One administrator post cut

The impact of reduced state funding continued to reverberate through the Vandalia Community School District on Tuesday night as the board of education approved a plan to reorganize the administration team, beginning in the 2014-15 school year. That plan includes Superintendent Rich Well absorbing the duties of the Jefferson Primary School principal following the retirement of Donna Cripe at the end of the 2013-14 school year. The move would reduce the district’s administration staff from seven to six – leaving a principal and assistant principal at the Vandalia Community High School and Vandalia Junior High School, a principal at Vandalia Elementary School and Well at Jefferson Primary School as well as serving as superintendent. Not replacing Cripe with another staffer “is the first cut for the 2014-15 year,” Well said, noting that it will save about $90,000 per year. “One of the concerns,” he continued, “is that I can’t be in two places at one time. We will appoint a faculty member at the school to be in charge when I’m not there. That person will be approved by the school board, and will receive a small stipend for their work. We don’t want to sacrifice the safety of the students.” Well also announced his plans to retire in five years, at the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year. That would mark his 28th year in the district and his 12th as superintendent. Well said that he and about 30 school superintendents will be attending a meeting this Friday at Lincoln Land Community College in Mattoon to discuss strategies to deal with school funding. The topics to be discussed include: restoring school funding, creating accountability for legislators and establishing strategies to tell the public about the impact funding cuts are having on the state’s schools. “Educators haven’t done a very good job of getting the word out about what we’re doing,” Well said. “State funding is now back at 2007 levels, and we, as superintendents, will be knocking on the legislators’ doors to tell them what their actions are doing to us.” Well also said that he and VCHS Principal Randy Protz recently met with Kaskaskia College representatives to discuss adding more dual credit courses at the college for high school students. As the board wrestled with future cuts, it had to deal with community reaction to more than $910,000 in program and staffing cuts announced at a special meeting two weeks ago. At that time, the board cut one of four music positions, eliminated school-sponsored transportation to away athletic contests and made a number of other cuts. About 60 people, including members of the Vandalia Community High School band and representatives of the band boosters organization, attended Tuesday’s meeting. Two speakers addressed the board. Marc Waschle said that the district’s 260 band participants achieve in all aspects of their education – regularly scoring higher on standardized tests and earning college scholarships. “We’ve got something that’s working great,” he said. “It’s a real asset to the district. And cutting it is something that we really need to think about ” He told the board that the boosters have started a petition to save the director’s position and also are conducting a fund drive to help raise money for the position. Dorothy Crawford, another band booster, said that learning to play an instrument has helped her daughter achieve in other academic areas. “Her reading scores have shot through the roof,” she said. “Music is preparing them for higher mind functions and achievement in other areas,” she said. “And the stronger the program, the more the improvement we will see. “Give these kids the opportunity to be part of something greater than themselves. Give our kids a future.” Following the comments by the band boosters, Well presented the district’s financial report. He noted that funding from the state is now being paid at about 89 percent of the amounts originally allocated. Recently, however, he said that educators are hearing that the funding could drop to 80 percent. “That would leave us with a deficit of $1.5 million per year and put us on the state’s warning list,” Well said. “We had a fund balance of $4.4 million at the beginning of this fiscal year; by June 30, 2013, that will be down to about $3 million.” Board member Chris Palmer said that at the 80 percent funding level, he calculates that by the end of 2014, the district’s fund balance would be depleted and it would be operating at a $1.5 million deficit per year. As the board prepared to adjourn into a closed session to discus personnel issues, Palmer asked district business manager, Lori Meseke, what will be the total amount represented by teacher raises in the coming fiscal year. She said that amount is $275,000. The teacher’s three-year contract, approved last fall, calls for no increase this fiscal year, a 1 percent raise (plus a step on the seniority scale) in the 2013-14 fiscal year and a 2 percent raise (plus another step) in the final year of the pact. Following a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues, the board took the following action: • Approved the planned retirement of Tom Rasler, the junior high and high school vocal music teacher, effective June 30, 2016. • Approved the resignation, effective immediately, of Kim Jaoko, the art teacher at VCHS and the Okaw Area Vocational Center. • Approved the resignation, effective immediately, of Kevin Schroeder as VCHS girls tennis coach. • Approved a resolution regarding unfunded mandates from the state. That statement outlines several actions formerly mandated by the state board of education, and then states: “Therefore, be it resolved that The C.U.S.D. #203 Board of Education refuses to require its administration to administer the Five Essentials survey of students/staff/parents during the current 2012/13 school term, and calls on the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois General Assembly to reexamine its historic overburdening of public schools with unreasonable accountability requirements in the face of historic reductions in state funding support of K-12 education and including its inefficient and inappropriate use of discretionary budgetary dollars to fund private contractors to fulfill statute requirements that cannot be efficiently managed by ISBE staffers.” • Approved the teacher service list, which lists teachers according to seniority. The 90-minute meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m. Board member Jay Smith was absent from the meeting. • • • During the board’s executive session, VCHS band director Tony Hicks, whose position would be eliminated if the cuts are carried out, said it’s been tough for him and for the band students. “We’ve shared tears in the band room,” he said. “It’s a little hard to swallow when it’s finally set up the way it’s supposed to be done. We were innovative enough to get the program where it is, and now it could all be taken away. I’ll put our program up against any program. “What they’re asking one person to do (in the board’s proposed staffing plan), is more than one person can do. The quality of everything will go down, and when the quality goes down, so does participation. “We just got this band to ‘good.’ Now we’re ready to go to ‘great’ – and they’re thinking about cutting one director position.” Sara Berg, the VJHS band director, added: “This is the best setup we’ve had, and I couldn’t be sending the kids to a better director than Mr. Hicks.” After the meeting, Well said that the board appreciated the band booster’s presentation and their heartfelt concern about the potential cuts to the program. “I want people to know that we’ll still have band next year,” Well said. “The delivery will be different because of the cuts. We’ll have a concert band and a marching band at both the junior high school and the high school. “And if they can raise the money, it’s 100 percent a done deal – the program will continue as it is now. It will go back just like it was.” To accomplish that, the boosters are planning several fund-raising activities in coming months.

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