Longtime GCMS school board member resigns

By ROSS BROWN
bluehavanaross@gmail.com


GIBSON CITY — The Gibson City-Melvin Sibley school district’s superintendent, Jeremy Darnell, thanked longtime school board member Steve Swearingen for his service during the board’s meeting Monday night, after the Melvin farmer submitted his resignation two weeks earlier.

“Steve has been a longstanding supporter and advocate of GCMS, Ford County and the kids of our schools,” Darnell said. “I want to make sure we recognize him for that service, and we greatly appreciate it.”

Swearingen submitted his letter of resignation to Darnell on Feb. 11 for “personal reasons.” Darnell made the public aware of Swearingen’s decision in a post on the district’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon.

Swearingen, a lifelong Melvin resident and farmer, served parts of the past 18 years on the board. Swearingen was first elected in April 2001 and was re-elected in April 2005 before resigning in spring 2007. He then won a contested election in April 2011 before being re-elected in 2015 to another four-year term.

Darnell announced in Thursday’s Facebook post that anyone interested in the open board position would need to submit a letter by March 1 to the board’s president, Josh Johnson of Gibson City.

Johnson said Monday night that he had received seven letters from interested district residents. Johnson stressed that a letter is the only way to qualify for a spot.

“I’ve gotten a lot of text messages and phone calls, but if I don’t have an actual letter then that (person) will not be a candidate who will be considered for this position,” Johnson said.

In addition to serving on the board, Swearingen has attended many school and community events during his time on the board — something Darnell thanked him for.

Despite his resignation, Swearingen remained listed as a school board candidate on the April 2 consolidated election ballot. Darnell said after the meeting that due to the timing of Swearingen’s resignation and with the deadline for write-in candidates having already passed, Swearingen will be re-elected to his former spot on the board due to no challengers running other than three incumbents. Darnell said Swearingen would need to decide after the election if he still wishes to be a school board member.

Other business
In other business:

➜ Board members approved a two-year extension of the school district’s transportation contract with Illinois Central School Bus. Darnell said the cost increase will be less than 3 percent. “The cost of doing business is not going down anywhere,” Darnell noted, “so the opportunity to extend at a less-than-3-percent increase is an appropriate choice.” Bus supervisor Kari Ryan-Cline said she was satisfied with the current arrangement.

➜ Darnell said the process of creating the 2019-20 school district calendar has been more tedious this year due to the state removing and then reinstating some regulations pertaining to a learning clock and the software system. Darnell said that in March, board members will approve a finalized calendar, which could change depending on if public schools will be allowed to utilize online learning on snow days as some private schools did last month.

➜ GCMS High School Principal Chris Garard said enrollment at his school has remained steady, adding that about 20 new students have moved in this year as the same number moved out.

➜ Ford County Special Education Cooperative Director Jesse McFarling said he was looking into Medicaid reimbursement options, and he also said that the co-op is looking into re-joining the Student Transition Employment Program — something he said would allow students who cannot earn a working pay to at least have a stipend.

➜ The board approved McFarling’s contract through the 2021-22 school year.

➜ The board hired Katrina Pokenon-Huber as a school psychologist at an annual salary of $72,500, plus benefits.

➜ The board approved Jay Kristensen as a volunteer middle school track coach.

➜ The board accepted Rick Ertel’s retirement notice at the conclusion of the 2021-22 school year and granted him the district’s three-year incentive salary increase.

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