Familiar face: District 201 puts Karstens in charge of Belleville East

Jason Karstens was promoted to principal of Belleville East High School at Monday evening’s District 201 board meeting.

Officially, Karstens found out the news at the board meeting, but admitted to “an extra pep in my step” recently.

“I’m a Belleville guy,” he said after the meeting. “I want to be the bridge that connects Belleville East to the community.”

Outgoing principal Stephanie Posey accepted a position as principal of Naperville North High School in northern Illinois.

The board unanimously approved a three-year contract with Karstens, who will earn a salary of $120,000 the first year on the job. Karstens will assume his new role July 1. His salary as assistant principal is $84,500 a year.

Jeff Dosier, superintendent of District 201, said 30 individuals applied for the principal job, and Karstens was one of four finalists interviewed by community members, teachers, administrators and board members.

“He is really great at building relationships, which is so important,” Dosier said of Karstens. “He’s a very solid educator who was a great assistant principal. He has a passion for Belleville East.”

Belleville District 201 board members also approved a reduction in force — letting five teachers go honorably — in anticipation of late money or less money from the state.

One part-time certified teacher was let go as well, but that teacher’s dismissal does not count as a reduction in force because of the hours worked.

All the teachers in question are first year, and none are tenured, Dosier said.

“This is one of the most difficult meetings,” he said. “This is not something we want to do, because we’re talking about very quality teachers, and it’s our hope to bring the teachers back. Most of the teachers we’ve RIF’d in the past have come back, so that’s certainly our hope.”

Dosier said state law requires districts to notify teachers of reduction in force by April 1, even though the districts “don’t have a clear picture of our finances until later.”

School districts traditionally announce RIFs this time of year, sometimes hiring some or all of the teachers back at a later date.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer told the board of the dire straits districts are in because of payment lags from the state and requested the board approve a line of credit not to exceed $6 million.

“This is being brought on by the fact that there’s some political posturing going on in Springfield essentially slowing down the funding streams we’d have right now,” he said.

After the meeting, Mentzer explained the line of credit is a pre-emptive measure and would be backed up by the anticipation of tax revenue. The district will take a bid to banks based on its credit rating and does not have any details about the line of credit yet.

He said the $6 million is for only “if we need it,” and is not because of unforeseen expenses.

“Our budget is doing what we said it would be doing,” he said.

The board unanimously approved the the line of credit.

“We’re waiting on a lot of money from the state, and we just need to have a little bit more assurance,” Dosier said. “Our expenses are under budget, however, so is our revenue.”

In other news at Monday’s meeting:

• It was board member Allen Scharf’s last meeting as a member. Scharf, who is not running for re-election, has been on the school board since 2003, Dosier said.

• The board approved the formation of an animal welfare club at Belleville East.

•  Melissa Taylor, director of special services, said the applied mathematics and forensic science courses need textbooks and would likely be getting class sets. Taylor expected to have a recommendation to purchase the books at the next meeting.