District 203 Board of Education approves teacher reductions for 2016-17 school year

Lynda Cozad

District 203 Board of Education President Lynda Cozad speaks to a guest at the Board’s “Conversations over Coffee” event last Friday.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

O’FALLON –  The Board of Education voted to reduce staffing in District 203. Two teachers were honorably dismissed and four teachers will see their teaching hours reduced.

Superintendent Darcy Benway said after reviewing the state of the district, cuts were unavoidable.

“Our five year financial projections are pretty dismal, and with everything going on at the state level and all of its gridlock, managing the district has become very difficult. The Board of Education has put together a debt reduction plan and is in the process of working through the plan,” Benway said.

“The reality is our enrollment numbers are down and the reductions we’re recommending tonight aren’t economically driven as much as they are driven by section reductions in various departments. This is a section reduction in force more than an economic reduction in force,” she continued.

Benway said even if money was an issue, the enrollment numbers don’t support the staff.

“If we had all of the money we could use, would we still make these reductions? The answer is that frankly, it would be the responsible thing to do as we don’t have the sections to support the teaching staff we currently have,” Benway said.

Benway and the Board of Education wanted to make clear the cuts were not for any negative or personal reason.

“The people impacted by these section reductions are absolutely great people. Phenomenal teachers. No one is being reduced for any performance reasons or any other concern. It’s unfortunate that there are fluctuations in enrollment and they do impact people. We’re very disheartened that some of our employees are being impacted by this. They are great people and we want to keep them in our thoughts as we go through this process,” Benway said.

The cuts and reduction in hours will take effect at the end of the current school year.

In other business…

The Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the district’s annual Illinois High School Association Membership.

Martha Weld Keith Richter

Assistant Superintendent Martha Weld and Board Member Keith Richter at the “Conversation over Coffee” (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

The Board also voted to approve the schedule of student fees for the 2016-17 school year. All school fees are staying the same except for the general registration fee, which will be increased by $25 next year. Board Member Donna Johnson voted “present”.

During her report, Superintendent Benway addressed election results from Macoupin, Monroe, and Bond counties. Those counties all passed sales tax increases on March 15 similar to the proposed sales tax increase to help school districts pay for construction being discussed in St. Clair County. Benway said that while District 203 is not speaking out in support or against the idea of a sales tax to help schools with facility costs, she believes voters are recognizing that with the state so behind in funding education that other revenue sources need to be considered.

Assistant Superintendent Martha Weld detailed some changes to the district’s student placement into math classes. The goal of the district is try to make sure as many students as possible are in Advanced Algebra II, Honors Algebra II, or Honors PreCalc/Trig by their junior year. Weld reported that projections are positive and that the math department is excited to see how the changes will play out.

Principal Rich Bickel took a portion of his report to recognize some of the academic accomplishments of OTHS students. Specifically, Bickel reported that standardized test scores continue to be at or among the top of area schools. The average ACT score at OTHS is 23.1 in the most recently reported data, which placed OTHS at the top of metro-east schools,

“This is a tribute to our wonderful students, teachers, and staff who continue to respond to every new challenge in education with determination and innovation, as well as to the supplemental programs that we have been able to offer to students who need them,” Bickel said.

Bickel also reported the National Honor Society recently inducted 183 new members. These students achieved a cumulative weighted GPA of 3.5 or higher after at least five semesters of coursework. Additionally, they have signed a contract to perform 15 hours of community service by participating in service projects.

OTHS had five fall sports teams achieve the IHSA Team Academic Achievement Award for having a superior collective team grade point average.

• Girls Cross Country, led by Coach Neil James, achieved a cumulative team GPA of 3.84

• Girls Tennis team led by Coach Erin Thoman achieved a cumulative team GPA of 3.62

• Girls Golf team led by Coach Chris Eddy achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.45

• Boys Soccer team led by Coach Jason Turkington achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.45

• Boys Cross Country team led by Coach Jon Burnett achieved a cumulative team GPA of 3.35

OTHS Senior Angie DesCollines was recognized for receiving a Racial Harmony Award at the  recent Racial Harmony Gathering at Grace Church in Fairview Heights, The award is given to students who have displayed exceptional character and integrity and who exert a positive influence on all those around them. The Racial Harmony organization, under the leadership of President Donna Moody, also presented an award to OTHS, which Bickel accepted on the school’s behalf.

Board Members Brandt House and Mark Christ were not in attendance.