West Carroll Board Clashes Over Building Closure, Curriculum
By MICHAEL MILLER | For The Prairie Advocate News
THOMSON – The relative cold outside could not tamp the heat radiating from the West Carroll Board members on January 16th, as the Board was sharply divided over reports of building closure discussion, and also the proposed “no pass, no play” policy being considered.
The meeting was attended by Board members Jerry Anderson, Bev Kilpatrick, Mike Highland, Tim Atherton, John Brigham and Dawn Rath, with Mark Klein absent. Also attending were District Superintendent Craig Mathers, High School Principal Bob Lamb, Middle School Principal Julie Katzenberger, Special Education/Pre School Principal Pam Delp, Primary/Intermediate School Principal Jeannette Ashby, and Recording Secretary/Business Office Manager Sandra Aude.
Vickie Traeger of the Thomson Board of Trustees rose and addressed reports she’d heard about the Facilities Committee potentially discussing the wisdom, or lack thereof, in closing the Thomson facility to save money. She said she’d also heard reports of the Board visiting the Mount Carroll National Bank for use as a potential administrative facility, and in light of the ongoing transfer of control of the Melon Days property and adjacent land, she wondered if the Board had a potential buyer already and if the Village wasn’t in fact, “being played here”?
Jon Whitney of the Thomson paper asked who asked the Facilities Committee to look into which of four district buildings might be closed (according to reports he’d heard). He requested that a column he wrote objecting to this move be entered into the official record and urged the Board to seek public input before proceeding with said move.
Jennifer Rice asked whether or not the Thomson building was renovated to code, questioning whether or not it was “worthwhile” to keep Savanna High School open as opposed to having the students come to Thomson, and questioned many other expenses.
Kim Caldwell, a West Carroll instructor, said that she felt the Thomson building is “the best place for us.” She noted that their is no access to a gym or a playground in Mt. Carroll. “You can’t just shove the little kids anywhere and expect them to have a good learning environment.”
Highland then addressed most of these comments, noting to Traeger that the Board was approached by the Village in regards to the property matter, and not the other way around. He said that the Facilities Committee was merely assigned to “review” the district’s long range plans.
“At no time at our last board meeting did we tell the Committee to do anything about closing a building . . . we have not had that discussion (as a Board).” He added that the bank building in Mt. Carroll “doesn’t meet our current needs in terms of our financial situation,” and that the Board was invited to tour the building by the bank president, as it is currently for sale.
The Board is not looking at that building as a replacement building, the Board President said, “nor are we looking at closing any of the buildings at this particular point in time, as a board, nor is it an agenda item for this evening.”
Raising the issue at a committee meeting was the action of a particular board member, and does not represent the views of this board, Highland said. He said that this particular member went beyond the scope of the agenda for that meeting in his discussion of such.
As to the issue of renovations, Highland said that he, personally, is “not interested in doing any cosmetic changes to the buildings . . . I would sooner see the parking lots go to dust and use that money to go to education.”
Bill Gengenbach, a reporter for the Review, pointed out that both committee members commented on closing a building, not just one.
An audience member asked if there was any possibility of bringing some classes back to Thomson, and Highland answered that this would depend on many variables, including the potential opening of the Thomson Correctional Center, as well as the ability of the communities to develop economically, in light of the loss of students and population due to low job prospects in the area.
Whitney noted that a committee that liaisons with the Thomson prison has been formed, and has been discussing the possibility of running a day care center through the school.
In Administrative Reports, Delp delivered the good news that the Pre School received a $103,754.00 grant.
Mathers report informed the Board that the attendance rates were down last month due to the influenza outbreak, and that the State of Illinois is currently $916,630.66 behind in payments to the West Carroll School District.
Atherton spoke to the events of the Facilities Committee meeting, noting that he had not “gone rogue” in relation to spending on parking lots and other items, and that these discussions only entailed scenarios where the District had sufficient funds to finance various projects. He said that discussions about the potential closing of a building were in fact, part of the overall agenda of Planned Projects List. “A mountain came out of a molehill with this one,” he added.
Brigham said he’d favor aggressively seeking out a grant writer for the district, which he felt was particularly needed in tough economic times.
Mathers told the Board in the Second Quarter Expenditure Report that most of the revenue for this year was in, save for the Education and Transportation Funds, both of which were heavily impacted by the flow of money from the State. He noted that the fact that the district was operating “under budget” did NOT indicate a “balanced budget”.
The Board elected to leave the closed session minutes from the July to December 2012 meetings closed from public viewing due to issues of safety and the security of staff.
Summer School Updates saw the Board approving a recommendation by Mathers to not bring back Summer School but to offer Summer Driver’s Education classes.
Curriculum discussion sparked a good deal of debate, with Mathers presenting a long laundry list of items for the Board to consider for possible future action. A long and occasionally heated exchange between Atherton and Anderson occurred during talk of instituting the “no pass, no play” policy which would disallow athletes from participating in sports if they should receive even one “F” for a semester grade.
Atherton was strongly in favor of this, but Anderson was leery of it, saying that such a policy might remove the one impetus a student had to be involved in school. Atherton noted that this policy would not mean a student with a failing grade would be kicked off the team, just that he or she could not play.
“This is about educating our students, this is not about our athletes,” he said. Kilpatrick said it might be more accurate and helpful to term this policy “an incentive” to pass, rather than a threat of punishment if you didn’t.
Anderson said that Atherton “wasn’t an athlete” and Atherton said “I was an athlete . . . I was an athlete that was not allowed to fail.” Brigham suggested possibly looking at grades on a weekly basis.
With some confusion about whether the Board was being tasked to actually vote on each particular item, or to simply discuss them, they began the process of voting on each individual measure. There were no objections to initiating Measures of Academic Progress, transitioning keyboarding to the elementary level, on site professional development, requiring four years of math for high school graduation per Common Core alignment, allowing Lamb to do Flex Scheduling (allowing for seven or eight credits) for the High School and instituting a Weighted Grades system.
The Board elected to come back next month for a recommendation on Ashby’s request for more flexibility in allowance of band time for the Primary School.
The idea of closing one of the district buildings due to declining enrollment reared it’s head again during this discussion, with Atherton reporting he’d run different scenarios for this eventuality, favoring an attendance center in each of the three communities, a High School in Mt. Carroll, a Middle School in Thomson and an Elementary School in Savanna. He said this would serve the idea of a transportation hub in each city and would hopefully appease citizens of all communities.
Brigham said (and emphasized) “if” a building were ever to be closed, it didn’t make sense to him to close a more deficient building. Why, he asked, would you keep open a building that needed a lot of costly renovation to keep up to standards?
Kilpatrick favored an attendance center in each community, noting her sympathy for Thomson citizens who have been promised things by the State, the Federal government and the district, some of which did not come to fruition.
Anderson said that before anything is done, he wanted financial facts to base his decision on.
Highland said he did not want to even talk about closing a building for another four years, with Atherton saying he didn’t “want” any building to be closed either, but looking at reality in relation to enrollment and finances, the district is keeping four buildings open when they might be able to fit their students into three. “You, “Atherton said, to Highland, “are trying to appease every single person, and you need to make the hard decision.” Highland disagreed with Atherton’s comment about being able to fit all students into three buildings.
Kilpatrick said that figures based on facts, not maybes, were needed, in light of variables like the potential prison opening.
Another clash occurred when the issue of ‘when’ to discuss this potentiality came up, with Atherton favoring ‘sooner rather than later’ and Highland favoring putting it off until after contract negotiations and other pressing matters. Atherton said that it would “kill him, emotionally” to have to close the Thomson building, if it came to that, but that he felt the overall issue of building closure had to be discussed because of the reality of the situation. When Highland said he wanted the discussion put off until after personnel matters were attended to, and Atherton said, “you’re pushing this off until I’m off this Board, that’s what you’re doing.”
Mathers said it would “take some time” to gather the information they desired, but that he would begin work on it if the Board desired. Brigham and Kilpatrick said that it didn’t mean a closure was imminent just because they were requesting information.