Education

Belleville school board makes cost-saving change to school lunches

Belleville school districts share services though partnerships

Superintendent Jeff Dosier explains why Belleville District 201 agreed to another partnership with area districts at the school board's May 15, 2017, meeting. He said a study would help districts determine whether sharing more services through con
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Superintendent Jeff Dosier explains why Belleville District 201 agreed to another partnership with area districts at the school board's May 15, 2017, meeting. He said a study would help districts determine whether sharing more services through con

On Monday night, the Belleville District 201 School Board agreed to another partnership for school services that is expected to save the district money.

Board members voted to sign on to Belleville District 118’s school lunch program. Several other metro-east schools already receive their meals from District 118.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said the estimated savings for District 201 is between $200,000 and $250,000 annually. He suggested that they could reduce costs even further with more engagement in the process.

Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the partnership will be similar to the way the districts will be working together for transportation services starting next year — a change that is expected to save District 201 another $400,000 to $500,000 per year.

Under the school lunch agreement, Dosier said District 201 will pay a portion of District 118’s food service staff salaries. Dosier said they’re able to save money because District 118 doesn’t make as much of a profit as a private food service company would.

“We’re in a funding crisis in Illinois and I think that we realize we can work together and save on the costs of administrative services. Our buying power is better when we have larger numbers,” he said. “We think there are some savings that we need to take advantage of.”

Dosier said there have been conversations about further sharing of services through consolidation.

“I think consolidation would require a study, and I don’t think it’s something that we could make a decision on right away, but I think we need to look at every option,” Dosier said. “I don’t think that we can just say, ‘Oh, consolidation won’t save any money,’ or at least I can’t, without looking at the facts and studying that.”

When it comes to the new partnership for meals at school, Dosier said district officials hope students don’t notice much of a difference.

“If anything, we hope to improve the options, the choices that students have for school lunches,” he said. “We also hope to do some options for students in the morning.”

Dosier said the district would ask for requests from students.

“Within the guidelines that we have to follow, we want to get student input and try and have the best offerings we possibly can,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the districts would also see relief from the recently relaxed federal guidelines on school meals.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the changes in a proclamation signed May 1. He has said that the previous requirements resulted in increased costs for school districts, but the changes have received criticism from some public health and nutrition advocates.

Starting in the 2017-18 school year, schools will be allowed to request an exemption from a requirement that they provide whole grain-rich products. They will also be able to delay a requirement to reduce the amount of sodium in meals and will have the option to serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of nonfat.

Transportation

The District 201 School Board also approved an eight-year lease purchase agreement Monday with Commerce Bank/Clayton Holdings, LLC for the 216 school buses it will need to begin offering transportation services to area students.

The cost is about $10.8 million, according to Mentzer. District 118 will reimburse District 201 for about $2.5 million, which is the cost of the buses it will use for students in its 11 schools.

District 118 agreed to pay costs like this because its students make up about 25 percent of the bus routes, which is the same amount as the six other districts in the agreement combined. District 201’s students at Belleville East High School and Belleville West High School comprise the remaining 50 percent of the routes.

The other districts included in the agreement are High Mount 116, Wolf Branch 113, Pontiac 105, Belle Valley 119, Grant 110 and Whiteside 115.

District 201 school board members also voted to hire transportation office staff during their meeting, including the following individuals:

▪  David Leming

▪  Bob Oberbey

▪  Ann Jackson

▪  Carol Vonderheide

▪  Sharon Collins

▪  Tammy Thomas-Winston

▪  Debra Green

▪  Rhonda Keys

Finances

In other business, the school board voted to issue $18.5 million in bonds, with $16 million being used to refinance 2007 bonds and $2.5 million to increase the district’s cash flow.

Mentzer said the savings from refinancing could be between $1.2 million and $1.4 million from 2017 until 2023 because of the change in bond rating and the interest savings “that the market currently affords us.”

Near the end of the fiscal year, there are deficits in three funds in the district’s budget: the education fund, transportation fund and tort fund, according to Mentzer.

The education and transportation funds are suffering from a lack of state payments, Mentzer said. This year, Illinois schools have received one of four reimbursements from the state for things like special education services.

“We continue to be more and more concerned about the amount of unpaid bills on the books,” he said.

School board president Kurt Schroeder thanked administrators Monday for looking for ways to save money during “uncertain financial times.”

Recognition

Belleville East High School Principal Jason Karstens recognized three students during the school board meeting Monday, including:

▪  Hannah Teverbaugh and Jasmine Adams, who helped develop the Racial Harmony Student Group at Belleville East.

▪  Dillon Vaupel, who was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point by Congressman Mike Bost.

Karstens also recognized retiring employee Pat Mertens, who has worked in the district for 16 years as an assistant principal and registrar, among other positions.

“We will miss her hard work and dedication,” Karstens said.

Two Belleville West High School employees were also recognized by Principal Rich Mertens, including:

▪  Brian Capell, for his dedication as a teacher and coach. Capell is a physical education and driver education teacher, assistant football coach and assistant boys track coach.

▪  Jennifer McMurray, for her work recruiting students for Boys State and overseeing advanced placement testing. McMurray is a guidance counselor.

The Belleville District 201 School Board meets next at 7 p.m. June 19 at 920 N. Illinois St. in Belleville.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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