By Kendra Hennis
The meeting of the Tuscola Board of education was called to order at 7 p.m. on August 23 with all members present.
The board began by hearing multiple public comments. The first came from Katie Burlew who recognized all of the wonderful aids in the Tuscola school district, and said that they needed to be paid more fairly. Burlew explained that while the base rate had increased for aids in the school, she did not believe fair raises had been given throughout the years. Burlew asked the board to consider an increase in pay rate. They then heard from pastor Jason Bratten who said he was there on behalf of the students in his congregation. Bratten asked the board to reconsider their mask mandate, saying the parents should be able to make the decision. He also presented his concerns with requiring masks in classrooms.
Brad Donnals then gave public comment in support of the mask mandate, and asked the board and educators to work to gain the public’s support of the mandate. Donnals noted that there have been a lot of things that had been changed and opened up a little at the school, however masks are mostly the focus. Donnals also said that the school had a lot of success last year with masks, and asked why they would take the risk without them. Breanna Gensler followed with concern of her student wearing a mask all day in the heat of the school. She asked the board if there were any options to allow students more mask breaks and opportunities to get more air.
In discussion of the mask mandate, superintendent Gary Alexander explained that the August 4 mandate by Governor Pritzker required masks in schools. Alexander explained that while most schools want local control on the issue, the Illinois State Board of Education has set guidelines that currently govern schools. He warned that schools not complying with the mandate will be put on probation and given 60 days before they have to to meet with the ISBE board and potentially lose their accreditation. Alexander also said that federal and state funding could possibly also be withheld, meaning the school could potentially lose $1.8 million should they choose not to comply. Some of the other issues include loss of service credit for administrative and teacher retirement, loss of TORT immunity for board members, and loss of all association with the IHSA and IESA. He explained that if the school is not allowed to participate with the IHSA and IESA then they will be unable to participate in all sports and extracurricular events within the program. Board member Bob Devlin explained that he personally does not agree with the decision, however he said that if they did not agree to the mandate he believes they would be doing a disservice to students and staff. Board member Levi Miller stated that he believed that parents should have the choice and stated that they needed to stand up for their children. Following, Miller resigned from the Tuscola Board of Education. However, it was noted that Miller planned on resigning prior to the meeting due to a move out of his ward.
In his principal’s report, North Ward Principal Jason Wallace said that the first five days of school were going great and that it was nice to see students doing well. He said that the summer camps were very successful as well as welcome back night. Wallace noted that kindergarten started today and that preschool would be beginning soon. Wallace also made note of the new pick up and drop off signs at North Ward, and thanked Ms. Holmes for making them. Wallace then sent out a thank you and shout out to all of the staff for all of their hard work.
East Prairie Principal Jared Vanausdoll followed, noting that enrollment was up 24 students from last year, with 314 in the school. He thanked the maintenance staff for all of their hard work, saying that the building looked great. Vanausdoll said that information night on Thursday went well and thanked you all for coming. He ended with some thank you’s to Gould Bus Service for their help with the bus evacuation drill, Tracy Hornaday and Kim Beachy for getting the Chromebooks ready for students, and to everyone for their help and patience with registration last week.
TCHS Principal Steve Fiscus also began his report with some thank yous to Gould Bus Service in the building and grounds committee for making things look great. He noted some dates upcoming at the school: golf began tonight with the Tuscola invite, cross country tomorrow, volleyball had their opening game tonight, football begins on Friday with the 107th Cola War in Arcola. Homecoming will be held Sept 20-25, Powder Puff on September 22, Pep Rally at 1 p.m. on September 24, Parade at 2:30 p.m. on September 24, Coronation on Saturday, September 25 at 7 p.m., Dance from 8 to 11 p.m., and the fall play begins September 30. Fiscus said that show and event tickets were still available on Go Fan and that all postseason events would require users to use the app for tickets. However, the school would have paper passes for regular season games. Fiscus noted that there are currently no spectator limits at this time and said to please come support the students. He did remind, however, that masks are still required for all indoor events by all who attend. Fiscus said that POWWOWS would be providing tailgating at football games this season, and that there would be no golf carts allowed on the track. However, they will have parking for golf carts in the east grassy area. Fiscus ended saying that he was so excited for the advisory period revision this year, which allowed for clubs to do meetings during school time and the possibility of providing more one-on-one attention for students who need it.
Superintendent Alexander followed with his report to the board. He said that the budget is still in a preliminary state and that the majority of the revenue is based on last year‘s numbers. Alexander said that they are estimated to receive $2.4 million in revenue as well as evidence-based funding in September. Alexander then reported that small holes were patched in the roof of the North Ward school and that new lighting was installed outside of all schools. He noted that enrollment was up 26 students this year with a total of 978 in the district.
The board also:
* Heard a presentation from Omni Energy Partners and Grey Design in regards to the ideas they currently have for the school redesign. In the high school, they are currently discussing a complete redesign of all science classrooms and labs, a new counseling suite, and a more efficient family consumer sciences room. At East Prairie, they are looking at a STEAM room, new science classrooms, and an upgrade to the lecture hall. They are also looking at updating the HVAC in all buildings.
* Heard a presentation from David at First MidState Bank about potential bonds. He explained that in the current situation, the school would do best to get a Debt Certificate Funding Bond. He explained the process if they chose to consider this, as well figures associated.
* Approved the tentative 2021 budget and set a hearing for September 27 at 7 p.m. before the regularly scheduled board meeting.
* Approved the Administrative Policy and Procedures Revision #107.
* Approved the minutes from the July 27 regular board meeting.
* Approved the bills in the amount of $1,240,852.57.
* Approved the monthly Treasurer and Bookkeeper’s Reports.
* Approved moving to closed session.
* Approved the resignation of Tedra Nelk as social worker.
* Approved the resignation of Lori Griffth as teacher.
* Approved the resignation of Kyle Walker as custodian.
* Approved the resignation of Cortney Hall as paraprofessional.
* Approved the hiring of Ashley Todd as paraprofessional.
* Approved the hiring of Tabitha Baird as North Ward Teacher.
* Approved the hiring of Shannon Bishop as paraprofessional.
* Approved the hiring of Kelsey Anderson as library aide.
* Approved the hiring of Kyle Sweeney as custodian.
* Approved the hiring of Eric Hastings as custodian.
* Adjourned until the September budget hearing at 7 p.m.