West Carroll Says ‘No’ to Home Schooled in Sports, ‘Yes’ to 1% Sales Tax
By MICHAEL MILLER | For The Prairie Advocate News
MOUNT CARROLL – The West Carroll School Board opted to keep the current policy regarding not allowing home schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, while moving ahead with the process to put a proposal for a county wide one percent sales tax on the April ballot, at the September 17th, 2013 meeting of the Board at the Middle School in Mt. Carroll.
This meeting was attended by Board members Bev Kilpatrick, President Mike Highland, Jerry Anderson, John Brigham, Mark Klein and Dawn Rath, with Jennifer Rice absent. Also attending were Principals Bob Lamb, Julie Katzenberger, Jeannette Ashby, and Superintendent Craig Mathers. \Brad Field was absent.
Board Adopts Deficit Budget
A brief public hearing on the 2013-2014 was held prior to the meeting, with Mathers submitting relevant information regarding the District’s financial situation. Some of the highlights of that presentation were General State Aid being prorated at 89 percent, and a transportation proration at $109,752.00. Health, Life and Safety funds allocated for the boiler project were at $240,100.00, and funds received from the State of Illinois ($456,481.00) for FY 2013 were not included in the budget revenue. Local tax revenue received in June of 2013 is included in the budget, as well as Maintenance Grant and Energy Grant funds.
Overall, the district will be operating at $1,395,536.00 deficit, with Education, Transportation, Operations and Maintenance, IMRF/Social Security Working Cash, and Health, Life, Safety Fund balances all in a negative balance.
The Board adopted this budget, with a deficit reduction plan on the agenda for later in the meeting.
Mathers subbed for the absent Field, and in response to a question from Kilpatrick, explained that the recent problems with Board members and others receiving emails was due to some spamming that was overloading servers, and also because some students had synchronized their phones to their new laptops and those phones didn’t have all the security measures that the laptops do. As a result, some people had been “blacklisted” incorrectly and steps were being taken to correct this.
Kilpatrick also asked how the new laptops were being received, having heard some negative comments about them. Lamb responded that he’d seen “99 percent of the kids” taking home homework, and Mathers reinforced this by saying, “I see them using them all the time . . . I see them using them in the classroom all the time . . . this is going to be a learning experience, because we are taking it from the teachers’ comfort zone, into the kids’ comfort zone. We’re going into their environment.”
Lamb reported that Summer Driver’s Education is still taking place, with 2 students still driving due to late August birthdays. He said that first semester drivers’ education has 46 students enrolled, with 17 of those being fourteen years old.
The principal lauded the school web pages, calling the school web page “one of the best school websites I’ve ever seen, as far as information available to the people.” He particularly lauded the teacher web pages.
Mr. Lamb briefly discussed the changing college entrance landscape, noting that ten years ago the two elements that colleges looked for admissions were class rank and SAT scores, but now the number one criteria is a student’s grades in college prep courses, with strength of curriculum second.
Lamb also noted that the new PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment for College and Careers) will be replacing ISAT and PSAE testing will be an online test and as such is part of the 1:1 initiative. West Carroll, Lamb explained, has been chosen for a “trial run” in the spring.
He also said that after talking with people from River Ridge, Eastland and Byron concerning their policies, he had decided to allow students to take their laptops on the school buses, with the kids’ still being responsible for those devices.
“I think we should go ahead and try it,” Highland agreed, with the rest of the board appearing to assent as well.
Mathers reported that once again the district lost about 3 percent of its enrollment which is consistent for what has been happening to the district since its inception.
He gave a quick overview of a new plan by the State of Illinois to form a consortium to try to defray rising health insurance benefits costs for school employees, with Blue Cross/Blue Shield initially hesitant but eventually coming on board. More information is to follow.
After a Teachers Retirement System (TRS) meeting at the Primary School, Mathers was asked to make West Carroll the first district to Skype individual meetings with TRS.
Deficit Reduction Plan
The superintendent then addressed the deficit budget reduction plan. He gave a brief historical summation of where the district has been, noting that every year for the past seven years, each March the Board has had to discuss and make budget cuts, totaling just about 4 million dollars in cuts since fiscal year 2007. The district has, during that time, lost money due to cuts in General State Aid, Transportation reimbursement and requested funds from the federal government. His reduction plan assumed that the district would get all the funds in general state aid and transportation funding next year but not that the one percent sales tax would pass.
Mathers said all the potential cuts he’d discussed in the plan would total about $929,000.00, over a period of three years, but that “none of this is set in stone.”
“We can get out of the hole if everything plays the right way,” Mathers said, noting that if the district gets all its General State Aid and mandated categories from the State, that would come to about 1.2 million dollars. “You’re going to have to make some tough decisions on education in the district,” he told the Board. “Where do we go from here?”
Highland reminded the Board that these are “possibilities, not absolutes.” He added that “if the High School continues to lose population over the next three years,” it might be feasible to reduce the number of buildings from four to two, not just three as had been previously discussed.
“If the big “if” prison doesn’t come in and doesn’t generate any population for us and we continue to lose population of students, then maybe we have to look at going from four buildings to two buildings. I’m just throwing that out as a possibility.”
He added it might be possible to look at eliminating “non revenue” sports in March, dovetailing on Mathers’ comment on potentially reducing budget in athletics. He added this was just a suggestion. “We might have to think beyond our normal thought processes to reach what we need to over the next three years.
“We definitely need to encourage the community to support the one percent sales tax,” Highland said.
Mathers said there was a good chance that up to five bus drivers might retire which would automatically afford the district a $40,000.00 savings by replacing veteran drivers with those “at the bottom of the pay scale.”
‘No Home Schooled Participation in Extracurricular’ Policy Upheld
Despite the pleas of several parents at the previous meeting, after deliberation and sending the matter to the policy committee, the Board elected to leave the current ban on allowing home schooled children within the district to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports.
Highland said he’d had more contact and phone calls on this issue than on any other he’d had since he’d been on the board, a full nine years worth, somewhere between 75 and 100 contacts.
“Not one was in favor . . .” of this proposition, he added. “Not a single one made inquiries of the budget.” 25 or 30 of these wondered why the district was even offering classes such as music for the home schooled.
Kilpatrick said she too had never had so much contact with residents regarding an issue, with similar feelings. “Not a one supported it, not one.” She said she didn’t use this necessarily as a determining factor for her final decision on the matter.
“I want to tell you,” she told the small group of parents assembled. “In all honesty, I agonized over this. I lost sleep over it.” She said she tried to put herself in their position and ultimately decided that if she had sent her child away to a Catholic school for an education, she would not have expected to have that child participate in West Carroll extracurricular activities.
“I could not have done that,” she said. “We have to be fair to the students who come to school every day who have to live by the handbook.” She agreed with keeping the current policy.
Brigham said that he had heard some in favor of this change, and that those in favor outweighed those against, though he added that may have been because they knew he had expressed interest in changing the policy at previous meetings.
Hearing no other comments on the matter, the Board by default elected to stay with current policy.
One Percent Sales Tax Discussion
In the wake of the presentation early this month by Dr. James Burgett and Shawn McCarthy of Stifel, Nicolaus and Company regarding the dynamics and impact of a county wide one percent sales tax, Mathers opened the floor up for discussion on the topic and where the district wanted to take it from there.
Kilpatrick said “I certainly think that we need it . . . I was only sorry that we didn’t have more people present when Dr. Burgett made his presentation . . .” She said she was reluctant to move forward now because she wasn’t sure that putting it on the ballot in April and letting people think about it over the winter holidays might not be feasible.
“I think it has to go on the April ballot,” Highland replied. “Because the funds come in October and you get them a lot sooner than if you wait for November . . . I remember an old proverb, “silence is consent,” and I think that if you don’t have people showing up, then that means that they are OK with what’s going on . . . I think that the absence of a crowd signifies that the people are more interested than at any other time with going along with what the one percent sales tax represents.”
He credited people at the meeting for showing up and getting the word out regarding the district’s poor financial situation in the spring, reasoning that now people understood how badly the district could use the tax revenues.
Klein agreed, saying “We need to move forward on it now . . . sitting and discussing what educational things we don’t want to offer our children anymore . . . what a nightmare that is . . . this is something that will move us in a positive direction . . . we have to get the message out to the public.”
“I think we can do it but I would rather wait and do it right than rush into it and have it fail again,” Kilpatrick said.
Klein said he felt public awareness of the district’s finances was high right now and didn’t want to wait, reasoning that if time elapsed that awareness might fade.
Highland wanted to propose a resolution to move ahead with putting it on the ballot. Kilpatrick emphasized that if they move forward, it was a “commitment for everybody, not just Craig.”
Brigham said they might get some good feedback if it was put on the agenda for next month. Kilpatrick wondered if presentations to area groups might be a good idea first to gauge opinion, but Highland said the first thing to do was the resolution. Kilpatrick noted that there were organizations invited to the public presentation on the tax and they did not attend.
Mathers suggested an online survey to determine where citizens wanted the revenue from the proposed tax to go. Highland and everyone seemed to agree the survey was a good idea, and the matter was to be put on next month’s agenda for a possible resolution adoption.
Mathers updated the Board on the boiler project, saying that the demolition of the faulty boilers had begun and that by the 23rd of October all boilers should be replaced and back on line. Highland complimented the construction crew on their willingness to cooperate with and respect the daily activities of the school and their diligence in not interfering with such.
The Board elected to accept the bid from J.C.Carey Motors for $18,999.00 for a Special Education Vehicle, specifically a new Chevrolet Equinox FWD, including a trade-in of a Chevy Malibu and a Chrysler Town and Country vehicle.
Per a new state law which requires districts to have Catastrophic Medical Insurance for those participating in sporting events, the Board elected to go with Lockhart and Law for this coverage.
The Board let for bid the coverage for Workman’s Compensation Insurance from December 1st 2013 to December 1st 2014.
The Board next voted to add Franklin Templeton to the list of tax sheltered annuities for the district, by unanimous consent.
The Board moved into executive session shortly afterward.
West Carroll School Board meetings are held on the third Wednesdays of each month at 5:30 pm. They are generally held at the Thomson Intermediate School, in the library, but may occasionally be held at the other West Carroll sites. The public is welcome to attend.