'No agreeable resolution' produced out of 6-hour closed meeting

GIBSON CITY — During last Thursday’s regular meeting, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school board President Josh Johnson announced that a recent six-hour closed session produced “no agreeable resolution” in the ongoing property tax appeal lodged by the One Earth Energy ethanol plant in Gibson City.

Personnel and Finance Committee members Johnson, Tyler Young and Phil Whitehouse met Feb. 17 with One Earth Energy officials Steve Kelly, general manager, and Larry Brees, chief financial officer, along with Gibson City Mayor Daniel Dickey and Alderman Jan Hall. The meeting began at 9 a.m. in the west board room of Gibson Area Hospital.

School board committee members and One Earth Energy officials have had previous discussions in an attempt to reach a compromise on the plant’s assessed valuation. Ford County has assessed the property at $22.72 million, and One Earth Energy’s appeal asked for the assessment to be lowered to $7.1 million.

While not ruling out another meeting, GCMS Superintendent Anthony Galindo said after the meeting that no additional discussions had been scheduled.

The city council’s agenda for its Feb. 22 meeting included a closed session on the topic.

Board may consider fee increases
In other action from the personnel and Finance Committee, the committee recommended no increase in school fees for the 2016-17 school year.

Last year’s athletic fee increases and an “environment not conducive to increases” were cited as reasons to not increase fees.

However, board member Steve Swearingen objected to the idea but added that he “hated to play the bad guy.”

Swearingen feels that the board should stick to a past superintendent’s recommendation of an annual increase of 10 percent on student registration fees.

Swearingen reminded board members of the severe financial constraints and budget deficit the board faces.

“If you don’t move these things, inflation is eating away all the time,” he said.

Rather than taking action, the board tabled a decision on fees until its March 17 meeting.

Based on current fees, a 10 percent increase in registration fees would mean a $6.50 increase per elementary student, $8 per middle school student and $9 per high school student.

Also to be considered in that vote is the committee’s recommendation to reduce senior admission fees to be equal to student admission prices.

Closed session actions
Preceding Thursday’s night’s public meeting, the board met for 45 minutes in closed session to discuss a number of topics. In addition to board members, former GCMS superintendent Chuck Aubry and former board president Greg Kerber attended the session.

The following action was taken when the board reconvened in open session:

— Board members accepted the resignation of Judy Weber-Jones, who taught eight years in the Melvin-Sibley district and 23 years in the GCMS district. Johnson commended Weber-Jones’ many accomplishments during her tenure in teaching driver’s education, coaching girls softball and sponsoring Project Ignition.

— An employee’s medical leave was approved. The leave began Feb. 1 and may continue through March 12.

— A student’s prior expulsion was upheld with one difference. The student’s Nov. 25 expulsion was made with “no services.” The re-affirmed expulsion allows the expulsion to be staid to allow the student to enroll in an alternative education program, such as the Ready School in Champaign. The expulsion covers the remainder of the current school year and all of the 2016-17 school year as well.

Middle school principal interviews
GCMS Middle School Principal Jeremy Darnell said the district has received 19 applications for the position of middle school principal. Darnell is resigning his position at the end of this school year to become GCMS’s next superintendent.

Six of the candidates have accepted invitations to be interviewed on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 by a committee of 10 members made up of administrators, staff, and parents. The committee will recommend two candidates to be interviewed by the school board.

Board interviews are scheduled for March 3.

Bus contract bid
Board members approved allowing Galindo to advertise for bids, using a draft contract that will have only “minor corrections” made to it by the district’s attorney.

Galindo said it would be legal to continue bus service with current provider Illinois Central School Bus, on a year-to-year basis, but the contract terms likely would not be as favorable as a longer-term contract put out for bids.

The contract calls for a three-year term with two one-year options, the same as the currently expiring contract.

Summer maintenance reviewed
A list of summer maintenance projects was presented to the full board. Projects were ranked as high, middle and low priorities.

Galindo’s report showed that 27 projects received a “high” priority ranking and totaled just over $100,000, not including an estimate for adding room numbers to the roof of each building.

The latter project is being urged by Gibson City Police Chief Steve Cushman, who said the idea came from training he received related to communication during tactical deployments.

Middle-level priority projects total $50,000, and the three projects include an added item since the recent Building, Grounds and Transportation Committee review — a new keyless entry system for the district, estimated to cost $24,000. Galindo said the current system has hardware and software incompatibilities, is not working reliably, and is becoming obsolete from a parts replacement standpoint.

Galindo said the current operations and maintenance fund’s budget should cover the two categories for about $150,000 in project expenditures. The balance of the approximately $300,000 line item is to pay $158,000 in debt service on the previous $1.2 million performance contract that fixed many large items during the 2013-14 school year.

Galindo said the process is working out as the district hoped it would. Because many maintenance items were completed all at once in the performance-based contract, the number of current projects that need to be done each year is reduced, and overall annual spending remains level.

Galindo cautioned that when actual “price tags,” rather than estimates, are applied to the projects for approval at the board’s March meeting, the project list may need adjustment. It could also be adjusted after he receives results from a recently completed health and life safety assessment.

An upcoming meeting with the architects could result in some health and life safety items being termed an “A” priority, which means they would have to be added to the current list of maintenance projects. Such an addition could reduce the district’s ability to pay for other items on the summer project list, Galindo cautioned.

Mowing contract approved
The district’s current mowing contractor, Lawn Perfection of Normal, operated by Jeff Jackson of Tremont, was the successful bidder in a two-bid contest for mowing services.

The winning bid per mowing was a total of $384 for buildings sites only and a total of $479 whenever athletic fields are included.

The other bid, made by Jason Mackinson, totaled $395 and $485, respectively.

Mackinson did the mowing in 2014. Galindo said there were no complaints about either contractor, and the recommendation to choose Jackson’s firm came down to a matter of price.

Fisher will not fund middle school wrestling
Galindo reported that he has been in contact with the Fisher school district’s superintendent, Barbara Thompson, who said the Fisher school board will provide no district funds for the middle school wrestling cooperative with GCMS for next school year.

However, she indicated the district wants to and may still be involved if private donations are obtained to replace district funds.

Special education co-op report
Ford County Special Education Cooperative Director Rick Brackmann told board members that the cooperative between GCMS and Paxton-Buckley-Loda for special education services is in good shape financially, because about 40 percent of the funding comes from federal rather than state sources.

In addition, both districts pay their share of expenses, he said.

Brackmann has filed the annually required report to show that local costs are indeed paid with local money.
He said this proof ensures the cooperative’s federal funding should be “safe for another year.”

Other action
In other business:

— A school calendar was approved, showing Aug. 18 as the first day of student attendance and May 24 as the last day if no emergency days are used. If emergency days are used, the last day of attendance could be as late as June 2. The calendar also sets school registration for Aug. 3 and Christmas vacation from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2.

— Donations were accepted for: John Cowgill Scholarship, $56,923 from individual donors and ADM matching funds; middle school field trips, $1,500 from Heartland Bank; middle school activities, $3,000 anonymous gift; high school football, $1,000 from Heartland Bank; high school wrestling, $100 from M.L. Deason; and Project Ignition, $5,000 from National Youth Leadership Council. Galindo said the parameters for the John Cowgill Scholarship have not yet been established.


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Ethanbryan07 wrote on March 15, 2016 at 5:03 am

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