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Tuscola BOE hears concerns about building upgrades

By Kendra Hennis 
The meeting of the Tuscola Board of Education was called to order on Monday, April 25 at 7 p.m. with all members present. 

The board’s first order of business was hearing multiple public comments. The first comment came from Johanna Steffens, English Teacher and TCHS Drama Department Director. Steffens asked the board to consider updating the auditorium as a part of their plans of updating the school. Steffens stated that the space has not had any updates since the school was built, that the students were using old and faulty equipment, and presented concerns of the shared space (the gym is also used for sporting events and practices) causing drama students to lose out on and have to move around their rehearsal times. Steffens commented that an updated space could be used for a multitude of reasons, including but not limited to: theater performances, choir and band concerts, school board meetings, assemblies, ceremonies, banquets, and art shows, and hopes that they will consider it. 

The board also heard comments from TCHS senior Caleb Haste. Haste stated that during his time at TCHS, he has been very involved in the drama department, band, and choir departments; and said he does not feel like those organizations are as supported by the school and school board. Haste commented that the theater students are forced to make due with faulty equipment, while the student athletes are often given new equipment. Haste said it is great that the school is so talented in athletics, but that there are also many gifted students in the arts programs. He additionally added that this year’s Spring Musical was sold out, and believes that things like that could continue with these upgrades. 

Concerned parent Matt Boyer also presented comments to the board. Boyer said that his three children (one who has since graduated) have all been heavily involved in the athletic and arts departments at Tuscola schools, and that he and his family think that that is wonderful and very important for them. Boyer commented that he believed the school board should use some of the bond money received to update the stage for the students. Boyer stated that the drama department puts on wonderful shows and is very supported by the community, but he doesn’t feel that same support from the school. Boyer then stated that he believes the arts are extremely important for students and that they allow them to have a place where they feel supported and can fuel their passions. He ended by stating that he believes that the drama department should not have to beg for their equipment to be replaced and asked the board to invest in the students and look at replacing the stage. 

The board then heard comments from North Ward Preschool teachers DeAnn Brookins and Deanna Kerner. They thanked the board for coming to talk to their classes and brought cards and cookies for the board for their appreciation. 

The final comments from the board came from TCHS students Thomas Brown and Makenzie Hershberger. They presented on behalf of the Illini Prairie CEO program and invited the board and all others who were interested to come out to their trade show on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Community Building. At the trade show, all of the students from the program will be displaying the businesses they have spent the semester working on. Brown also read a letter from Illini Prairie CEO facilitator Mac Condill, who thanked the board and students for everything over the last few years, but informed them that he would be stepping down from his position at the end of this year. 

Following approval of the consent agenda, North Ward Principal Jason Wallace gave his report to the board. He stated that the Pre-K/Kindergarten screening held earlier this month went well, and thanked all for their assistance with that. He noted that the Kiwanis Easter Egg Hunt was held at the school on April 7, that IAR testing was completed, and that the third and fourth grade students had a wonderful trip to Skateland last week thanks to funds raised by the Wellness Committee. Wallace stated that the PTO Tiger Trot was coming up on May 6, that MAPS spring assessments would be happening at the school soon, that the Kindergarten classes enjoyed their trip to the Douglas Hart Nature Center, and that some teacher appreciation events were coming up at the school. He noted that with the end of the year the students are able to enjoy some different trips, and that the second graders would be visiting the Parkland Planetarium and Elevate soon, Pre-K would be visiting Douglas Hart Nature Center on May 13, fourth grade students will be visiting the St. Louis Science Center, first graders are going to Scovill Zoo on May 19, and all students will enjoy days at Ervin Park at the end of May. Wallace noted that the spring music program will be held on May 12 at 2 and 7 p.m., thanked all of the staff involved at North Ward for all of their hard work, and said he was looking forward to all of the events coming up before the end of the year. 

East Prairie Principal Jared Vanausdoll followed with his report. He stated that track was in full swing, that the school had hosted two meets last week that went well, and thanked all for their help with making those possible. He noted that last week, Mrs. Weinke invited former Illini football player and NFL draftee Vederian Lowe to talk to students and said that it was a wonderful and very well received day. Vanausdoll stated that IAR testing had been completed and thanked all for that, that ISA testing was being completed by fifth and eighth grade students, that yearbooks had been completed and delivered, and noted that the Scholastic Bowl team received the number one seed for their Regional competition that will be held on Wednesday in St. Joe. He noted that the spring music concert will be held on May 8 at 2 p.m. at TCHS, that Promotion would be held at 7 p.m. on May 26 at TCHS, that May 25 and 26 would be Fun Days at the school. Vanausdoll ended by thanking all who have donated to the Hoops for Hearts campaign at the school. He stated that this year students were able to raise $4,763 and have a 13-year total of over $55,000 raised. 

Tuscola High School Principal Steve Fiscus then gave his report to the board. He began with a big thank you to Ted Wiese for coming to present his leadership program at the school. Fiscus said that he received wonderful feedback from students and he believes that it is the most useful assembly for students that the school has held in his time with the school. He stated that PSAT/SAT testing held on April 13 went well, that the Illinois Science Assessment went well, that MAPS testing would be completed in May, and that the MTSS team is getting information together for ways they can improve the Freshman Academy next year. He noted that May 2 would kick off Mental Health Awareness Month, that the spring sports teams were having a great season, and noted that the school would be hosting the upcoming softball regionals on May 17 and boys track sectionals on May 18. Fiscus ended with noting some upcoming dates at the school: prom will be held this Saturday with coronation in the gym at 6 p.m., the Spring Concert will be held on May 8 at 5 p.m., Honor’s Day will be held May 20 at 10 a.m., Finals will be held May 24-26 with an altered schedule for students, and graduation will be held May 28 at 7 p.m. 

Superintendent Gary Alexander followed with his report. He noted that they are going to continue to watch their expenses with finances, and that he is working on a new budget to reflect the grant money received and the sale of bonds. He stated that the school was working on compiling a list of needs for the use of SR3 funding. He noted that the school board conference will be held November 18 and 20 if any members are interested, that all 21 TCHS students who had applied for the Mattoon LIFT Program were accepted for next year, and that construction has begun over the last few Saturdays in convenient spots in the school. He noted the OMNI has been looking at the sewer and drainage system and electrical panels, and presented some options to the board as recommended by OMNI. He said that OMNI recommended a spot for a new transformer and also recommended fixing the sewer in the back circle drive of the school. The board plans to continue the conversation at upcoming board meetings. 

The board then moved to discussion of a possible new scoreboard at the football field at the high school. The previous board was destroyed in a storm last year. At the last meeting, Tuscola Athletic Director Ryan Hornaday presented two different options for replacement of the board. The first was a step-up from the old system that they had in place. The second option was a very high tech and full upgrade that he stated he believed could be used by many students for a variety of events. Following that discussion, Hornaday hoped that they would be able to get a list of sponsors to help pay costs of the board that was not possible by this meeting. In response to conversation, board member Darold Spillman stated that he would not like to make a decision right now, and would instead like to see if the school can raise the money for the more expensive board through donations, sponsorships, and advertising. He noted that the school does still have one operating scoreboard that will work for the time being, and that he wanted more time to make a good decision and do the best they could for students. Board member Wade Wilcox agreed and stated that he would be happy to assist in any way he can with fundraising efforts. The board ended with hopes that they would get an idea about fundraising and then will revisit the topic at future board meetings. 

The board also:
* Approved a $100 donation from Ta’Carbon for EP Fun Days. 

* Approved the District Handbook for 2022-2023.

* Approved the minutes from the March 28, 2022 regular meeting. 

* Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $826,508.40.

* Approved the monthly Treasurer and Bookeeper’s Reports.

* Approved the IESA membership fees.

* Approved a $0.10 lunch fee for 2022-23.

* Approved a $8 PBIS fee for North Ward students.

* Approved the Consolidated District Plan.

* Approved a MOU with TEA.

* Approved Superintendent Alexander begin the bid processes for a fence at North Ward.

* Approved moving to closed session for the purposes defined in 5 ILCS 120/2 (c)(1)-Personnel, 5 ILCS 120/2 (c)(2)-Negotiating Matters, 5 ILCS 120/2 (c)(9)-Student Discipline, and 5 ILCS 120/2 (c)(11)-Pending Litigation. 

* Approved the resignation of Beth Pugh as East Prairie Teacher. 

* Approved the resignation of Athena Lareau as National Honor Society Sponsor.

* Approved the hiring of Megan Peters as the EP Cheer Coach.

* Approved the hiring of Bridget Dicks as EP Paraprofessional. 

* Adjourned until the May 2022 board of education meeting.

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