Board discusses security upgrades at East Prairie

By Kendra Hennis 
The meeting of the Tuscola Board of Education was called to order at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 8. The board met in social-distancing format and live-streamed the meeting using the Tuscola CUSD 301 Facebook page. 

District Bookkeeper Jerri Quinn joined the meeting to give her further input in reference to the security upgrades at East Prairie that the board has been discussing for several monthly meetings. Mrs. Quinn and East Prairie Secretary Mrs. Brandenburg talked extensively about what they believed would work best for the building. They like the idea of repurposing the old Industrial Arts room stating, “you and previous boards have mentioned bringing IA back from time to time but no opinions or plans have been discussed. So, how long do you plan on keeping the space hostage, collecting dust and cobwebs?” She also noted that “no member of the board ever asked she or Mrs. Brandenburg, who have worked in the office for years, what they thought about the plans,” and stressed that “East Prairie needs to take the same security measures as North Ward and the High School.”

The board also received a thank-you from the family of Bill Sargent for flowers sent to the funeral. 

East Prairie Principal Carol Munson reported to the board about some of the things that happened in March before the schools were moved to an online format. Stacy Welch from Shaylnn’s Hope gave a “steered straight” presentation to the students on the dangers of vaping and marijuana. She was also able to join Mrs. Fogerson on taking eight sixth graders to a student leadership conference on March 5. She said it was “an amazing day” and the students had a very cool experience to speak with a Holocaust survivor. 

High School Principal Steve Fiscus followed thanking everyone for their hard work put into the success of the Warrior Store. He also congratulated the success of the Drama department on their hard work on the production of the spring musical The Addams Family. He then told the board about the new policy at the high school where they will begin emailing parents about discipline reports, rather than sending home slips to possibly get lost, forgotten, or thrown away. Fiscus then informed the board that the high school had received a $12,500 Illinois Opportunity Grant that will be used toward the AG mechanics program. He also noted that eighth grade promotion had been postponed and said that Mr. Bozarth will be sending out information to students. He ended by talking to the board about the state of IHSA and spring sports. Currently, they are updating weekly as  events unfold and discussing the possibility of having a late start this spring. 

North Ward Principal Jason Wallace sent out a thank-you to everyone for all of their hard work and support over the last few weeks and told everyone to “keep taking things one week at a time.”

In his Superintendent’s Report, school Superintendent Gary Alexander began with a look at the school’s finances. He reported that things were on track, but informed the board that there was some concern with the fair tax proposal. He is unsure of the way the funding will go, but is hopeful that evidence-based funding is received for the school year. 

In regards to building updates, two water heaters in the high school were replaced. He also informed the board that there was a bill previously working in the house of representatives in reference to schools who have a Native American named mascot. He wrote our representative about the matter, but nothing has moved forward due to the current state of things.

Mr. Alexander reported that the school received a FOIA request that was completed from a reporter in Chicago about the school’s grading scale. He also would like to move the date of the May meeting due to the holiday, which the board will decide on at the meeting on April 27. 

Finally, Alexander reported that he spoke to Parkland College about dual credit classes moving forward. Parkland would begin charging $41.04 per student. Due to the COVID-19 situation they have been unable to move forward with the matter. Mr. Spillman asked if the school would consider transferring their dual credit classes to another university which Mr. Alexander replied would be a possibility and they will continue to discuss the matter further meetings. 

The biggest discussion of the night, as it has been for the last couple of monthly meetings, was about security upgrades at East Prairie. The board decided to proceed by going around and each voicing their opinions on the matter and what they believed the best steps to take are moving forward. None of the board members came to a cohesive decision on what to do with the space. Each had individual concerns about moving forward but offered valuable feedback. 

Mr. Spillman disagrees with moving forward on a large project, he says that this scale of an upgrade is unnecessary and that we need to focus on “finishing phase one”. He opted for another option which included adding a vestibule and moving the unit office, this plan will be given to the architects on the projects to see if it would be feasible. 

The biggest obstacle the board faces in moving forward is the possible removal of the industrial art space to convert to office space. The school board had to vote 10 years ago to remove the program at a middle school level and since then the space has sat vacant. The board wants to eventually be able to reinstall industrial arts in the middle school level, and worries that removing the space would make that impossible.

Board President Cathy Mannen told the board it was important for them to look back at their goals; which was to update the physical entrance and make it more secure for students, staff and administrators. She noted the concerns of no space and storage for the office, no privacy, the issue of district officer office visitors having to go through the main office, and of course the issue of security. She said that of the four options the first option of re-purposing what was once the industrial art space makes the most sense, but says that Mr. Spillman brings interesting data that allows for further discussion. She said that it is important to respect the history of the industrial arts program and that it is possible to eventually expand the program to the high school at a middle school level. 

Mr. Alexander said that “he’s happy with any decision the board makes, it is important to address the security upgrades and it can be further discussed at the next meeting.“

The board then presented the district handbook for the 2021-2022 school year. Mrs. Mannen asked the board if they had any questions about the handbook they had received. Mr. Spillman has some clarifying questions in reference to signing out at the high school as well as when school would be getting out for the day. 

The board also: 

* Approved the minutes from the February 24 regular board meeting.

* Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $805,062.96.

* Approved the monthly Treasurer and Bookkeeper’s reports. 

* Approved a donation of $175 from Dennis and Mary Beth Operman for Social Skills.

* Approved a donation of $100 form Bonnie Christman for FFA.

* Approved a donation of $372 from Nike for the East Prairie PE program. 

* Approved a transportation extension with Gould Bus Service for the 2020-2021 school year.

* Approved school membership in the IHSA for the 2020-2021 school year. 

* Approved school membership with the IESA for the 2020-2021 school year. 

* Approved moving to closed session to discuss personnel and student discipline. 

* Approved the hiring of Jennifer Nolan as a Special Education Teacher. 

* Approved the hiring of Nolan Woller for the North Ward PE Teacher. 

* Approved the resignation of Samantha Henson at a Paraprofessional. 

* Adjourned until the April 27 regular board meeting at 7 p.m.

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