Projected GCMS tax rate reduced further in final version of tax levy

GIBSON CITY — A reduced tax rate is projected in a final version of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school district’s property tax levy for 2024, which was approved by the school board during its Nov. 29 meeting after a public hearing.

Superintendent Jeremy Darnell said the final levy included some changes from a tentative version he presented to the board on Oct. 24. To reflect more accurate numbers provided by Ford County Supervisor of Assessments Pam Bruens, the levy was based on a higher equalized assessed valuation (EAV) than previously projected — $211,989,278 — and, as a result, the projected tax rate was reduced slightly, by 0.01%, from a month earlier, Darnell said.

“We changed from having a 10% EAV increase and a $4 million new-property increase (in the tentative levy) to a 17% EAV increase and zero dollars in new property (in the final levy),” Darnell said. “We reduced the rate in the education fund by 15 cents (from last year), so the total rate, if it comes in as projected, will actually go down 22 cents (from last year) and down about 10 cents from what we presented last month. It was 5.29% last year, and (this year’s) levy, if it comes in as projected, would be 5.17%.”

The final levy projects more than $10 million in real estate taxes to be collected next summer, including $7 million for the district’s educational fund. Last year’s levy saw the district collect a total of $9 million, the bulk of which — $6.28 million — went to its educational fund.

Other business
Also at the school board’s Nov. 29 monthly meeting:

— The board considered the possibility of engaging with the two other Ford County public school districts to bring forward a proposed 1% school facilities sales tax referendum to the voters of the county next year. “We see this as an opportunity to shift some cost burden from property taxes to a consumer tax that is applied on a limited basis,” Darnell said. “We look forward to considering this in the near future.” The boards of at least two of the county’s three school districts — the others being Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Tri-Point — would need to approve moving forward with the referendum for it to appear on a ballot.

— The board approved the maternity leave of Kaylee Petersen upon the birth of her child next year. Estimated dates are from March 9 through May 24.

— The board approved the maternity leave of Michelle O’Neall upon the birth of her child next year. Estimated dates are from April 18 through May 23.

— The board approved the hiring of Rheanna Harris as a paraprofessional for the school district at an hourly pay rate of $15 for seven hours per day.

— The board approved April Warren as a GCMS Middle School assistant scholastic bowl coach for the 2023-24 school year.

— The board approved Jenny Luttrell as a volunteer assistant volleyball coach for the 2023-24 season.

— The board approved its meeting dates for 2024. Board meetings will be on the last Wednesday of each month except for in March and December, when they fall on different dates due to conflicts with holidays. All meetings begin at 6:15 p.m. with an executive session, if needed, in the board room in the unit office at 307 N. Sangamon Ave. in Gibson City. They are open to the public. Wednesday meetings are on Jan. 31, Feb. 28, March 20, April 24, May 29, June 26, July 31, Aug. 28, Sept. 25, Oct. 30 and Dec. 18. There is one Monday meeting, on Nov. 25.

— The board heard reports from GCMS High School Principal Kyle Bielfeldt, GCMS Middle School Principal Kent Nash and GCMS Elementary School Principal Justin Kean. In the principals’ reports, “a really common theme across all three buildings was that we just have a ton of kids who are doing (community) service projects,” Darnell said. “For example, our elementary school just donated almost $6,000 to the food pantry through a coin drive, and our high school has done a blood drive and gone to four different places offsite to do philanthropic work. There’s just a really good common theme of philanthropy that we’re trying to instill in our kids across all grade levels.”

— The board heard a report from Curriculum Director Erin Nuss. As part of her report, Nuss reviewed the annual School Report Card issued from the Illinois State Board of Education for the school district and its three schools. The results were quite pleasing to Darnell. “We achieved 20 percent over the state average on all of our test scores,” Darnell said. “And we actually spent almost 20 percent less than the state average per pupil, and our poverty rate is at 47 percent. So we have more challenging kids, spending less money and outperforming. That’s some really cool stuff. … We’re doing a lot of great things. And all of this is while we continue to trickle the tax rate back.”

— The board heard a report from Technology Director Walker Willis. In his report, Willis said he recently led a professional development seminar with teachers about emerging artificial intelligence (AI) tools and their impact on education. “We discussed the biggest potential benefits of AI along with aspects of it that should encourage us to be cautious,” Willis said in his report. “We also looked at a number of applications of AI that can be incredibly useful for teachers. This is a technology that is evolving rapidly, so it will be a topic of ongoing discussion.” Willis said he also recently joined Ryan Tompkins’ high school ethics class to discuss some of the ethical considerations of the new AI technology. “The students were very engaged throughout and offered well-reasoned insights into how we should deal with this technology moving forward,” Willis said in his report.

— The board approved the acceptance of a $5,945 donation from the GCMS Booster Club for the GCMS football program and a $2,525 donation from the GCMS Booster Club for the GCMS boys’ basketball program.

— The board approved facility-use agreements with the Gibson City Boy Scouts for use of the elementary school’s gym and cafeteria from November through February; the Gibson City Lions Club for use of the elementary school’s cafeteria and kitchen for its annual Pancake Day on Sunday, Feb. 18; and the Paxton Park District for use of the elementary school’s new gymnasium for the park district’s youth basketball program this winter.

— The board approved several field trips, including the chamber choir to sites in the Gibson City area on Wednesday, Dec. 13; the seventh grade to Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena on Friday, April 19; the high school Art 4 class to the Chicago Art District on Saturday, Dec. 9; the sixth grade to Peoria on Wednesday, April 24; and high school student leaders to Pontiac on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

— The board approved the destruction of audio recordings of executive sessions dating through the end of May 2022.

— The board heard reports from its advisory committees, including its policy committee, which meets again Wednesday, Dec. 13; buildings, grounds and transportation committee, which met Wednesday, Nov. 1, to discuss the solar and press-box projects; personnel and finance committee, which meets again Wednesday, Dec. 6; and strategy and enrichment committee, which meets again Wednesday, Jan. 31.