PEORIA, IL -- Two public comment sessions took place at the June 13 meeting of the Peoria District 150 School Board.
The first, the required hearing on the amended budget, was preceded by remarks from the district's comptroller Mike McKenzie. He said the district will run out of money by December unless Illinois government decides to fund the schools.
The district could seek tax anticipation warrants (loans) but the banks may not comply, since they may not anticipate any taxes coming into the district.
Board member Rick Cloyd commented that two budgets need to be developed, one with the state funds the other without.
Activist Terry Knapp complained that the amended budget does not show legal fees, though he has asked about these fees in the past. It also does not show the money going to Quest, the charter school, which graduated only 39 students in May.
"Where did the rest go?" he asked. The class should have had 75 students. What are we paying for there, he asked. Teachers are paid less than District 150 teachers, even though this is a public school, he said. "We cover up for people running that school. It's sad."
During the other public comment session, Knapp continued, saying sports teams are playing with Peoria Heights schools, but should be playing with District 150 schools.
There were 900 students at Woodruff High School when it was closed, and the students bused to Peoria High, where they were never accepted, he said. These students should be studied to see the results of this situation, he said. "You should care about kids from the north side."
As for Quest, with few students, "how is that quality education?" he asked. Quest's ACT score averaged 19.4, only a few points above the 17.9 score of District 150 students.
Activist Sharon Crews questioned the district's transparency, its algebra student numbers, and the P-cards (purchase credit cards) policies. See her written comments below.
Here is a recording of the budget hearing:
Here is a recording of the comments session:
Sevino Sierra continued his efforts to get five minutes to comment instead of three. He commented "(Gov.) Rauner is trying to get rid of the unions but the unions are going to get rid of him." (Let's hope he's right, since Rauner is the cause of the state's budget standoff, as he keeps adding non-budget union busting plans to the budget.)
Board members responded to the comments. Cloyd and the lawyer said legal fees are 30 percent lower now, and liability insurance costs also have been reduced. Ernestine Jackson asked for a breakdown of the costs.
Other board and administration comments:
Quest costs the district $5.1 million a year, and the state rules are being followed. It may be illegal for students there to mix in sports with District 150 students, though Knapp said they mix in other programs.
The P-cards are now being audited carefully and are used by principals and a few administrators to pay costs such as food for cheerleaders. There are $1,000 limits on individual purchases and $2,500 to $5,000 a year limits on the cards. The district just received a $5,500 rebate from the cards. "They are more controlled now than in the past," controller Mckenzie said.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here are the comments from Sharon Crews:
Getting all groups to agree on district issues is certainly not easy. The board, central administrators, principals, teachers, parents, and the community have their own agendas.
As I see it, the main thing that has to happen is transparency--seeing things as they are so that knowledgeable change can take place. That is why I see the Freedom of Information Act as so important to the process. I admit I have not lost my interest in seeking out information.
One of my FOIA requests led me to the following data with its ensuing minor questions. In 2008-09, 244 students were enrolled in Algebra 2. In 2013-2014 the enrollment increased to 509—at Manual from 30 to 119, at Peoria High from 87 to 128 and at Richwoods from 126 to 256. My first question is why did enrollment in Algebra 2 double?
This increase cost the district money because more textbooks were needed. Therefore, 350 texts—same title same company but a 2011 copyright date—were added to the 2001 version at a cost of $31,000. How were texts distributed so that each class was using the text with the same copyright date?
In 2015-16, 243 new Algebra 2 texts from a completely new company were purchased at a cost of $20,000. Enrollment was 468, so which school got the new texts and which got the other texts?
Please keep all groups informed as to the results of the new discipline guidelines—both good and not so good. The discipline piece of the puzzle is one of the most important to the academic success of the district.
I am, also, curious as to the status of P-cards—how many employees have them and what are the policies governing their use. I certainly hope that there have been improvements.
Why hasn’t the board approved and posted the minutes for the February 22 meeting?
I am happy that the Adopt-a-School Program is being reinstated.
As far back as I can remember, District 150 has had a Superintendent and an Associate Superintendent, both of whom sat in the horseshoe. A few months after Dr. Lathan arrived, she fired the Associate she had brought with her. The decision permanently to eliminate that position may have been decided and I just don’t recall. - 30 -