Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to approve a resolution authorizing the district to participate in the Illinois School District Liquid Asset Fund+, an investment pool in which more than 600 of the state’s 900 school districts participate. Supt. Shane Owsley said the measure will allow the district to temporarily invest surplus funds at a higher rate of earning than the district would realize from traditional bank Certificates of Deposit. Moreover, the funds remain “liquid,” meaning the district can withdraw money at any time without penalty.
In other action, the board extended by one-year the employment contracts of High School Principal Jill Rosentreter, Middle School Principal Patrick McGinthy, BenGil Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto, and District Assistant Principal Tara Cooper. The administrative staff work under a three-year contract subject to annual one-year extensions. In other action, the board voted unanimously to accept “with regret” the resignation of popular district band director Zach Simon, effective June 2, and post the position as vacant.
Other personnel action following an 80-minute executive session included hiring Zane Ireland and Korben Clark as volunteer assistant football coaches. On a motion by Amanda Ross, seconded by Mark Hayes, the board voted to hire Jeff Gibson as a district custodian, pending a routine background check. On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Jack Burns, the board appointed Tate Wargo as an assistant high school boys baseball coach. Nick Schoen, Larry Schweppe and Mark Enslow were hired as assistant bass fishing coaches, pending routine background checks. Robert Hearn was hired as a substitute bus driver, pending a routine background check.
The board accepted the resignation of Jill Strole as the high school girls track and field coach, and posted the position as vacant. The board also posted a vacancy for an assistant middle school track and field coach.
Three charter members of the Partnership for Educational Excellence’s Board of Directors presented a “District Focus” segment before the board entered into an executive session, reporting upon the Partnership’s contributions to the school district over the past 30 years. Supt. Owsley said charitable groups and individuals like the Partnership are important to the financial well-being of the school district, helping fill the void between educational needs and resources.
“Before evidence-based funding, which is basically 2018, our funding was at 55 percent adequate,” Owsley said. “After evidence-based funding, we’re up to 69 percent, but we are still a long way from 100 percent, which highlights the importance of groups like the Partnership.” Most recently, Owsley said, the Partnership donated $30,000 to help underwrite the district’s program to ensure every student has a computer to use and committed to making two more $30,000 donations over the next two years. “It’s not a one-time expenditure,” he said. “Computers have a life of four or five years before they have to be replaced.”
Donna Prevedell told the board the Partnership grew out of a graduate school project undertaken by Nanci Grandone, who also attended Monday night, to research how educational foundations could help schools. “Thirty years later, here we are,” Prevedell said.
Marking its 30th year of existence, the Partnership is nearing a number of milestones. By the end of the school year, Prevedell said, the organization will have raised and donated more than $1 million since its inception. She said the Partnership has donated about $660,000 in direct donations to the district in the form of classroom grants and other gifts. After this year’s commencement, the organization will have awarded more than 500 scholarships representing about $320,000.
In the early years of the Partnership’s work, scholarships were limited to $250. Today, scholarship recipients receive $1,000.
“We keep the scholarships small so we can recognize more students,” Prevedell said. “We don’t care about GPA, we don’t care about class ranking. We care more about goals and work ethic.”
John Fassero, who serves as Partnership President, said the Partnership recognizes the scholarships are small, but the group hopes the recognition provides a spark that inspires recipients to succeed later in life. When the Partnership has been able to follow up with the careers of scholarship recipients, Fassero said students’ accomplishments “are inspiring.”
“We’re all unpaid volunteers,” he noted. “We do this because we think it is work worth doing. Our whole mission is to benefit Community Unit School District 7 students and the school district itself.”
Fassero said the board works diligently to assure donors that the Partnership is an exceptional steward of their money. “When they give money to us, they know it will be used for its intended purpose.”
Board member Bill Carter said his youngest son is an example of someone who was “sparked” to succeed by the Partnership. A Partnership scholarship recipient, Carter’s son is finishing his associate’s degree in criminal justice this year and is applying to four-year universities with the intent to complete a bachelor’s degree. Carter said his son will be the first member of the family to earn a college degree, a fact for which he credits the Partnership’s influence.
Likewise, Ross said receiving a Partnership scholarship boosted her confidence as she faced the prospect of attending college away from home.
Fassero said board members initially expected to limit themselves to three years of service. “Thirty years later, here we are,” he said. The veteran members, however, are recruiting younger trustees they hope will take over the organization as the founding members step away.
In addition to the Partnership, Owsley noted that people like John Schmidt who provided generous financial support to the district. Recently, Dr. Ross and Rosemary Billiter donated $25,000 for supplementary curriculum.
“It never ceases to amaze me, the number of people in a small community who go out of their way to help students,” Owsley said.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING TRAINING
Owsley reported to the board that he and Ross, a member of the bargaining committee, attended a Feb. 9 training session in Springfield, along with representatives of the local teachers union. The focus of the session, he said, was on a negotiating technique that precludes the need for lawyers. Instead, administrators and teachers would meet and work with a facilitator to reach a contract agreement, facilitated by a former school superintendent working for the Illinois Education Association.
“It’s a common sense approach, but it isn’t anything that’s been done before here,” Owsley said.
If the district signs onto the program, a facilitator would arrive on a Friday evening, and work with both sides of the negotiation with a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the weekend.
Union President Jennifer Parker said the teachers are optimistic about the new approach to negotiations, particularly the facilitator’s goal of completing the negotiations before the end of the school year.
“I’m extremely optimistic,” Owsley said. “There is a cost but the cost is usually shared by the school district and the union. But, if we use an attorney, he will charge an hourly rate from the time he gets in his car to drive here. I think this approach would do wonders for the school district. If it doesn’t work, we always have the option of going back to the traditional form of negotiations we’ve used in the past.”
Owsley also reported the district has received a high-impact tutoring grant in the amount of $51,934 and teachers already are in training to offer high-impact tutoring programs to students.
The board spent several minutes discussing preparations for drafting an updated Strategic Plan to guide future school improvement efforts. A previous Strategic Plan outlined goals through 2021 but the district has not yet updated the plan because of the COVID pandemic. “Now that COVID is behind us, now is a good time to come up with a new plan for the next few years,” he said.
He recommended reviewing the old plan and identifying which goals were met and which were not, and brainstorming new goals for the next five years. The effort, he said, should involve board members, teachers, administrators and community members.
Board member Schmidt, who was closely involved with writing the last Strategic Plan, said the district should keep the process as streamlined as possible. The last plan, he noted, took upward of six months to create.
“That first meeting, we probably had 25 people here,” he said. “By the time we were done, we were lucky to have three people for a meeting. It went on too long. I would definitely recommend that we not let it drag out too long.”
Owsley said he envisioned a maximum of three or four meetings and hammer out details of a new five-year plan.
In other action, the board:
- Voted to approve an agreement with Loy, Miller, Talley, PC to perform the district’s annual financials at a cost not to exceed $11,695.
- Voted to make public minutes for 19 executive sessions held between March 2017 and April 2020.
- Place on first reading a tentative 2023-24 school calendar for which Owsley will seek final approval next month.