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School board votes to lease three new buses

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Members of the Community Unit Community School District 7 Board of Education voted Monday night to commit to a five-year lease for three new school buses, agreed to make middle school softball a school-funded sport and approved an amended 2021-22 district budget.

With an aging bus fleet threatening to siphon money for repairs, the board accepted Supt. Shane Owsley’s recommendation to enter into a five-year lease agreement with Central State Bus for three new school buses. Central State Bus offered the lower of two bids received, offering a price of $26,928 per bus. At the end of the five-year lease, the district will have the option of keeping the vehicles or returning them.

Owsley said the district will start receiving state reimbursements for depreciation starting with the second year of the lease. Over the life of the lease, he estimated the district will receive reimbursements for 60 to 75 percent of the contract’s $84,000 total cost.

Owsley said the lease agreement is the first step toward achieving his goal of having no buses in the fleet that are more than five years old.

GMS SOFTBALL PROGRAM

On a motion by Bill Carter, seconded by Board President Mark Hayes, the board unanimously approved a carefully worded motion to transition middle school softball from a parent-funded sport to a school-funded program. Parents presented the proposal to the board last month, providing an estimate of $10,000 per year for the program’s cost.

The motion calls for the district to fund middle school softball as a “feeder program for the funded high school softball program with the stipulation” that existing funds held by the parents group be turned over to the school district and that the parents group continue to host and sponsor an annual tournament with proceeds of the tournament going to the district.

Shannon Wright, a member of the parents group, said the group has $9,000 to $10,000 in funding to transfer to the school district—enough to cover one full season of the program. Jim Matesa, another parent, advocated for using some of that money for improvements at the school’s ball diamond. He said the facility needs a water line, a ramp for its storage shed, and money to create a concession stand.

Hayes told Matesa that funding for those projects could be an issue. When the parents group funds are transferred to the district, he suggested they would be spent as intended for the program.

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“My question is, do you want the program or do you want these projects?” Hayes asked.

Hayes suggested that Matesa get estimates for each of the projects he wanted done and let the board consider them as an issue separate from the middle school softball transition.

AMENDED BUDGET

The board approved an amended budget for the fiscal year ending on June 30 to reflect revenue and expenditures that were not anticipated when the budget was initially approved in September last year. The amended budget is a legal requirement, according to Owsley, to ensure the budget reflects actual revenues and expenditures during the fiscal year.

The amendments are limited to three specific funds—Education, Building Operations and Maintenance, and IMRF. During a brief public hearing prior to the meeting, Owsley pointed out the district had overspent budgeted amounts in Operations and Maintenance, and IMRF. Expenditures in the Education Fund have approached the budgeted amount, making it advisable to add a buffer on the revenue side. The additional revenues came from COVID-19 relief payments from the federal government during the fiscal year. Further complicating the budget, an additional $627,631.33 in state aid payments have been allocated but have not been processed by the Comptroller. Owsley said it was unknown as of Monday night whether or not those payments would arrive before June 30 or after June 30 in which can the money would be considered revenue for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The amended budget increases estimate revenue for the Education Fund from $13,370,416 to $14,414,150. As of Monday night, the district had spent $12,547,975.50 from the Education Fund. The amended budget adds a $500,000 buffer by increasing budgeted expenditures from $13,258,230 to $13,751,326.

Current expenditures from the Operations and Maintenance Fund are $709,781.32, compared with budgeted expenses of $691,795. Owsley said the additional expenditures were due to underestimated costs for water and sewer, and contractural services for heating/cooling repairs, plumbing and other issues. To account for the discrepancy, the new budget sets expenditures at $831,765.

Expenditures from the IMRF and Social Security fund are $441,994.07, compared with a budgeted amount of $432,642. To cover the shortfall, the new budget increases the expenditure line item to $497,292. Revenue is increased from an estimate of $432,733 to $464,403.

Approval of the amended budget clears out the 2021-22 budget year and paves the way for the board to work on a new budget for 2022-23. The board is expected to place a new budget on file for public review during its August meeting, with an eye toward approving the budget in September.

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PERSONNEL

Following an executive session, the board voted to accept “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of long-serving district custodian Ray Mansholt, effective Oct. 10.

“Ray has been with our district for 40 years,” Hayes noted. “I know he is very emotional about retiring.”

The board also voted unanimously to hire Dalton Barnes as a high school social science/physical education teacher for the 2022-23 school year. Board members also voted unanimously to hire Alec Jasper as a volunteer assistant football coach and Alexis Lumpkey as a volunteer assistant middle school/high school cheer coach.

The board agreed to post a position for an assistant principal position who will be assigned to “float” from building to building. The board also posted a vacancy for an elementary school teaching position.

The board voted unanimously to rehire the following spring sport coaches: Robin Niemeyer, head women’s soccer coach; Paige Niemeyer, women’s assistant soccer coach; Jeremy Smith, head mens baseball coach; Tim Wargo, paid assistant baseball coach; Adam Tallman and Dan Smith, volunteer assistant baseball coaches; Michelle Smith, head softball coach; Jim Matesa, paid assistant softball coach; Joe Kelly volunteer assistant softball coach; Mike Bertagnolli, head men’s track and field coach; Jessica Kelley, head women’s track and field coach; Jacob West, assistant track and field coach; Jay Weber, Alex Ottersburg and Jack Burns, volunteer assistant track and field coaches; Jacob Killebrew, head bass fishing coach; Ryan Bussmann and JQ Halteman, volunteer assistant bass fishing coaches; Jill Strole, middle school track coach; Chase Peterson, middle school track coach; Alex Ottersburg, assistant volunteer middle school track coach; and Jay Weber, assistant volunteer middle school track coach.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the board:

  • Agreed to contract with Blue Cross-Blue Shield to provide employee health insurance for the coming year with a premium increase of 2.5 percent. Owsley said the company originally proposed a six percent increase but came back with a better price when the district asked it to reconsider its bid.
  • Chose Prairie Farms Dairy to provide milk for the district’s food service programs, and selected Kohl’s Wholesale, Quincy, to provide bread and other foods.
  • Approved a consolidated district plan which consolidates a number of documents to facilitate easier application for federal grant funds.
  • Approved a language change in the teacher evaluation policy giving administrators an option to evaluate teachers with a proficient or better rating every three years instead of every two years.

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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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