Whether or not the state of Illinois has a budget this fall, the Highland schools will open in August as planned, but there may not be a second semester.
“You’re going to start hearing a lot of talk from school districts around the state about whether they are going to open school in August if there is no state budget,” said Highland School District Superintendent Mike Sutton. “If there is no state budget, state aid will not flow.”
That means schools will have to examine cash on hand, expected local property taxes and borrowing power to see if they can open. The Highland School District is no exception. According to Sutton, the district has enough money to start the school year, but there won’t be enough to finish it.
We do plan to open on time in August, and we plan to live — more or less — off the revenue we receive from local property taxes and other revenues. We suspect we may make it to Christmas. In order to get to Christmas, we are probably going to have to have serious conversations about issuing the remainder of the $3 million on the working cash bonds.
Mike Sutton, Highland Superintendent of Schools
“We do plan to open on time in August, and we plan to live — more or less — off the revenue we receive from local property taxes and other revenues,” Sutton said. “We suspect we may make it to Christmas.”
If there is no state budget or funds by that time, Sutton said the district “won’t be able to sustain operations beyond that.”
However, even getting to Christmas will be a challenge.
40 percent of the Education Fund is state money
55 percent of Transportation Fund is state money
16 percent of the Operations and Maintenance Fund is state money
“In order to get to Christmas, we are probably going to have to have serious conversations about issuing the remainder of the $3 million on the working cash bonds,” Sutton said. “We don’t do that, we won’t get to Christmas.”
In a letter to parents dated Monday, Sutton said state funding comprises about 40 percent of the revenue for the Education Fund, 55 percent of revenue for the Transportation Fund, and 16 percent of the Operations and Maintenance Fund.
“We are committed to opening school on time and to educating our children without interruption,” he said in the letter. “Your board of education and I will continue to monitor this situation.”
Other Board Action
Personnel moves approved
At its meeting on Monday, June 27, the Highland School Board approved several personnel moves.
Resignations: The district has been hit with several resignations from certified and non-certified staff.
“I touched base with some other area superintendents, and they say the same thing is happening elsewhere,” Superintendent Mike Sutton said in a memo to board members. “Teachers are leaving the profession due to much frustration with the state and the challenges of new reforms/requirements. We have been fortunate to get several great new candidates and they are leaving other districts to come here, so that’s a good thing.”
Resignations approved by the board on Monday were:
▪ Heidi Fredericksen, English teacher, Highland High School;
▪ Kim Romero, English, Highland High School;
▪ Kerry Wheeler, program assistant, Highland Primary;
▪ Elizabeth Weder, eighth-grade volleyball coach, Highland Middle School;
▪ Frederick “Mark” Geppert, physical education teacher, Highland Middle School;
▪ Scott Zobrist, Lindenthal Campus supervisor, Highland Primary/Elementary; and
▪ Patti Hernandez, special education, Highland High School.
Retirement: Jane Wessel, second-grade 2 teacher, Highland Primary, effective the end of the 2018-2019 school year.
New Personnel for the 2016-2017 school year:
▪ Carrie Lieberman, school counselor, Highland High School;
▪ Brittany McCune, first-grade teacher, Highland Primary;
▪ Shannon Carter, special education, Highland Elementary;
▪ Susanne Michael Himsel, English, Highland High School;
▪ Matthew Lewis, English, Highland High School;
▪ Jenna Loveless, English, Highland High School;
▪ Georgia Gaydos, special education, Highland Primary;
▪ Bria Richter, special education, Highland Middle School;
▪ Melissa Edwards, special education, Highland Elementary; and
▪ Robert Jokisch, custodian, Highland Primary, effective July 1, 2016.
Change of Assignment for the 2016-2017 school year: Elizabeth Weder, from seventh-grade geography teacher to interim assistant principal, Highland Middle School.
Lunch cost to increase 10 cents
The board approved a 10-cent hike in the cost of K-12 lunch prices. There will be no increases in breakfast prices.
The minimal increase is needed to satisfy federal regulations of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Business Manager Tim Bair said.
“The federal government is trying to mitigate reimbursements for free and reduced meals being used to offset what we charge for paid lunches,” Bair said in a memo to board members.
If the average price is less than the difference between the federal reimbursements for a free meal ($3.13) verses a paid meal (35 cents), then the district has to increase its prices by up to 10 cents per meal.
“Our average price is $2.46, which is less than the required $2.78 calculated above. USDA says pricing paid lunches below the cost of production effectively increased federal subsidies for higher income children, because federal funds intended to fund free and reduced lunches are being used to help build a gap between what a paid lunch cost and what the school receives for it,” Bair said in his memo. “Congress wants to equalize the field for all students’ access to nutritious meals and that is why they have implemented Paid Lunch Equity, or PLE.”
Refs to get a raise
The board approved raises for athletic officials in several sports.
“(Highland’s athletic directors) meet with other conference athletic directors to determine changes in rates from year to year. We are not bound by any increases, but it keeps us on an even playing field with the other schools in our conference,” Bair said in a memo to the board.
There were no increases proposed last year.
Overall, the annual costs for athletic officials is projected to increase about $2,222 or 6.4 percent, due to the raises in pay.
Coaching positions tabled
The board voted to table the approval of coaches for the upcoming school year until its July meeting.
“Parents are a big problem when it comes to coaching,” said board member Duane Clark. “The kids just want to play the sport.”
Some of the coaches on the list to be approved — which included both paid coaches and sponsors, as well as volunteers — are parents of athletes.
“If we are paying these people to do it (coach), why don’t we see if we have staff that can do it already,” he said. “I will not be voting for that list.”
In other action, the board also:
▪ Approved seeking grants from the Highland Area Community Foundation grant applications. Each year the board approves the applications. HACF requires the board approval for eligibility.
▪ Approved extension of time for life safety work. The district requests an extension each year because some items remain on its health/life safety report that have not been completed.
▪ Approved the post-issuance tax compliance report. This is required to maintain the district’s tax-exempt status on its bonds.
▪ Adopted a resolution for Prevailing Wage rates, which is a yearly requirement.
▪ Adopted an agreement with Poplar Junction for 2016-2017, which provides use of its the facility for high school bowling teams. Poplar Junction does not charge the for district for this use.
▪ Designated an approved a list banks that may be used throughout the year as depositories for school funds.
▪ Renewed the Treasurer’s Bond and Activity Fund Bond, which is required each year.
▪ Designated interest in the Bond and Interest Fund, which allows the district to earmark the interest and provides the school the opportunity to transfer it from the B&I Fund.
▪ Authorized the transfer of interest income from the Debt Service Fund to the Educational Fund, as described above.
▪ Approved an amended 2016-2017 budget, a motion that was required because due to the refinancing of the bonds.
▪ Changed the district’s flexible benefit plan. Due to changes in the Affordable Care Act, the district needed to change the requirements on its flexible benefit plan. Part-time employees will not be eligible to participate, because they do not qualify for health insurance. However, they can still participate in the dependent care portion of the plan. Currently, the district does not have any part-time employees participating in the medical flex plan. Therefore, there will not have to be a reduction to anyone’s benefits.
▪ Approved an equipment disposal plan. The district has some equipment in need of disposal. Board action was required to sell or trade items, including appliances, casework, food service equipment, an aquarium, pickup truck, mower, and VOED equipment.
▪ The board voted to table approval of the employee insurance benefits until more research could be done.