Western stresses need to educate voters on proposed school facility tax

Posted: Jul. 19, 2013 9:28 am Updated: Aug. 9, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

BARRY, Ill. -- The Western School Board continues to discuss moving forward with a proposed county schools facility tax, but stopped short of taking a vote to put the issue on the March 2014 ballot.

But board members this week said they understand the importance of promoting the issue to district residents.

"One of the things I heard in that dialogue was there does need to be an opportunity to inform the public about what the county schools facilities tax actually is," Superintendent Carol Frericks said. "There is a need for sharing information with taxpayers and with community members so that they understand."

The maximum 1 percent sales tax is billed as a fairer way to raise money than relying solely on property tax to fund work on buildings.

Eighteen counties across the state, including Cass and Schuyler, already have passed the sales tax, and School Boards have until Dec. 30 to pass a resolution to get the tax on the March ballot.

Pike County voters rejected the sales tax proposal in November 2008 and again in April 2009, but school districts are interested in looking at the tax again to keep up with costs on aging buildings.

Board members took no action on an agenda item requested by board member Shane Fee to recommend to Regional Superintendent Debbie Niederhauser that board member Kris Koeller be removed from the board for wilfully failing to perform his duties due to missing meetings.

Under state law, the regional superintendent may remove any member of a School Board from office for "wilful failure" to perform his official duties.

Board President Lorc Weir characterized the issue as "more of a personal thing" from one board member to another.

"There has been some absences," Weir said. "It's definitely not, in my opinion, a reason to kick someone off the board."

When contacted by the Herald-Whig, Niederhauser said she had talked with Frericks about the situation and understood that Koeller had missed some meetings but now is attending meetings. "I do believe that he is performing his duties, and I would not be involved at this point," she said.

All members were present at this week's meeting.

The Western School Board also:

• Approved a revised technology improvement plan with Quality Network Solutions. Superintendent Carol Frericks said plans call for providing more wireless service throughout the building to allow more iPad use and for upgrading the operating systems from Windows XP to Windows7.

• Adopted a lunch schedule recommendation from district principals that staggers lunch times to allow both the high school and elementary school to use the cafeteria area for lunch. The elementary school had breakfast and lunch in the small gym, instead of the cafeteria, in the 2012-13 year to provide enough space for students, but that plan required carting meals from the cafeteria to the gym. Elementary students will continue to eat breakfast in the gym.

• Approved using online curriculum to supplement the existing curriculum in the coming school year. Online sources had been used with a small group of students last year and with the summer academy for college and career readiness. The district will have access to site licenses allowing all teachers to use the online resources to offer blended learning combining online technology and in-classroom hands-on activities.

• Learned the district's pre-K for all grant was approved to offer a birth through 3 and 3-5 program. The board hired a parent coordinator, two teachers and four paraeducators for the program.

• Received a letter of intent to bargain from the Western Education Association. A one-year contract with the district's certified teachers and educational support personnel, adopted in February, expired June 30. That contract called for a salary increase of 1/2 of 1 percent and a step on the salary schedule.

• Approved United Healthcare as a provider for health insurance for the year beginning Aug. 1. The move followed a recommendation from the board's insurance committee and a vote by the WEA.