action, the board posted a vacancy for a high school business teacher and posted a vacancy for a full-time dean of students position. The dean of students position, responsible primarily for student discipline issues, previously was a part-time position shared with the athletic director.

DISTRICT FOCUS

During a District Focus segment early in the meeting, GHS Principal Jill Rosentreter recognized students who recently were named Illinois State Scholars, including Macy Fosnock, Emily Schoen, Jenna Clark and Shelby Geisler, who attended the meeting and were introduced to the board.

“We’re very proud of you,” Rosentreter told the girls.

Jennifer Brown, who teaches driver’s education and sponsors IMPACT’D, a student driving safety group, discussed recent accomplishments of the group and Bryn Baker’s winning the Chicago Auto Club’s Driving Safety PSA contest. Baker submitted a winning script for a public service announcement urging teen passengers to call out drivers who are driving recklessly. A professional production company came to Gillespie High School to film the PSA, which was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show. Brown screened the PSA, which featured GHS students as actors, for the board.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the board:

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  • Approved the district student fee schedule for the 2023-24 academic year. The schedule is virtually the same as this year’s schedule except for a slight increase in lunch and breakfast costs.
  • Learned the district recently received a $36,000 grant to purchase new kitchen equipment. 
  • Tentatively scheduled a four-hour board member training session to be conducted by a representative of the Illinois Association of School Boards. Hayes said the training is directed at new members but current members also are urged to attend as a refresher.

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Community News

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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Community News

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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