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Tuscola BOE approves their “clean” audit report

By Kendra Hennis 
The board retreat of the Tuscola board of education was called to order on Monday, October 27 at 6 p.m. All members of the board were present. 

Superintendent Gary Alexander had the board members meet to discuss the upcoming health, life, and safety exam, as well as to discuss any projects that the board would like to complete soon. Alexander explained that the health, life, safety exam was yet to be completed, but usually consists of a small evaluation of problems that are identified throughout the school. When Alexander receives these results he will forward them to the board. 

He then provided his recommendation to the board to complete small updates at the high school over time to improve the school, rather than a full remodel as the board has discussed. Board President Cathy Mannen said that she would like the board to create a comprehensive list of their project goals so that they can rank them by order of importance as well as by funds they have available. 

One of the projects the board is considering is updating the high school track. TCHS Athletic Director Ryan Hornaday came to speak to the board about the condition of the track as well as what could be done to fix it. Hornaday noted that the current track is just at the end of its lifetime. He would like the board to consider replacing the current track with a new polyurethane track that would last for the next 20 years. Hornaday explained that the track is often used by 600 plus people a day for EP and TCHS physical education and sports. The current track can present some safety issues for those students. 

The board explained that they were interested in considering replacing the track, but that they have a lot of projects at the school that may be more urgent. Board member Martin Marx explained that the school has been in need of new science labs for 20 years, while Mannen presented that the electricity in the high school and East Prairie both needed upgrades. 

Alexander noted that he would be meeting with the bond person from the school tomorrow and would begin to inquire about some of the board’s questions in regards to funds. He will update the board on their response and the issue will be discussed at upcoming board meetings. 

The board adjourned the board retreat at 6:52 p.m. 

The regular session of the Tuscola board of education was called to order at 7 p.m. on October 26. All board members were present. 

One of the first orders of business was the school’s audit report from auditor Russ Leigh. Leigh explained that the school received a clean audit with no issues. He noted that the budget is in compliance with all state and school codes. He recommended that the board work to keep their expenses under control, but also said they weren’t spending anything outside of the norm. There is a presented issue of a decrease in revenue over the last year, but the last couple of months has shown a steady increase. The board had no questions and unanimously approved the 2019-2020 audit. 

Following, Tuscola High School Principal Steve Fiscus gave his report. Fiscus began with high school sports, saying that they are awaiting guidance from the state of Illinois and IDPH to begin the winter sports season. There should be updated guidelines following their Wednesday meeting so keep an eye out on the school’s social media. The basketball teams are beginning to hold their no-contact days while they await an update in guidance. He also reported that the golf team’s season had ended, with an excellent showing from the underclassmen, including Nate Thomason, Zoey Thomason, Makenna Fiscus, and Marley Good, who had all advanced from regular competition play. The team’s awards night will be held on Tuesday, October 27. He then moved to the cross country team and an update on their season. The season is coming to an end, with only freshman Josiah Hortin moving to Sectionals this weekend. The team has also had an excellent season and will hold an awards night November 10. Fiscus ended the section by thanking all of the coaches and volunteers for their help with the successful season. 

Fiscus then reported to the board that the school had completed a fire drill with the help of the Tuscola Fire Department. He announced that the school would be unable to hold the Veterans Day assembly or breakfast this year. This year on Veteran’s Day, there will be two Tuscola students playing taps at the memorial ceremony at the courthouse as well as the FFA officers and Miss Cendar attending the dedication of the Tuscola Serves signs and handing out treat bags to Veterans. Fiscus said that he hopes the event can be held at full capacity next year and that the Veterans know how much they are appreciated by the school. 

He then commented that he has received 16 interested applicants for the schools new advisory council. Fiscus said that he is excited to see what happens with the new program in the school. The goal is for the group to work directly with him to help connect all parts of the school and make it better. He noted that this semester the school has 65 remote learners, which is down from the first quarter. Fiscus then thanked Amanda Lamb for her donation of three air purifiers to the choir program. The air purifiers help with circulating the air, making it safer and more possible to hold indoor choir. He noted that parent teacher conferences went well, thanking the parents who came in. He then thanked the POW WOWS for their donation of the pixalot cameras. The cameras are being installed at the school on Tuesday and will be very helpful with the future streaming of events. There is going to be a camera installed in the gym as well as the football field. Aside from sporting events, the cameras will be helpful to stream graduations and ceremonies. For viewers, there is a small yearly subscription fee. He also thanked Mr. Vanausdoll for his help with Alice training with the staff. 

Fiscus then noted that SADD is holding Red Ribbon week at the schools. He sent a thanks to Mrs. Hoel and said that he was excited to get more information from SADD and for the dress up days. He reported that Miss Cendar and Mrs. Hanner had received a CTS grant to upgrade the tech in their classrooms that has been very helpful for them and their students. He sadly relayed that the ILMEA Festival at EIU has been canceled this year for solo and ensemble. Fiscus ended by saying that many students had completed the SAT and PSAT two weeks ago, with some retakes being finished up this week. 

East Prairie Principal Jared Vanausdoll reported that it is also Red Ribbon week at the middle school, thanks to the SADD program and Mrs. Hoel. He said that parent teacher conferences also went well at EP, as well as the fire drill. Vanausdoll noted the importance of these drills because they allow the school to identify and fix problems before something goes wrong. Vanausdoll thanked the staff on Thursday for completing Alice training. He said that it went very well, and that each building has an emergency plan ready depending on their individual factors. 

He then congratulated all 100 high honor roll students at East Prairie. He thanked the East Prairie History Club for their presentation at the meeting and noted excitement to see what happens with the program. He reported 40 remote learners this quarter. Vanausdoll then thanked Ford of Tuscola for their snack donation to the students. He ended by saying that the school is awaiting guidance from IEPH in regards to winter sports and their start date.

Following, North Ward Principal Jason Wallace gave his report to the board. Wallace noted that  the fire drill also went well at the elementary school, as well as parent teacher conferences. He thanked those who made it possible and attended the event. Wallace reported that the Kindergarten assessments will be completed in November. He thanked the students as well as the community for their hard work in keeping each other safe. He also thanked the community for the overwhelming support for the school, saying that there are always people asking about donations needed and volunteer opportunities.

Superintendent Alexander began his report on the school’s finances. He followed the audit given prior, saying that as presented, the school only has the ability to change their expenses. He hopes that the school can work on keeping their operating expenses down and the revenue up to aid in that. He reported that things are going well at the building, with locks being installed at the school. He also thanked the TK Martin Memorial VFW for checking on and properly taking care of the school’s flags. Alexander reminded board members that if they would like to be on the April ballot, petitions can be picked up in the office and have to be returned to the Douglas County Courthouse by December 21. 

Alexander then reported that Lyondell is in the beginning stages of what could be a two-year assessment to see if the school needs to reimburse them for up to $125,000. There is only limited information available at this time, but Alexander will continue to update the board as he learns more. He then said that the school will be transferring to a direct wire lightbulb. These will take some time to install at all the schools but will be more efficient. He ended by informing the board that October is National Principal Month and taking the time to thank the three principles for all of their hard work. He said that being a principal is hard, and it has been even more difficult with COVID, and that he appreciates them and all of their hard work. 

In their discussion for the benefit of Tuscola schools, Mr. Marx encouraged board members to reach out to Coach Hornaday and visit the track if they hadn’t. He was able to complete a walk through with him so that Hornaday could point out specific problem areas and it was very helpful. Darold Spillman then included that he was very proud of the students and the schools for doing well and staying open thus far for in-person learning. It has been a lot of work from students, staff, and the community to make it possible 

The board also: 

* Heard a presentation from the East Prairie History Club on their projects from the last school year. The club, sponsored by Mrs. Day and Mrs. Fogerson, allows students to learn more about different people and events throughout history and create a display on what they have learned. 

* Approved a $1,858.72 donation from Lanman Oil Co., Inc for T Club.

* Approved a $500 donation from Equistar for TCHS projects. 

* Approved the minutes from the September 28 regular meeting.

* Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $1,036,956.90.

* Approved the monthly treasurer and bookkeepers reports. 

* Approved Amanda Pfeifer for FMLA leave. 

* Approved closing activity accounts for the Robert Travis Memorial Fund, Dietrich CD, and Barnett CD. 

* Approved moving the December school board meeting from December 28 to December 17. 

* Approved moving to closed session for the purposes defined in 5 ILCS 120/2 (c) (1) (9).

* Approved the resignation of Karen Patterson as NW Paraprofessional.

* Approved the reassignment of Kim Beachy to the technology department. 

* Approved the hiring of Macklin Snyder as volunteer assistant for TCHS boys basketball.

* Approved the hiring of Ashlee Ellerbusch for junior high student council co sponsor. 

* Adjourned until the November 23 school board meeting at 7 p.m.

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