OTHS Wind Ensemble

OTHS Wind Ensemble perform at Music for All National Festival

OTHS Wind Ensemble

(Submitted Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – The O’Fallon Township High School Wind Ensemble recently performed at the 2016 Music for All National Festival, the nation’s most prestigious festival for school instrumental music ensemble. The 25th annual Festival was held in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The O’Fallon Township High School Wind Ensemble is comprised of 65 high-performing student musicians and is under the direction of Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds. The OTHS Wind Ensemble was selected to perform by a panel of esteemed music educators by recorded audition.

The OTHS Wind Ensemble is one of 49 high school and middle school concert band and percussion ensembles from across the nation selected to perform at the 2016 Festival.

Tax Meeting

School administrators detail plans for possbile revenue at second community engagement meeting

Tax Meeting

District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway speaks with a group of residents during the breakout portion of the second community engagement meeting. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

O’FALLON – Administrators with all four local school districts outlined the plans their respective Boards of Education have for the revenue that would be generated if a proposed sales tax increase for schools is approved by voters at a public meeting last week.

The meeting, which was the second community engagement session, was designed as a way to open a dialogue between the public and the school districts to see if there is even an interest in placing a possible sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot. A proposed countywide one percent sales tax increase will be used by school districts to help pay for construction and facilities.

District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway told the assembled crowd of nearly 70 residents, teachers, and school district employees that OTHS would receive nearly $1.3 million per year from the tax. Benway said the district would commit half of that revenue to property tax relief through debt abatement while the other half would be used to fund facility needs.

“OTHS Smiley was built in 1958 and it needs some major help,” Benway said.

District 90 Superintendent Carrie Hruby said the district would  apply 60 to 70 percent to property tax relief and use the remaining 40 to 30 percent for safety and security.

“We’d like to implement more security measures, such as keycard entry at schools,” Hruby said. Hruby also said the district would like to upgrade and increase the number of security cameras both inside and outside of school buildings, as well as upgrade fire alarm panels and intruder alarm systems.


Tax Meeting

(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

District 104 Superintendent John Bute said his district would apply 75 percent of the generated revenue towards paying off Qualified Zone Academy Bonds that were used to repurpose building space. Currently the district has a balance of more than $3.5 million left to pay. Bute said the remaining 25 percent would be used to deal with current facility needs.

Bute also said the district is discussing a possible referendum for building expansion. He said the district is looking at a second phase of construction at Joseph Arthur Middle School, which would include a full size gym, additional classrooms, and a larger cafeteria. They are also looking to expand Central Elementary School with additional classrooms.

District 85 Superintendent Dale Sauer said his district would commit 50 percent to property tax relief through debt abatement while the other half would be applied to facility needs.

Sauer explained that Shiloh Elementary School was built in 1956 and is in need of many repairs. The elementary school would receive variety of improvements to the windows, roof, floors, gym, and HVAC system. Additionally, the district would replace failing water heaters, resurface the synthetic athletic track, and reseal the parking lot at Shiloh Middle School.

The third engagement session is scheduled for April 28 at 7 p.m. at Shiloh Elementary School.

Lynda Cozad

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.

Residents attend meeting to learn about proposed sales tax for schools

OTHSO’FALLON – Around 150 attended a meeting to discuss a proposed sales tax increase to help schools pay for construction costs for new buildings or to repair older ones.

The meeting was the first of a series to be held in O’Fallon about the proposal. All four local superintendents were in attendance, as well as a few O’Fallon aldermen and many members of the various boards of education in O’Fallon and Shiloh.

“We’re not here to campaign for a sales tax increase,” moderator David Hopkins stated early on.

Hopkins is a member of a committee made up of community members which has been assembled to assess the status of current school facilities, learn more about the sales tax legislation, gather public input, and report feedback from the O’Fallon area back to the St. Clair County Task Force and Steering Committee.

Following Hopkins’ short presentation about the committee and its purpose, Managing Director of Public Finance for Stifel Financial Ann Noble began her presentation, which drilled down into the tax proposal.

Noble explained that the Illinois General Assembly had passed a law in 2007 allowing counties to vote to raise their sales tax by one percent in order to help fund school facility costs. Currently, 33 counties have voted and approved the tax increase, while 29, including Madison County and Washington County voted the measure down.

Under the law, everything in the municipal and county sales tax base will be included under the school sales tax, except for:

• Cars, trucks, and ATV’s

• Boats and RV’s

• Mobile Homes

• Unprepared food

• Drugs (including over the counter and vitamins)

• Farm equipment and parts

• Farm inputs

“Essentially, if you don’t pay taxes on it now, you won’t under this law,” explained Noble.

Schools will be allotted their portion of the sales tax revenue based on their percentage of the student population within the county. From there, districts have a few options as to how to use the revenue. They can save the money over time to pay for capital projects outright, issue new bonds for current capital needs and support those bonds with the sales tax, and they can retire existing debt issued for capital purposes.

Noble did point out that theoretically a district could reduce property taxes under this proposal as a board of education could elect to abate existing property taxes by using the sales tax funds to pay off outstanding bonds. However, Noble stressed it is the individual board’s decision as to how to use the revenue generated.

During her presentation, Noble estimated the four districts in O’Fallon and Shiloh could stand to receive more than $3.7 million annually, with District 90 bringing in the most with $1.8 million. It’s estimated the tax will collect more than $22 million across St. Clair County.

When it comes to outstanding capital debt, all four districts could use assistance. Currently, District 85 owes $4.4 million, District 90 owes $33.6 million, Central 104 owes $7.7 million, and OTHS 203 owes $34.1 million in building bond debt.

In order for the school sales tax proposal to reach the ballot,  school boards representing more than 50 percent of the resident student enrollment in the county must adopt resolutions stating they wish the question to be placed before the voters. From there, a simple majority of votes cast county-wide is all that is needed for the tax increase to pass.

Before the formal presentations were finished and everyone began to split into groups to formulate questions and express concerns, the four superintendents presented their current capital needs. All four expressed concerns related to aging facilities, security, technology and infrastructure, and the sustainability of space. Aging facilities was a specific concern as Shiloh Elementary was built in 1956 and has received six additions, Central Elementary was built in 1957 and has received three additions, Kampmeyer Elementary was built in 1965, and OTHS Smiley was built in 1958 and has received ten additions.

Following the break out sessions, a common concern centered around trust and transparency. Many residents that spoke said that if the tax proposal were to be approved they expected the various school boards to be very transparent about their intended use of the funds. Residents seemed to indicate they would want to hear proposals from the boards possibly prior to approval of the tax increase.

Additionally, many residents asked why Stifel, a private financial company, was making a presentation about a tax increase proposal. Noble explained that since Stifel works with many school districts when it comes to capital construction bonds, it is serving in an informational capacity. Noble did say that if the tax increase were to be approved, school boards would be free to use whatever financial agency they wished to issue bonds, not just Stifel.

The next community session will be held on Tuesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at Fulton Junior High School.

To learn more about the proposal and to review all of the questions asked at the initial community meeting, visit www.best4schools.net/communityengagement.htm.