I’d like to discuss a few changes we are making here at the Weekly, particularly to our website.
As many of you know, we are a small operation with only three employees, a few freelance writers, and the occasional intern or two. The operation isn’t huge, but it does the best it can with the resources it has. Many times I feel like we are playing at a much higher level than such a small group would be expected to.
With that said, we started uploading our stories to our website last year around July as a way to spread our work farther and, hopefully, gain more readers and subscribers. However, what we have learned, and should have figured from the start, is that when people are given something for free they tend to not pay for it as well.
Starting today, there will be no more free news on OFallonWeekly.com. While some may argue that digital is the future and that we need to post news to our site, I argue that the work of my team has value and they deserve to be compensated for their efforts. My people can’t survive on gratitude alone and so I rely on the subscribers and advertisers to make up my budget and keep the doors open.
With this change, you will see an increase in E-Blasts to convey breaking and urgent news. So if you haven’t signed up for our E-Blasts, visit OFallonWeekly.com and sign up. They will continue to be free, however we are tweaking the content within those as well.
Please don’t misunderstand this change as the Weekly burying its head in the sand and abandoning digital. The simple fact is that we have done a lot of research and studying and determined that while the news can, and eventually will, move online, we will have an even harder time making the needed money to operate when based online. This makes revenue from print that much more important right now as we plan, develop, and roll out what the Weekly will be one, three, or five years from now.
So if you value local journalism and news, support the Weekly with a subscription. Urge a local business to promote themselves through advertisements. We can only continue with your support and assistance.
O’FALLON – In a special meeting held Wednesday evening, the District 203 Board of Education accepted the resignation of teacher JaRon Dent.
Dent, who has been on administrative leave for the past two months as the district performs an investigation into him, submitted a short letter to the District stating he was resigning from his position effective May 24, 2019.
While the school district cannot comment as to the nature of the investigation, documents and reports obtained by the Weekly from the O’Fallon Police Department reveal that the investigation into Dent could revolve around allegations of improper conduct with and grooming of female students.
The reports detailed a history of text messaging with students and allegations of improper touching. Security footage from the high school obtained by the police showed Dent walking through the halls with his arm around a student.
While a number of supporters attended the April 23 board meeting and spoke on his behalf, no one was present at the meeting Wednesday night, including Dent or union representatives.
The board unanimously voted to accept the resignation.
O’FALLON – The newly elected members of the District 203 Board of Education were sworn into office at their meeting on April 23.
Members Mark Christ and Donna Johnson were re-elected to new terms and Martha Stoffel was elected to her first term.
Due to a revised oath of office issued by the State Board of Education, all of the members of the board opted to take the oath, even those halfway through their current term.
Following the swearing in ceremony, the board elected its officers for the next two years. Mark Christ was nominated for the Board President position by Lynda Cozad. No other nominees were named and Christ was named President unanimously.
Keith Richter was nominated and named Vice President and Donna Johnson was selected to serve another term as Board Secretary.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held on May 23.
O’FALLON – A suspect in connection to Monday morning’s homicide was taken into custody in Memphis, Tennessee, late that evening.
Andrew Montez McKissick was taken into custody by the Memphis Police Department without incident at around 11:50 p.m. on April 22. He is being held pending extradition to Illinois on unrelated charges.
On Wednesday, April 24, McKissick was charged with three counts: one count of first degree homicide, one count of aggrivated arson, and one count of aggrivated battery. He is still in Memphis and is being held on $2 million bond.
On Monday, April 22, the O’Fallon Police responded to calls of a person and vehicle on fire at 7:23 a.m. near the Family Sports Park in the 300 block of Obernuefemann Road. When first responders arrived they found bystanders attempting to help a woman who was on fire. Emergency responders rendered aid, but she was later pronounced deceased by the St. Clair County Coroners office.
The victim, identified by O’Fallon Police as 35-year-old Sherry J. Billups, resided in the 600 block of West Madison in O’Fallon. She worked at the O’Fallon Post Office and had two children.
A candlelight vigil was held in Billups’ honor on Tuesday, April 23, at the Sports Park. Around 25 people came out and remembered her life.
McKissick and Billups were only recently married in March of this year, honeymooning in Las Vegas. The couple were grade school sweethearts.
However, McKissick has a troubled past with an extensive violent criminal history, including convictions for aggravated battery on a police officer, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and unlawful restraint.
Following the event at the Sports Park Monday morning, the Illinois State Police put out an alert for a 2002 Chevrolet Z71 extended cab pick up with black trim that was heading south, possibly to Alabama or Mississippi.
The O’Fallon Police ask anyone with information to call them at (618) 624-9589.
Well, here we are, with another year under our belt.
The O’Fallon Weekly turns four and begins its fifth year of publication with this edition.
I always like to take this specific column and do a bit of a State of the Weekly type of address.
Things have changed a bit since last year when I wrote this. The staff at the Weekly continues to evolve. That even includes this week when we brought on a new reporter, Sally, to cover Lebanon. You will get to know Sally in the coming weeks.
Readership of the Weekly continues to grow. Subscriptions are defying national trends and increasing in number. While we do have some digital subscribers, most are print readers.
We did have to unfortunately do away with our military subscription rate last year. Cost increases from printing to postage hit us hard and caused that subscription level to actually lose us money. No business can survive doing that for long, no matter what.
One thing I’m personally excited about is that the Weekly is now being read by Mind’s Eye radio, which reads local newspapers so folks with visual impairments can get their news. I met the folks from Mind’s Eye at a Chamber of Commerce after hours event and they asked to include our paper in their lineup. Who was I to say no?
In terms of content, I am never satisfied with everything we have in the Weekly and feel it can always improve. That’s no slight against my writers as they do a great job, more just an observation that there is so much happening in this area that needs attention given to it. For example, we’ve relied on parents to send in sports coverage during this school year. While some teams have very active and involved parents that send me a number of photos and great articles, other teams I don’t hear anything from at all. We’ve been without a dedicated sports reporter since last year when Sam left for Ohio. So I’d like to get sports a bit more under control.
Going forward, there are a few projects we plan on rolling out that I am excited about.
If you haven’t already signed up for our Friday E-Blast, do so at our website, OFallonWeekly.com. Its a free newsletter where we share news and information.
We’re looking to expand the E-Blast to possibly a second day and expand the content within it. For example, we often run obituaries in the paper after the services have taken place. We’re looking to add obituaries to the E-Blasts so folks can learn if a person they knew has passed away sooner and can plan on attending the services if they so choose.
We’re also looking to expand and do more video content in the coming weeks and months. A former OTHS student and videographer reached out and wants to gain experience and will be joining the Weekly very soon.
Finally, I’d like to approach a very sensitive subject, and that is advertising. I’ve attempted to write the following thoughts a number of times but I never go forward with publishing them because I feel like I’m whining. However, recent events have brought this back to the forefront of my mind.
We have a number of advertisers that have been rock solid and very loyal to the Weekly. I can only hope with all of my heart that my readers have been equally as loyal and good to them, as their marketing dollars are what allow us to bring you the paper each and every week.
However, as time goes on, that advertiser pool needs to increase in size. My sales rep, Colleen, has been going out in the community and speaking with business owners. She reports to me that a number of businesses are doing their advertising online or elsewhere. While I can respect that, I’d humbly like to point out that we have a great local audience that appreciates our product and those that help us bring them our product.
While so many shops and businesses around O’Fallon and Shiloh remind you to shop local and shop small, I’d humbly ask they consider doing the same as the Weekly is a local business just like theirs. I employ all local folks who spend their dollars in town at other local businesses. I impress upon them the importance of doing business with those that do business with us, because that’s really important to me.
When ad dollars are spent online and in corporately owned publications, they are flying away, out of the local economy and into California.
I’m obviously not asking to be the sole source of advertising for a local business. As in a lot of things, diversity is key. However, I just ask that consideration is given to advertising with the Weekly by some local businesses. We offer a great product that people tell me they enjoy reading.
Our cheapest ad is within our Friday E-Blast. That $25 ad goes a long way in my meager budget and won’t break any marketing budget. I encourage local businesses to give us a try and let us try and help you promote your business.
All in all, things do look like they are headed in the right direction at the Weekly. We’re operating very lean and trying our best to be everywhere and cover everything as best we can. We appreciate all of the help we receive through news tips, story and photo submissions, and more.
Four years ago I had a dream of a community newspaper for O’Fallon that brought folks what they wanted to read. While there are miles to go before I sleep, I do feel like each year we get closer and closer to the goal.
Thank you for four years and I look forward to spending year five with you.
Eighth grade students from Joseph Arthur Middle School received a hands on lesson in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the men and women at Scott Air Force Base on Thursday, March 28.
The students not only were able to tour a number of aircraft, but also received lessons through activities put on and organized by Scott AFB personnel. (Submitted Photos)
O’FALLON – The District 203 Board of Education heard an hour and a half of nearly unanimous praise for teacher and coach JaRon Dent, who has been on administrative leave for most of the past two months as the district performs an investigation, at their meeting Tuesday evening.
While the school district declined to comment as to the nature of the investigation, documents and reports obtained by the Weekly from the O’Fallon Police Department though the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the investigation into Dent could revolve around allegations of improper conduct with and grooming of female students.
According to the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting, the Board had planned on possibly issuing disciplinary action onto Dent. However, at the start of the public portion of the meeting, Board President Lynda Cozad told the packed room that there would be no action taken regarding Dent that night.
From there, a steady stream of colleagues, students, parents, and supporters stood and praised Dent as a kind and wonderful man, mentor, teacher, and coach.
“I’m grateful to have known JaRon Dent, especially now when we have such a need for role models. I thank God for JaRon Dent,” said one supporter.
“I was getting ready to drop out of school and he stopped me from being a pessimistic person to being an optimistic person. He’s more than just a teacher. We need him, I need him. Can’t you all see? It’s tearing me apart and imagine how many other kids it’s tearing apart. I can’t walk into that class and not see his face, that’s my motivation. He encourages me. If he doesn’t come back, I don’t come back,” a student said in a passionate speech.
However, there were some statements given by visitors that spoke less to his personal character and more to the allegations of improper conduct.
“I would like for the Board to do their job. This is not about a fight at school that was broken up, this is about inappropriate behavior. Touching girls, telling girls he would take their virginity, telling girls he was going to marry them, kissing girls in the coat room, sneaking around, giving them passes, all of that. I don’t know who these people here know, but the man I know is a full fledged predator in my book. He has no business doing what he did,” one woman said in her testimony.
Another person, who stated she was the aunt of a student that has spoke out against Dent, said she also is concerned by Dent and his alleged actions.
“My niece is who was harmed by Mr. Dent and I feel like the Board has a responsibility to her to make sure she’s safe at school. What happened to her is not pleasant and has caused her to miss school, to miss practice, to lose people she would call friends. She has been bullied as a result of telling the truth. He may have been a great influence on some of these other people, but the people at this school and in charge have a responsibility to every body to make sure they feel comfortable in class. At the end of the day, we’re all here to learn. But who would come forward to be met with boos and say anything against him? There’s no reason to say something like this about someone that is so loved. I just want you to think about what this cost the person who did come forward and made a compliant,” the alleged victim’s aunt told the Board.
Dr. Dawn Porter, a frequent visitor at District 203 Board of Education meetings who urges the district to include more diversity when hiring teachers, said she hopes the Board doesn’t act too quickly when considering the fate of one of only two African-American teachers at OTHS.
“I’m not here to speak to the allegations that have been made, but I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Dent in the past year and have seen the direct impact he has had on the students and community here at OTHS. In the few short weeks during his absence, there has been a noticeable void, not only in his classroom before, during, and after school, but in the enthusiasm and energy that was felt in that space. Students trust Mr. Dent because he takes the time to get to know them. He knows and understands their strengths because he cares for them,” Dr. Porter said.
“As one of only two African-American teachers at OTHS, I encourage members of the Board to consider the nuances, cultural norms, communication styles, and socio-economic backgrounds and how they can lend themselves to understanding and interpreting situations. As they look to make a decision, I hope the decisions you make are in the best interests of all students,” Dr. Porter continued.
The Board has tabled action against Dent and may possibly pick it back up at their May 23 meeting.
According to police reports, on March 7, representatives of District 203 and School Resource Officer Brian Riggar met with a student they refer to as Student 1 and her mother. Student 1 reported inappropriate behavior by Dent.
The report states that Student 1 said that she and another student, Student 4, hang out a lot and that on March 1 she flipped off Student 4 which was witnessed by Dent. She stated that Dent then smacked her on the butt in a disciplinary manner, but it made her feel uncomfortable.
Additionally, Student 1 reported to police that Student 4 has told her and another student, Student 3, that Dent had kissed Student 4 one morning prior to school during the first semester. Student 1 also reported being in Dent’s classroom with other students after school for a Martin Luther King Club meeting in November 2018 and overhearing Dent tell Student 4 that she had “white stuff”, meaning crumbs, on her face and that it wasn’t from him.
Student 1 also alleges to have seen Dent grab Student 4 by the breast and squeeze it for discipline and that Student 4 had told her that Dent will “take her virginity when she turns 18 years old, or possible when she turns 16 in approximately six weeks.”
Finally, Student 1 reported that Dent has asked for her to take pictures with him to make Student 4 jealous and that Student 4 is jealous whenever another student, Student 2, is around Dent.
The report states that following the interview with Student 1, the district officials and police met with Student 2 who reported that Dent allegedly often put his arms around students and that he refers to female students as “Baby”. Student 2 stated that she had allegedly seen Dent grab Student 4’s butt and that she had seen Dent and Student 4 in the hallways with Dent having his arm around Student 4 and Student 4 holding onto his hand. She also reported that Dent had asked her to take a picture with him to send to Student 4 to make her jealous.
Following this interview, district officials and police met with Student 3, who reported that she had observed Student 4 grab Dent’s butt on multiple occasions and that Student 4 and Dent text frequently using terms of affection and heart emoji’s.
At this point, the report states that OTHS Administration met with Dent, who denied all wrong doing and was placed on administrative leave. The police requested consent from Dent to search his cellular phone, and while Dent initially requested some time to think about it, the police later heard from Dent’s union representative, Mike Day, that Dent would not be consenting to a search of his phone.
District officials and police met with Student 4 who denied anything inappropriate between her and Dent. Student 4 does text with Dent and she did admit to hugging Dent. Dent also provides her with passes to come to his room during lunch and advisory period.
Student 4’s father provided the O’Fallon Police access to his daughter’s phone. The phone revealed that Student 4 does have Dent saved as a contact and that there are numerous photos of Dent with her that appear to be taken at OTHS. Additionally, there are multiple photos of just Dent.
Police also found two screenshots of messages between Student 4 and Dent. In both messages, Dent refers to Student 4 as “Baby” and in one they both tell each other “Love you.” All text messages between Student 4 and Dent have been deleted and could not be recovered by O’Fallon PD.
When asked by the police, Student 4 allegedly stated that she frequently deletes text messages as a way to preserve data storage on her phone and that she did not delete any messages between she and Dent on or after March 7, when the investigation began.
Video surveillance has been reviewed by District 203 and Dent is seen on numerous occasions walking through the hallways of the school with his arm around Student 4. The police report noted that “such observed contact is outside the normal teacher/student relationship.”
The O’Fallon Police interviewed Student 4 again on March 11 and she again denied anything inappropriate had occurred between she and Dent. She described Dent as a mentor. She denied kissing and that he has grabbed her inappropriately or that he grabbed her butt. She did state they often play around and will play fight and that they do text each other a couple of times a week. Student 4 stated they are close and both will say they “Love you” to the other one as a term of endearment.
Student 4 did confirm that Dent smacked Student 1 on the butt, however she said it was with a binder he was holding.
On March 15, the police sought out Dent for further questions. After locating him they asked if he would come into the station to speak. Dent said he would come in but wanted to drive himself, so he followed the officer back to the Public Safety Building. However, when they arrived, Dent immediately stated upon getting out of his car that he was advised by his attorney to not make a statement and that he wouldn’t enter the building. Dent did not wish to give his attorney’s name to the police.
The O’Fallon Police Department’s investigation effectively stopped when two St. Clair County Assistant State Attorney’s Elizabeth Nester and Bernadette Schrempp declined a search warrant for records from Dent’s phone. Both said that while Dent’s actions were inappropriate, they did not feel his actions rose to the level of a criminal offense.
The department has closed the investigation, however they state in their report that it can be reopened if other evidence is produced.
The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services is conducting their own investigation into the allegations against Dent.
MEMPHIS – The suspect in Monday’s homicide at the O’Fallon Sports Park was taken into custody at about 11:05 pm. in Memphis.
Andrew Montez McKissick was taken into custody by the Memphis Police Department without incident. He is being held pending extradition to Illinois on unrelated charges.
On Monday, April 22, O’Fallon Police responded to calls of a person and vehicle on fire at 7:23 a.m. near the Family Sports Park in the 300 block of Obernuefemann Road.
The victim, identified by O’Fallon Police as 35- year- old Sherry J. Billups, was outside the vehicle when first responders arrived. Emergency responders arrived on scene and rendered aid, but she was later pronounced deceased by the St. Clair County Coroners office. Billups resided at 600 Block W. Madison in O’Fallon.
To read Police release victim, suspect in Sports Park homicide, click here.
To read Police investigating homicide by Sports Park, click here.
O’FALLON – The O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce joined the Telesto Group as they celebrate their new location at 475 Regency Park Drive, Ste 200 in O’Fallon. They celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on March 18.
Telesto Group is a technology solutions provider and SAP Partner focused on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) support for the Department of Defense, primarily in the Army with recent significant expansion at USTRANSCOM. Headquartered in West Palm Beach, FL, Telesto has a long history of federal projects (including DOI, USDA, Navy and Army) along with projects in state governments and the commercial sector.
Telesto opened their O’Fallon, IL location after being selected to create a prototype to upgrade USTRANSCOM’s Transportation Management (TM) solution. This important project will support the mission to provide functional, secure, fully-auditable and global solutions that move people, supplies, and equipment to customers during peace and war. The long-term goal of this initial implementation is to retire a series of transportation legacy systems and create a long-term operational TM solution for USTRANSCOM.
“Telesto Group is proud to be the Lead Systems Integrator for this innovative, global, joint forces project,” said Soren Hastrup, Telesto Group CEO. “We are also pleased to join the business community here in O’Fallon.”
During the recent efforts to honor U.S. Army Sgt. Holli Bolinski, who was killed on March 5, 2019 while deployed to Kuwait, VFW Post 805 Commander Ed Martinez and others traveled to Pinckneyville, where Bolinski was from, to help install thousands of flags along the route her procession would take.
The flags came courtesy of Larry “The Flagman” Eckhardt who travels around the state honoring fallen soldiers. Eckhardt is known for transporting thousands of American flags and recruiting volunteers to help put up the flags so that the soldier’s last ride is as decorated as possible.
As a sign of VFW Post 805’s gratitude, Martinez presented Eckhardt with a statuette to honor him for his service.
O’FALLON- Voters took to the polls on Tuesday, April 2, and elected a slate of almost entirely new faces to the City Council.
In Ward One, Dennis Muyleart ran unopposed and will join his Ward One counterpart, Ross Rosenberg, on the city council.
The contested race in Ward Two was won by challenger Jessica Lotz over incumbent Robert Kueker. Lotz defeated Kueker 330 to 203 according to the unofficial numbers from the St. Clair County Clerk’s office late Tuesday evening.
In Ward 3, incumbent Kevin Hagarty ran unopposed and will serve another four year term.
Todd Roach defeated two challengers to win election in Ward Four. Roach obtained 248 votes to Mary Lynam-Miller’s 165 and Sarah Atterberry’s 26.
Ward Five saw both seats up for election. One seat, to serve a two-year term, was won by Chris Monroe who ran uncontested.
The other seat, with a four-year term, was won by Gwendolyn Randolph against Chris Hursey, 71 to 64.
In Ward Six, Tom Vorce was the clear winner, defeating Casey Scharven 198 to 56.
Finally, Nathan Parchman won the day in Ward Seven, beating Brian Gibson 254 to 209.
The other big contested race in O’Fallon centered around the District 203 Board of Education. In that race, five people ran for three open positions.
Martha Fraier-Stoffel was the top vote getter with 1,685. Incumbent Mark Christ took the second spot with 1,446 and incumbent Donna Johnson won third with 1,395.
Challenger PK Johnson and incumbent Brandt House missed the top spots, obtaining 1,108 and 985 votes respectively.
In other election news…
• In Lebanon, new faces will also soon be joining the City Council.
In Ward One, Charles Witty ran uncontested.
Incumbent Landall Mack won another four-year term defeating challengers Teddy Sells Jr. and Robert Lee. Mack received 46 votes, Sells 35, and Lee 4.
Local State-Farm agent Jessica Zurliene handily defeated incumbent Bart Bartholomew in Ward 3, 110 to 19 votes.
Finally, in Ward 4, George Fero ran unopposed as a write-in candidate after no one filed during the petition period.
• The race for Lebanon CUSD 9 Board of Education saw four people running for three open positions.
Nancy Schubert-Henss took the top spot with 415 votes, while Adam Noud won second place with 383, and Gary Haas rounded out the top three with 348. Yasanne Garrett fell short with 233.
• The Village of Shiloh had three people run for three open spots. Incumbents Greg O’Neil and Kurt Burrelsman, along with newcomer Julia Warchol Black, all won four-year terms on the Village Board.
• District 90 had three people running for three spots. Incumbents Becky Drury and Rebecca Huller will both each serve another term, while newcomer Quennetta Chambers will join the board replacing Mary Baskett.
• Central 104 also had three people running for three spots. Andrea Mouser, Laurie Burian, and David Swaney will all serve four year terms following Tuesday’s election.
• Shiloh District 85 also saw no competition, with three running for three spots. Leslie Tesluk-Ecker, Ted Schaal, and Kelly Waldrup all will be sworn in for a four-year term on the school board.
• Finally, voters in District 90 were asked whether they supported a plan by the Board of Education to issue $2.26 million in bonds to purchase 81 acres of land on Milburn School Road for the purpose of the construction of a new school in the future.
Voters decidedly approved this non-binding measure, 1,553 to 933.
All election results are unofficial until they are certified by the County Clerk.
O’Fallon Township saw an 11 percent voter turnout. Lebanon Township saw a 16 percent voter turnout. Shiloh Valley Township saw only a three percent voter turnout.
Turnout in the county was 11 percent and was 31 percent in East St. Louis. Those tallies are kept separate due to the two election authorities.
O’FALLON – Train enthusiasts and drivers were left wondering when the tracks running through town were going to be used during the first half of the weekend, as the planned CSX rail car movement from Shattuc and Aviston westward took a bit longer than originally planned.
Approximately 210 cars were stored east of O’Fallon on the closed rail line. Late last year, the company was approved by the Federal Railroad Administration to move those cars west and store them elsewhere. Since the crossbars had been removed from all of the crossings, CSX had to work within fixed hours of the day and not exceed ten miles per hour. Additionally, CSX staff and police had to be at every crossing to ensure safety.
Due to these restrictions, CSX moved the engine needed to pull the cars east on Wednesday, March 13. They planned to move cars from Shattuc to Aviston on Thursday, March 14, and then make the return trip west to Rose Lake on Friday, March 15.
According to local train expert Steven Gilroy, there were questions about how well the plan would work from the start.
“If you recall last time, the train stalled in Caseyville as they were moving the cars out to Shattuc, and they had to get helper engines to push from behind. Unfortunately, the lesson was not learnt from this, and what should’ve been a simple operation unfolded quite differently. Rather than taking three engines like we railfans all anticipated, around noon on Wednesday they came into Caseyville with merely one single engine, CSXT 8817, an EMD SD40-2 (3000 HP), which is a reliable engine, but older, less powerful, and usually used for local operations and yard work. Certainly insufficient for the task at hand,” Gilroy said.
CSX moved the engine through O’Fallon on Wednesday and then tied it down near Carlyle for the night. Then on Thursday morning they took it to Shattuc, brake-tested the cars, and then pulled them up to Aviston. But upon arriving at Aviston and hooking up the cars, Gilroy said CSX had the realization that one engine would not be sufficient, so they tied the train down just outside of Trenton for the night, planning to send additional power in on Friday morning.
On Friday morning, Gilroy explained that CSX changed their mind and decided they would attempt the entire move with just the one engine.
“The train stalled multiple times, but they finally managed to get it going, creeping along sometimes at five miles per hour, sometimes at only one mile per hour. It stalled again near Trenton and they decided to give up on that plan. Just imagine if they had tried to come through O’Fallon with a three to four mile long train at one mile per hour,” Gilroy said.
CSX left Aviston early Friday afternoon. However, they ended up shoving the train back to Aviston and leaving around 50 cars on the track, before trying to proceed west with the remaining cars.
The train was doing fine across the farm fields until reaching Lebanon and trying to climb the hill from Silver Creek into O’Fallon.
“The train, even with the reduced length, stalled on the hill, and with failing sunlight and the crew short on hours with their shift ending at 6 p.m., there was insufficient time for them to move another engine out and then bring it all back to Rose Lake. If they had run out of hours before reaching the yard, they would have had to have stopped wherever they were, even if it cut off a road. So they decided to leave those cars on the track between O’Fallon and Lebanon and brought the engine into town around 5 p.m. where it was left for the night right by Smiley,” Gilroy explained.
Saturday morning CSX brought in two road engines that Gilroy described as “the big guns” that were sent eastbound through town, attached to the engine already here, and headed east to Lebanon to get the cars.
At around noon on Saturday, with a combined 11,400 horsepower, the train finally rolled through O’Fallon.
Gilroy said there are still some loose ends to be cleaned up.
“The cars in Shattuc have been cleared, but the cars in Aviston remain, albeit no longer in town but instead sitting outside of town to the west. CSX will run another train sometime in the next two weeks to retrieve those remaining cars, including another eastbound power move beforehand. It must be completed by the middle of April, which is when the FRA operational waiver expires,” Gilroy explained.
Gilroy did say it was important to note that while this operation didn’t go as planned, the delays were not the fault of the crews.
“Everyone did their best with what they were given to work with by management. Also, I’ve heard the crews who were qualified for this line are no longer around, so it’s possible the current employees in the operations department weren’t aware of how hilly the line actually is on the west end, which affects the power calculations,” Gilroy said.
Gilroy said the big remaining question is what will happen with the line.
“The questioning remaining of course is, then what? Well, after this, the rail will most likely be removed again in Caseyville, and the line will go dormant again for the indefinite future. As of now, CSX has no plans of either reopening the line, nor of abandoning it. So at the present time there is no intention of converting it to a trail or of it being reactivated for use by CSX. While either of those may transpire in the future, with the latter extremely unlikely and the former subject to many politics, the immediate future is that it will sit there dormant, slowly decaying and being overgrown while being maintained to minimum safety standards, including all of the crossing signals being maintained. The other option is that they will try to sell the line, since there are multiple interested parties and CSX has stated they have no plans to reopen it themselves. Only time will tell,” Gilroy said.
O’FALLON – Drivers should be watching this afternoon for a very long, very slow train to roll through O’Fallon.
CSX is clearing their track near Shattuc and Aviston of stored train cars. The company sent a single engine east on Wednesday to retrieve the cars, however, after obtaining the cars in Shattuc, they realized the engine was underpowered to also hook on the cars in Aviston.
As a result, it is suspected CSX will run a second engine east on Friday morning to meet up with the previous engine and begin hauling the train back west to East St. Louis.
CSX has estimated the train will come through O’Fallon between 1-3 p.m. but it may be delayed due to the additional step of getting another engine, if they opt to do so.
That locomotive will be transporting about 210 rail cars westbound through town at ten miles per hour. Every crossing will be staffed with CSX Flaggers and CSX Police. This second trip will likely cause delays of 10-15 minutes per crossing.
The cars were brought out east and stored at Shattuc and Aviston a while back. Back in December the O’Fallon Weekly reported that CSX had plans to retrieve those cars that had been sitting unused. The Federal Railroad Administration had granted a petition to retrieve the cars as long as the trains did not exceed ten miles per hour and that CSX had flaggers and company police at every grade crossing.
O’FALLON – The O’Fallon police were dispatched in response to an armed robbery at the Sprint store on Central Park Drive on Wednesday night.
Police were called to the store, located at 1140 Central Park Drive, around 9:30 p.m. The police were reportedly searching for three men with guns in a black Chevrolet Tahoe, according to scanner traffic.
The robbery is similar in nature to one that took place at the Fairview Heights Sprint store on Saturday, March 9. That robbery took place at a similar time, with officers arriving at around 9:20 p.m. to the Sprint PCS location at 105 Frey Lane.
When officers arrived, they learned that three males had entered through the rear of the business while one employee took out the trash. The three suspects were all dressed in dark clothing carrying handguns. The suspect announced the robbery and held employees at gunpoint while they stole an undetermined amount of cash. The suspects, all were wearing hoodie or masks over their faces to hide their identities. They are described as:
Suspect 1: Black male, 5’10” tall, thin build, black Adidas pants, black Nike hoodie, carrying a black framed semi-automatic handgun with a silver slide.
Suspect 2: Black male, 6’ tall, thin build, black hoodie, black Nike pants, grey gloves, black semi-automatic handgun
Suspect 3: Black male, light complexion, thin build, black hat or ski mask, grey insulated jacket, royal blue tennis shoes, black semi-automatic handgun
The suspects left on foot east from the rear of the store. Police searched the area but were unable to locate the men.
Fortunately, no customers were inside the business, and no employees were harmed during the robbery.
The O’Fallon Weekly will update this story with more information as it becomes available.
O’FALLON – The five candidates running for three open positions on the OTHS District 203 Board of Education took part in a candidate forum sponsored by the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and O’Fallon Weekly on Thursday, March 7.
The event was broadcast live on Charter Cable Channel 993 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99, and will be rebroadcast through April 3.
Incumbents Mark Christ, Brandt House, and Donna Johnson were joined by challengers Martha Fraier-Stoffel and PK Johnson. The candidates were each given two minutes to introduce themselves. From there, all of the candidates were asked a random question and one fixed question. The fixed question related to the district’s finances and how the candidate would suggest OTHS adjust its budget to get out of deficit spending. The candidates were then given three to five minutes to make their closing statements.
Through a random draw prior to the start of the event, Donna Johnson was given the opportunity to speak first. Johnson, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, has served one term on the District 203 Board. Aside from acting as the board’s secretary, she is a member of the Building Educational Success Together (BEST), Outreach, and Achievement Gap Committees.
“My platform is the same as it was four years ago: students today, world leaders tomorrow. Since I’ve been on the board, I’ve brought a different perspective that challenges our board and administration to look at things differently, understand all points of view, and encourage out of the box strategic planning for the future,” Donna Johnson said.
During the random question portion, Donna Johnson was asked how important she felt it was, as a board member, to be involved in day to day operations at the school.
“As a board member, our job is not to be involved in day to day operations. We are supposed to be at the fifteenth level looking down and the day to day operations is why we hire our superintendent and administrative staff. They run the corporation and we as the board run the governance and make sure its done correctly,” Johnson said.
When asked about the district’s finances, Donna Johnson said, “When I came on the board four years ago, the top issue was fiscal constraints and uncertainty. In the past four years we have budgeted conservatively and because of this our five year projections are stable. We’re doing pretty good as a board.”
During her closing remarks, Donna Johnson touched on what she views as her accomplishments during her time on the board.
“I’m very active and involved as a school board member. I’ve been the school board secretary for the past four years. I’m a member of the BEST committee which asked the Chamber of Commerce to do an independent feasibility study on school consolidation. We’ve collaborated with feeder districts for a seven percent reduction to our transportation rate. We’ve consolidated waste management in a joint agreement with the city. I’m on the outreach committee which establishes parent advisory group, coffee over conversations, and restructured our student discipline. I’m also on the Achievement Gap committee where we renamed math courses so students and parents clearly understood their math level, provided repurposed laptops, and excelled minority student enrollment into AP and honors courses,” Johnson said.
Mark Christ first joined the OTHS board in 2007. Since that time, he has not only been involved in the District 203 Board of Education, but also gotten very involved int he Illinois Association of School Boards, helping to steer policy at a state level.
“I would ask that you re-elect me to continue to serve. Your O’Fallon high school is fantastic and is doing well.
We have maintained a superior academic environment throughout some challenging times in the past twelve years. I appreciate and take very seriously the commitment and trust the community has placed in me and ask that you allow me to continue to serve in this way,” Christ said.
During the random question portion, Christ was asked what he felt were the current challenges facing the district.
“The most important one is the issue of state funding. It has gotten better under the evidence based funding model, but for many years OTHS faced reduced state aid payments which, in turn, forced the local taxpayers to share a greater burden. We faced serious reductions in staff and programs, and we weathered that storm. We’re now seeing, on our five year forecast, the best financial picture we’ve had since 2007 when I came on the board,” Christ said.
When asked about the district’s finances, Christ said “There’s no one easy straight forward answer to that. Obviously salaries and benefits are 67 percent or more of our operating budget and that’s just what our school is. Its a people business. I think given the state continues to fund the evidence based funding as they have promised, it will go a long way to alleviate some of our deficit spending. Certainly we can make cuts, but when you make cuts you have competing sides on what should be cut. There are certain core academics have to be maintained. We can’t exceed class size limits. There will have to be a continued effort by the board to look at the situation as a whole… it’s a balancing act.”
Christ said he is proud to serve the community on the District 203 school board during his closing remarks.
“I have been the vice president of the board for the past four years. I also serve as one of 21 regional directors for the Illinois Association of School Boards. What I love about serving on the school board is that it brings it down to the local level. This is Americana 101. This is where our community elects representatives to govern our schools. Yes, we have our hands tied by a lot of things, but its a wonderful way I can serve O’Fallon and give back. I’ve enjoyed every minute. I’d ask you to re-elect me as I have the experience, integrity, and dedication to continue to perform and serve the community,” Christ said.
House, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel and current pilot for United Airlines, has served on the District 203 board since 2014.
“I joined the board because I wanted people to realize that it is those people who helped me get to where I am that are important. Now I want to continue on the board. My statement for this election is ‘A vision for OTHS’s tomorrow, today’. One of the things I have done this past term and want to continue is to look at the future and see what we can do at OTHS,” House said.
During the random portion of the forum, House was asked what made him decide to run for the District 203 Board of Education.
“As there was this exodus from East St. Louis, of families coming to O’Fallon to attend our schools, these kids were dealing with challenges that are unique to O’Fallon in a lot of ways and we see this in a lot of other places around the country where this happens. I wanted us to be prepared to deal with those challenges. In the last eight years, we’ve gone from nine percent reduced and free lunch to 24 percent of our population being reduced and free lunch. So there is a need to be able to address the students that were migrating from East St. Louis High School and that community,” House said.
House said part of that effort was to create the Achievement Gap Committee to “close the gap of our low income and minority students to our students of means.”
When asked about the district’s finances, House said the district needs to be looking at the future and projecting outward.
“How do we pay for those things though? We can’t do that in deficit spending. Right now one of the things I’ve asked as a board is how do we right-size our cash balance. We’ve got this cash saved up, but that’s tax payer dollars that they could be saving. If we’re not doing something with that what is the right size for that cash balance to be. We need to go outside of our boundaries and not just rely on tax dollars and not just think about what’s around us and even development going on around us. We’re not like Wal-Mart with a product to sell but then I challenge that thought as well as we have a great product to sell and that’s our academic programing. Would Boeing be willing to invest in what we have here to develop, maybe a wing of a school geared toward STEM? How do we reach out and leverage the opportunities around us and help our taxpayers out and help our students out with top of the line technology,” House said.
During his closing remarks, House touched on a question that PK Johnson received about the district’s one and done policy as it relates to students being expelled if caught with drugs on school grounds.
“Obviously, I’m someone who benefited from second chances because the adults in the room that were dealing with the challenges I was dealing with. So when my board hears me advocate for the second chances of the students coming through our expulsion hearings, its from that mindset. I do take it personally, because I can’t imagine that had one thing not gone right in my life, I would not be living the dream I’m living today,” House said.
“Donna and I were invited to a class recently where we spoke about drugs and advocating against the use of drugs, and a student said to us ‘I know you adults think drugs and alcohol are bad, but you never expel anyone for bullying and that’s an even bigger problem for us.’ We need to give kids a second chance and be aware of what our students are dealing with,” House said.
Fraier-Stoffel is proud to call O’Fallon home for more than 30 years and to have graduated from OTHS. She feels as though her background in accounting and human resources will be a benefit to the board, as well as her involvement learning as much as she can about city and school district governance.
“This community and school are very important to me. My love and commitment to them serve as my primary motivator for running for school board. My parents, David and Susan Hursey, modeled and instilled in me and my three younger brothers a love of service to this community. I cannot think of a more fitting way for me to take two things I care so much about and put them together into one service opportunity,” Fraier-Stoffel said.
During the random question portion of the event, Fraier-Stoffel was asked if she believed OTHS should put a greater importance on skilled trades and how she would go about that.
“I think the curriculum and offerings at OTHS are exceptional. I am a product of that institution. I do agree there is a need for skilled trades and the district is fortunate we have a lot of really knowledgable teachers and administrators that let us know what the curriculum needs are. I think we should continue to reach out to parents, teachers, and guidance counselors that are helping students prepare for their next steps and see if there are any potential needs the school board needs to resolve,” Fraier-Stoffel said.
When asked about the district’s finances, Fraier-Stoffel said,” When you’re talking about the finances as it relates to school districts, the primary means of funding comes from property taxes. Its a really exciting time in Shiloh and O’Fallon, as we’ve got a lot of growth going on. So while the previous boards have had some really difficult decisions to reduce programs and things like that to get the budget as close to balanced as we can, we’re really looking at some amazing opportunities financially over the next five to ten years. There’s been a recent expiration of a TIF here in town that contains some commercial development. There’s two in Shiloh, the Dierberg’s and Target area specifically that will expire in 2021, that will generate sizable commercial property taxes. And there is some current and projected commercial development that will increase our base as well. That will definitely benefit the district as it relates to our financial strain.”
Fraier-Stoffel detailed all of the extensive research she has conducted about the district and what it means to be a school board member during her closing remarks.
“I approached my decision to run for school board as I do most major decisions in my life: methodically, logically, and with a lot of research. I have spent countless hours meeting with district administrators, union representatives, current and former teachers, community members, city officials, and school board members from this board and feeder districts. I have reviewed endless amounts of information specific to this district, such as the budgets, the audited financials, past board meeting minutes, the current board policy, and the student handbook. I’ve researched information on board member roles from the Illinois Association of School Boards and read articles on things like curriculum, student discipline, and military impacted students. I’ve attended OTHS school board meetings since July and feeder districts for over two years. I’ve attended the BEST committee Board Academy training and, most recently, the OTHS school board retreat. I wanted to understand as fully as possible, this side of sitting on the board, the responsibility that would be placed on me. It is important to me, if elected, to be able to have a solid foundation of knowledge to best serve the district and community as soon as I’m sworn in,” Fraier-Stoffel said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Martha Fraier-Stoffel is a freelance reporter for the O’Fallon Weekly, primarily covering O’Fallon City Council.
PK Johnson previously served as a member of the Wolf Branch School District 113 Board of Education. An attorney by trade, Johnson moved to O’Fallon about a year and a half ago and has a son attending OTHS.
“I really believe I have all of the attributes to be a good school board member. There is a big learning curve when you’re on a school board to learn your role, figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, and I learned that you’ve got a lot of competing factions. You’ve got the teachers, you’ve got the administration, you’ve got the taxpayers, all of whom don’t always see eye to eye. And I’ve learned from being an attorney that before you make a rash decision, you really need to look at all sides of an issue. Being a school board member, after looking at all sides of an issue, you need to come to the realization you are looking out for the students,” PK Johnson said.
During the random question portion, PK Johnson was asked if he supported the district’s “one and done” policy, which states the district shall expel a student caught with drugs on school grounds. Johnson answered that, while he can see that some kids may be good kids that just get wrapped up in a bad thing, he did support this policy.
“I think I side with the one and done policy. I know that with the students that do get in trouble, they aren’t necessarily expelled. Some go to safe school, which isn’t a bad thing. These kids are still learning and they still get to graduate with their class. While it may be harsh, I am for it as long as you can find a way to get these kids into a safe school, still learning,” PK Johnson answered.
When asked about the district’s finances, PK Johnson said, “Making cuts is always tough. I’m optimistic about the future for a couple of reasons. With the evidence based model, O’Fallon is in the best financial situation it has been in years. I think we are running in the deficit, but in the scheme of things its not a huge deficit. I think the administration and previous board has done a really good job keeping a rainy day fund in case major issues arise in the future. O’Fallon is also expecting some growth over the upcoming years. With more businesses and people living in the district, there will be more tax dollars.”
In his closing remarks, PK Johnson said he is running as a way to give back to a district that has been good to his son.
“When I decided to run for the board, it isn’t because I had an agenda. It isn’t because I’m looking out for one group of students, cut taxes drastically. I don’t have an agenda, I just want to help the students. I have a son, Kaden, who is a sophomore. He’s a decent student but he’s struggled at times and I’ve spent a lot of time with him and with his teachers. The teachers have been awesome and been courteous and helped him a ton. I want to give back.”