PBL to offer incentives to student-teachers

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PAXTON — With the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district having trouble finding qualified teachers to fill vacancies, it is creating an incentive program to help attract candidates from the state’s colleges and universities.

The school board voted 5-0 during its Nov. 16 meeting to approve a memorandum of understanding between the board and the PBL Education Association teachers’ union regarding the proposed student-teacher recruitment and retention program.

Under the program, student-teachers at PBL would be eligible to receive a pair of $2,000 incentives if they complete their required semester of student-teaching in subject areas or grade levels in which there have been “difficulties finding qualified teachers to fill vacancies.” One of the $2,000 incentive bonuses would be provided halfway through the student-teaching semester, while the other would be given immediately after.

Also, those hired by the district to teach full-time in “difficult-to-fill” subject areas or grade levels immediately following their semester of student-teaching at PBL would receive an additional $2,000 hiring bonus on the first pay date of the semester. If they remain employed by the district for a second semester, an additional $2,000 hiring bonus would be provided.

Incentives would also be offered to those teachers who supervise student-teachers. They would receive a $500 incentive early in the second semester during which they supervise a student-teacher.

The district has reportedly had trouble finding qualified math and Spanish teachers, among other positions.

Voting in favor of the incentive program were Jason Rust, Dana Bergandine, Brittney Maulding, Steve Pacey and Dawn Bachtold. Absent were Craig Loschen and Jason Dirks.

Voting ‘no’ on report cards
Also during the Nov. 16 meeting, the board voted 4-1, with Pacey in dissent, to approve PBL’s school report cards for 2022, as issued by the Illinois State Board of Education.

On the report cards, PBL’s three schools received “commendable” status, the second-best among the four classifications. Pacey, though, said the results could have been better.

After he voted “no,” Pacey told his peers on the board:

“When I looked at this report card, it struck me as this is the school’s report card, and we are the board of directors of the school corporation, so it’s our report card. The more I thought about that, I decided as a board member (that) I’m not overwhelmed by that report card and maybe none of us should be, and I think we should commit ourselves as a board to come up with a better report card next year. And, so, I’m going to vote ‘no’ to approve. I don’t approve of my report card. … It’s this board’s report card — that’s what it really is — and we need to do better.”

Superintendent Cliff McClure said Assistant Superintendent Tara Chandler will be reviewing the report-card data with the board as part of her school improvement report next month. Because Chandler had to leave last week’s meeting early, her school improvement report was postponed until the Dec. 14 meeting.

“I agree, Steve, we can always improve,” McClure told Pacey. “But that’s the purpose of school improvement plans. I would never say that we’re satisfied with where we’re at. You’re always trying to address those weaknesses. … We’ll need to have Tara dig through that a little bit.”

In an interview with the Ford County Chronicle earlier this month, Chandler said the COVID-19 pandemic had an “effect on everything,” but she still pointed to a few positive signs that PBL could take from the report cards, including the percentage of ninth-graders on track to graduate (89 percent, up from 69 percent), student growth at the elementary and middle school levels on standardized tests (equal to the state average in reading and 6 percentage points above the state average in math) and the lack of separation between the testing performances of low-income students districtwide compared with their non-low-income peers in both reading and math (the gap being far less than the state average).

Proposed tax levy OK’d
Also last week, the board approved a proposed version of the school district’s tax levy for 2022 and set a truth-in-taxation hearing for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, in the board room at the unit office in Paxton, with final approval of the levy expected later that same night.

The proposed levy shows a projected $12.735 million in property taxes to be collected next summer, up from $11.832 million this year — a difference of $902,477, or roughly 7.6 percent. Because it calls for more than a 5 percent increase, Associate Superintendent Travis Duley said a truth-in-taxation hearing will be required.

A preliminary version of the levy presented last month had shown a projected $12.255 million in taxes to be collected — a difference of $422,579 from this year, or roughly 3.5 percent — but that was based on projections that the district’s equalized assessed valuation (EAV) will rise to $205 million this year, up from $199.4 million in 2021. The proposed levy approved last week showed an even higher projected EAV, totaling $216.99 million.

“EAVs have significantly increased since last year — I would even say since the preliminary levy provided to you last month,” Duley told the board. “Those EAVs have gone up quite a bit.”

With the projected increase in EAV, the district’s property tax rate for 2022 should remain similar to — if not lower than — last year’s rate of $5.93 per $100 of assessed valuation. The projected rate listed in the proposed levy is $5.86, down from a rate of $5.97 projected in the preliminary levy a month earlier. If it holds, it would mark the fifth time in the last six years that PBL’s tax rate has been reduced.

Besides the increased EAV, one factor resulting in the increase in the amount to be collected, Duley said last month, is the fact that the district plans to reintroduce its tax levy for health/life safety projects. While zero dollars were levied for HLS projects last year, $108,499 is expected to be levied for HLS projects this year.

The proposed levy also shows $7.92 million in taxes to be collected for the education fund (up from $7.28 million this year), $206,149 for the Illinois Municipal Retirement fund (up from $215,470), $1.08 million for the operations and maintenance fund (up from $997,456), $266,909 for the FICA fund (up from $255,768), $433,998 for the transportation fund (up from $398,982), $108,499 for the working cash fund (up from $99,746), $86,800 for the special education fund (up from $79,796), $338,518 in the tort liability fund (up from $324,712) and $2.18 million for bonds (up from $2.179 million).

The aggregate levy — with bonds excluded — totals $10.55 million, up from $9.65 million this year, at a rate of $4.86 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Other business
Also at last week’s school board meeting:

— The board discussed proposed changes to the high school math curriculum and its course offerings for the 2023-24 school year. Currently, students entering ninth grade in need of math support are enrolled in a “block” math course that involves math being taught for two of their seven periods each day, earning them one math and one elective credit. The process is then repeated for grade 10, after which those students take a third-year math course to fulfill their graduation requirement. In all, those students occupy five periods of their high school schedule to earn three math credits. The proposal would eliminate block math and replace it with Math IA and Math IB. The new courses would be taken in only one class period, freeing up an additional period for students to pursue other classes in other subjects. According to the proposal, students would receive the same level of support by stretching the content of Math I over two years rather than over two class periods.

— The board approved the disposal of old basketball uniforms. The district was authorized to sell, donate or dispose of the uniforms.

— The board approved the resignation of Mary Ager as high school class sponsor, high school yearbook advisor and high school student council advisor, effective at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

— The board approved proceeding with the replacement of fire alarms at the high school using funding from a maintenance grant and proceeding with the installation of new paging systems and clocks at the junior high and high schools. Meanwhile, the board continues to review two other projects for possible completion next summer: the installation of a vertical lift at the high school and the construction of a new concession stand/restroom building at the high school. “We will come back in December with more detail on that,” Duley said.

— The board voted to accept a $301 donation from Jodie Vaughn for the high school football program and a $100 donation from Richard Meyer for PBL Backpack program.

— Duley read a letter commending junior high school cross-country coach Mariah White for her efforts to ensure that a special-needs sixth-grade student-athlete on the team feels included.

— In the absence of Ford County Special Education Cooperative Director Jesse McFarling, the board heard a report from McClure regarding the special-education co-op’s Nov. 16 executive committee meeting. McClure said the executive committee approved seeking a paid intern to replace the retiring Deb Cook as school psychologist and approved a new three-year contract with McFarling, who is in the final year of his contract.

— The board approved a list of proposed legislative “position statements” for 2022 from the Illinois Association of School Boards and authorized the board’s representative at the upcoming Triple I Conference to vote accordingly during the IASB’s delegate assembly.

— The board was provided with a list of proposed new and revised school board policies for their review and future approval.

— The board approved placing an amended version of the district’s budget for the 2022 fiscal year on public display and set a public hearing on the amended budget for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, in the board room at the unit office. The budget, approved in September, needs to be amended to reflect additional Title grant revenues and related expenditures, Duley said, plus additional revenue and expenses for the transportation fund. “Those are reflected in that amended budget,” Duley said. The amended budget also calls for a $25,000 increase in the line items for the purchase of band equipment for the high school and junior high school, Duley said, as part of the gradual replacement of all of the band program’s equipment over the next several years.

— The board approved seeking bids with the Mahomet-Seymour school district for diesel fuel. The sealed bids received will be opened at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 9, at the Mahomet-Seymour administrative office. Bids will be sought for both one- and two-year contracts.

— The board reviewed drafts of proposed updated job descriptions for the positions of assistant superintendent, principal and assistant principal.

— The board approved the Family and Medical Leave Act request of Kathleen Goodson for 10 days of leave next month.

— The board approved Steve Waugh as sixth-grade boys’ basketball coach, Kelsey Vaughn as a volunteer coach for junior high volleyball, Donnie Inman as a volunteer coach for junior high boys’ basketball and Melody Fried as a volunteer coach for high school scholastic bowl.

— The board approved the hiring of Jodie Luebchow as a paraprofessional and Danielle Siebert as a secretary at Clara Peterson Elementary School.

— Duley said Thanksgiving break starts Wednesday, Nov. 23, at PBL’s three schools.