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Tuscola BOE approves new track and tentative tax levy

By Kendra Hennis
In a night of multiple meetings, the Tuscola Board of Education began their board retreat at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 23 with all board members present. 

Superintendent Gary Alexander began by reminding the board that they were about to pay off the working cash bonds for the school, meaning that they could soon issue another to complete new projects. The board agreed that they had two options to attack the to-do list. The first was for them to complete smaller goals using the working cash bonds. The other option was for the board to come to a consensus on a list of projects, and take out a bond to complete all of them. 

Board member Bob Devlin told the board that he had talked with Villa Grove Board of Education President Jim Clark about the large projects that they had just completed at the school. Clark told him that the school had hired a construction company to come in and make a “five-year plan” that the board is able to agree on, and develop a plan to complete the projects. Devlin says that he likes the idea of working with the company because it would allow the board complete the projects and refocus their energy on other things in the school. Fellow board members agreed that they would rather complete one large project and would like to hear what the company has to say. Alexander said the company also aids in his role because they manage everything and coordinate with him. Board member Brad Ingram said that it is important that the board thinks about the big picture with this because Tuscola is one of the last schools in the area to complete a big remodel, and they are able to see what other schools did and make the best decisions. Alexander is going to try to set up a meeting with them to tour the high school and discuss the board’s goals and invite them to the December 17 board retreat to meet with the board. The board adjourned from the retreat at 6:52 p.m. 

The board followed by beginning the Full-Day School Improvement Waiver Hearing at 7 p.m. The hearing is necessary for the board to have in order for them to take advantage of two full school improvement days. The board unanimously approved the waiver and moved to regular session.

The regular session of the Tuscola board of education meeting was called to order at 7:11 p.m. on Monday, November 23. 

Following the approval of the 2020 tentative tax levy, the board moved to Principal’s Reports, beginning with North Ward Principal Jason Wallace. Wallace began by announcing that the K-Kids had raised $1,194 in a penny race for the Walker family. They were also given an additional $100 donation for the Walkers. Wallace sent his thanks to all who participated and his appreciation for Mr. Walker. He also said that while they missed celebrating the Veterans this year, North Ward students had sent letters to Brookstone for Veteran’s Day. Wallace ended by saying that he was amazed by the kids and their resiliency. He sent thank you’s to the parents, students, and staff for all of their hard work. 

High School Principal Steve Fiscus then began his report. He announced that high school sports had ended, with freshman Josiah Hortin finishing in 80th place in an unofficial state meet. All other sports are currently on pause as directed by Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health. Fiscus then said that Veteran’s Day was different this year and sad without the Veterans to celebrate with, but that students had enjoyed a GoogleMeet with Coronel Laurie Burchow, FFA officers handed out treats at the Tuscola Serves signs dedication, Jackson Burlew and Justine Kauffman played TAPS at the Veteran’s Day Memorial, and that the TCHS concert band played a small socially-distant concert in the cafeteria. He then announced that semester 1 finals had been cancelled due to the number of changes throughout the semester. He noted that this would also allow everyone to have one less stress. Fiscus then sent his appreciation to Ms. Voyles who had renewed her National Board Certification. He also sent his congratulations to semester graduates Donovan Chester, Shelbi Fleener, Lukas Hastings, Jimmy Rexroad-Campbell, Kimberly Summerville, and Meadow Picazo. Fiscus ended announcing that the student advisory committee met last week with 16 students. He said that the kids were very involved and wanted to do a lot of good for the school. They set some goals and are going to meet again in a couple weeks. 

East Prairie Principal Jared Vanusdoll began by congratulating Jackson Burlew and Mr. Cowzert on an excellent TAPS performance at the Veteran’s Day Ceremony. He also announced that the junior high band and choir is working on recording a virtual concert, that Kiwanis and Mrs. Fisher had teamed up to collect a large donation for service members, that IESA athletics were on hold, and that he was excited to join the IESA board to represent the district. 

The board then moved to Superintendent Gary Alexander’s report. Alexander explained that this month’s finances are high due to the school’s bond payment. He noted that the school has done well in watching their operating expenses and that is it is important that the revenue stay the same. Alexander then added that all summer projects had been completed, reminded board members that they are mandated reporters, congratulated Darcey Voyles on her recertification of her National Board Certificate, and reported that Tuscola schools had received a commendable rating on the school’s report card. He then told the board that Tuscola Realty wants to change the assessed value of the property and has submitted a petition to do so. Following, the board signed a resolution for the filing of the request to intervene. 

During discussion of the consent agenda, the board returned to discussion of replacing the track at the high school. Board President Cathy Mannen said that she has thought a lot about replacing the track at the school. Noting that it is a tricky decision because there is a lot of association of track with sports and it is important that it is for the benefit of the entire student body. But saying ultimately that she believes that replacing the track does benefit the entire school and East Prairie who use it for physical education and sports as well as the community. The board noted that there are currently enough funds in the sales tax money to cover the cost of the new track, which is an estimated $251,000. The board approved the replacement of the track with the note that they would be working on building a plan to address all of the problem areas at the school and how to fix them.

The board also:

• Approved a $2,300 donation from James and Jessi Young for EP Special Ed Cromebooks. 

• Approved a $1,000 donation from James and Jessi Young for NW Special Ed Classroom.

• Approved a $100 donation from Central Illinois Mutual Insurance for FFA.

• Approved a $6,674.27 donation from ADM for FFA Grain Plot.

• Approved an anonymous $100 donation for North Ward milk, coats, and hats. 

• Approved the minutes from the October 26 regular board meeting. 

• Approved the minutes from the November 5 special board meeting. 

• Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $1,748,023.18. (This includes a $983,462.50 bond payment)

• Approved the 2020 Tentative Tax Levy. 

• Discussed that the proposed board member election question on the ballot had failed. To move to an at-large election it would have to have passed in all precincts or by 2/3 majority. 

• Discussed that the period to file school board election petitions was approaching. Petitions must be filed in the Douglas County Clerk’s Office at the Courthouse between December 14 and 31 to be on the March ballot. 

• Approved membership in the TIPS Cooperative Purchasing Group. 

• Discussed the possibility of adding in policy for online viewers to ask questions. Alexander said that he would look into it, and in the meantime encouraged people to email their comments to him before the meeting. 

• Approved moving to closed session to for the purposes defined in 5 ILCS 120/2 (c) (1)-Personnel, ILCS 120/2 (c) (9)-Student Discipline, ILCS 120/2 (c) (10)-Student Matters. 

• Approved the resignation of Maddie Cender as TCHS AG Instructor/FFA Sponsor. 

• Approved the hiring of Katherine Burlew as EP Library Aide.

• Approved the hiring of Michael Bingman as NW Paraprofessional.

• Adjourned until the Decmeber 17 board meeting

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