By Steve Robinson | October 12, 2017 - 12:24 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – In a first of its kind event, Normal-based Unit 5 School District presented residents with an update on the district, not just on matters it was addressing, but some also provided some statistical information which residents might not have been aware of previously.

Held in the auditorium of Normal Community High School, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. informed roughly 100 people present the district “has a direct impact on the quality of life” for the students it instructs.

Hayek was followed by Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, who informed audience members that the district has seen its graduation rate jump 4 percent, to 91 percent, from a decade ago. He said Unit 5 is seen as “a destination district” by many who come to the area.

Daniel explained that through offering internships, project-based learning, and college and career readiness opportunities to its students, Unit 5 is continuing to help students prepare for their future.

Daniel touted activities such as 5th grade Band, which has 528 members currently, which helps students master skills, as well. He also mentioned that Virtual Learning has become part of the district, as well, the result of the virtual classroom at Normal Community West High School, which brings professionals to speak remotely to students’ classes. Of virtual learning, Daniel said, “We’re, hopefully, going to see more and more of this.”

In addition to the graduation figures, Daniel cited that 927 district students had scored highly on Advance Placement exams.

Unit 5 mapDaniel informed the gathering that 30 percent of Unit 5’s student population is neither white nor male. The teachers in the district also have continued to pursue learning, with 66 percent of them either holding Master’s degrees, and 64 of them are National Board Certified. He added the district manages to retain 87 percent of its teaching staff, which Daniel said, is above the national average.

But while Unit 5 has such positives, Daniel explained, it’s faced with some looming challenges, among which is trying to eliminate a $1.2 million deficit in its education fund. Unit 5 also finds itself $33 million below what State lawmakers see as an adequate amount of funding to meet State guidelines. Unit 5 has an overall budget of $162 million.

“Enrollment drives revenue,” Daniel told the audience members who attended the session which preceded the Board’s scheduled meeting, which was held in the school’s cafeteria.

Beginning Enrollment Figures Presented: During the Board meeting, Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, presented Board members with school year-opening figures. Unit 5 begins the 2017-18 school year with 13,334 students in its elementary schools, four junior high schools, and two high schools. That figure includes 1,003 students total at the district’s four junior high schools, and 2,144 students at NCHS and 1,686 students at Normal Community West High School. There are a total of 6,400 students attending the district’s 17 elementary schools.

ISBE Requests Information To Comply With Federal Law: Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, reported to Board members Illinois State Board of Education is asking Unit 5 to submit to them per school building budgets in order to comply with an Obama Administration law which asks for such figures which, once received by ISBE, would be turned over to the Federal government.

By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2017 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – At their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 27 at district headquarters, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board unanimously approved spending for the 2017-18 school year, a budget of over $168 million, an increase in spending of 3 percent over the previous school year. But such spending will still leave Unit 5 with a $1.2 million shortage in its education fund, even though the increase in spending will have dollars added to that fund.

Board members were made aware that Senate Bill 1947, which was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner Sept. 1, allocated awaited money from the State for the district will not make up for the $1.2 million deficit the district was anticipating for its education fund.

Marty Hickman, district business manager, told Board members the budget they were approving was unchanged from the draft version of the budget he presented to them last spring.

Unit 5 mapIn addition to the education fund being short, four other funds have shortfalls, as well. There is a $1,145,168 shortfall in the district’s Bond and Interest account; a shortage of over $3.8 million in the district’s fire prevention-life safety fund; A shortage of over $161,000 in the district tort fund; and a shortage of over $86,000 in the district retirement/Social Security fund. The deficits of those funds total over $4.9 million.

With regard to the retirement fund shortage, Hickman said the State providing Tier 2 funding could help lessen that amount. Filling in the other deficits, he said, will depend on timing issues.

A public hearing was held regarding the budget prior to its passage by the Board, at which no members of the public spoke.

Life Safety Expense At Normal Community West High School Approved: Board members unanimously approved spending $430,392 to make repairs on the 22-year-old tennis courts at Normal Community West High School. Board members were shown photos of various sections the courts, some which included deep, expanding cracks in the concrete. Of the dollar amount quoted for the repair, the actual cost estimate for the project is $358,660.

In addition to that amount, another $70,000 in contingency costs is part of the grand total. Anytime paving is involved with public safety, a public hearing is required, Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, told Board members. No members of the public spoke at this hearing.

Inaugural “State Of The District” Event Set For Oct. 11: Unit 5 will hold a first-time event updating residents on matters pertaining to the district prior to the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Oct. 11. The “State Of The District” event will be held at Normal Community High School starting at 6:30p.m. The Board will then hold its scheduled meeting afterward, beginning at 8p.m.

By Steve Robinson | September 14, 2017 - 2:49 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – It’s rare when the agenda of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board isn’t packed with “good news” reports highlighting positives going on in district schools, or an update on finances. Yet, that was almost the case when the governing body’s members met for their regularly-scheduled session at district headquarters on Sept. 13.

Among the items on the Board’s consent agenda – matters grouped together and decided upon with one vote – was to grant permission to George L. Evans Junior High School for an overnight trip for four days next February to Atlanta, Ga. for teachers Anne Dameron and Megan Siegrist’s “Amazing Shake” group to attend a national event.

The students will be attending the event at the Ron Clark Academy in the Georgia capital.

The Amazing Shake is a competition that highlights teaching students manners, discipline, respect, and professional conduct. Prior to the competition, students learn the intricacies of professional human interaction. These include such skills like how to give a proper handshake, how to “work a room,” how to give a successful interview, and how to remain composed under pressure. This competition is to prepare students to be able to present themselves for opportunities that may come their way.

Unit 5 mapThe actual competition consists of scenario stations set up around the school and throughout the city that every student must pass through while exercising etiquette, and composure. Top performers advance to the next level of challenges until there is ultimately one overall national champion.

The Amazing Shake National Competition is open to students in the 5th-8th grade during the 2017-18 school year. Schools are encouraged to have local Amazing Shake competitions and to send their top performers to Nationals. Districts like Unit 5 are also encouraged to conduct district-level competitions with the winners from local schools.

Money From State Coming: State dollars which have been due to the district have either arrived or will arrive soon, the district’s business manager told Board members. Marty Hickman told Board members toward the end of their 35-minute meeting Unit 5 has received three State aid payments from Springfield recently – two in August and one this month.

However, Hickman said, while those payments cover dollars due to the district in fiscal year 2018, the district is still looking to receive fourth quarter payments they have coming from the State which would count toward money due the district in fiscal year 2017.

By Steve Robinson | August 23, 2017 - 10:31 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Anticipating there could be parents who would have issues relating to busing they wanted to bring to the attention of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members at the governing body’s Aug. 23 meeting, district officials moved the session to the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School.

But even with glitches that were reported in local daily media after the first day of school on Aug. 16, the cafeteria, which the district plotting seating for 220 people, was pretty much empty except for some spectators and media members.

Board members and Mark Bohl, location manager for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student transportation company, assessed how things went on that first day, and for the rest of the time leading up to the meeting.

Bohl told Board members First Student began the semester with 146 drivers but as of the meeting were down to 142 due to various unspecified reasons. First Student is currently training 20 additional drivers, he mentioned. He said 12 routes have had to be added to the 123 which were planned for before the semester began, bring the total to 135. He added the bus provider is looking to reduce that number “to some extent.”

Joe Adelman, district operations manager, told Board members when the district has to add a bus stop to a route, that adds between 3-5 minutes to the time needed to get buses to a school. He said such additions tighten the timing of a route. The district and First Student plan on conducting a review of the routes in September. Bohl said 97 percent of the buses were running on time.

Bohl assured Board members First Student drivers have two main goals when transporting students: First, to get them to school safely, and secondly, to get them there on time. The goal is to get there ahead of the school opening bell. Bohl said the company had received 500 routing requests in the week prior to the school year opening, all of them having been handled. He added the district’s messaging system has received 100 messages. He said the company is working to respond to messages and address requests related to route changes.

Beginning Student Population Count Down Slightly From ‘16: Board members received a beginning student population count from Dr. James Harden, the district’s executive director of human resources and student services. Harden reported Unit 5 had a total of 13,281 students in class on Aug. 23, which was down from the same day last year by 197 students. With families and their students still either just coming into or exiting the district for varying reasons at this time, it will be mid-October before the district has a final first count of its students.

Unit 5 mapNormal Community High School’s “Good News”: Nikki Maurer, associate principal at Normal Community High School, introduced Board members to two NCHS seniors who won medals at the 39th National NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, also known as the ACT-SO Awards. This year’s event was held in Baltimore, Md. in late July. Two NCHS seniors placed first in two separate categories and were honored before Board members for their accomplishments.

Jessica Bynum, daughter of Brent Bynum was honored for getting a gold medal in Filmmaking, and Alexis Starks, daughter of Pamela Starks, received a gold medal in Photography. Both the Bynums and the Starks reside in Normal.

Board Gets Financial Update: Marty Hickman, district business manager, reported to Board members the district’s education fund is running at a deficit of $1,227,687. But he said that fund could become balanced provided the district receives payments due them by the State which the district would count toward money it takes in during fiscal year 2018 which began July 1. He added the district’s operations and maintenance budget is projected to be balanced for the coming fiscal year.

In addition, Hickman explained, the district’s transportation fund for FY’18 is running with a surplus of $327,597, but that surplus could be in jeopardy pending the financial outcome of a contract extension with First Student or another type of financial outcome should Unit 5 opt to put the busing contract up for bid when the current contract expires prior to the 2018-19 school year.

A public hearing on the 2017-18 budget will be held at the Board’s Sept. 27 meeting.

Board Receives Energy Efficiency Report For Normal West: Board members received an energy efficiency report regarding Normal Community West High School, presented by a representative of Rockford-based Alpha Controls And Services, which has been working on the project since the spring. According to Jason Vogelbaugh, representative for the company, the company used certain measures to try to help with the slightly over 20-year-old building’s energy efficiency.

Among the measures were: Resetting both the building’s static pressure and air temperature discharge; and daily, weekly, and holiday scheduling of reducing room temperatures based on occupancy. In addition, 33 of 239 reheat valves were replaced among additional measures, which in total saved the district $740,020.

Now that the work is continuing on Normal West, Adelman said, the efficiency project will move next to two additional schools, including Kingsley Junior High School.

By Steve Robinson | August 10, 2017 - 10:06 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – As the new school year approaches, both Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members and an official from First Student Bus Co. agreed on one thing to be paramount on the first day of class Aug. 16: Busing students must show a complete turnaround from the way it was handled at the beginning of last school year.

Mark Bohl, location manager for First Student Bus Co., addressed Board members at their Aug. 9 meeting at district headquarters, assuring them this year’s transportation situation will be a complete improvement from last year, which included among other things, late buses both to and home from school.

“The 16th is game time,” Bohl said, putting a positive spin on how ready he and his drivers are to get the job done. He told Board members First Student has 144 drivers total, with another 26 in training to handle the 126 routes they must cover to get kids to and from school.

“It was stressed to drivers how important what happened last year can’t happen again,” added Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, who participated in the meeting’s busing discussion. Adelman added that Bohl “has taken ownership of” the district’s busing component.

Should overcrowding on buses become an issue this year, Bohl said, additional buses will be deployed to meet up with buses needing to reduce its number of passengers, getting those additional students on a particular bus to class safely. There was such crowding on some buses last year that students were sitting in the aisles. In addition to late buses, overcrowding on buses was a frequent complaint lodged with the district.

There will be enough buses on the street, Bohl told Board members, “With the exception of three or four buses, I expect the bus depot lot to be empty.”

Unit 5 mapAdelman added, however, parents will need to exercise some patience during the first few days buses are running. “We can’t control trains going through,” he said. “We can’t control ISU students coming back which might cause delays.” That was a reference to Illinois State University students coming back to town as their fall semester begins Aug. 21. They have been arriving back in town for the semester this week.

Mike Trask, perhaps the most vocal Board member to be critical of how the busing situation developed last year, told Bohl after hearing what First Student has planned, “I have full confidence in you. I appreciate the driver numbers and where they’re at. We fully expect Aug. 16’s activity to not be outside the norm.”

Leading up to Aug. 16, Bohl informed Board members First Student drivers would hold dry runs on routes on Aug. 14 and 15, a process which would include verifying routes and spot-checking for miscellaneous issues.

Despite such planning, Bohl cautioned, buses could run late at times. When those moments occur, should the bus be late getting to school by over 10 minutes, the school will be notified by phone and email. Should that delay happen on the way home, parents will receive a phone message through the district’s Skyward messaging system.

Working Cash Abatement Approved: Board members unanimously approved abating the working cash fund the district had used to spend $3.5 million to purchase 26 buses and renew leases on five others. The money used to pay for the buses was approved last year and the money went from the district’s working cash fund into the Transportation fund to make the purchases. As a result of the recent purchases, Unit 5 now has a total of 145 buses, explained Marty Hickman, business manager for the district.

Board Approves Memorandum Of Understanding With Town: Board members approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the district and the Town of Normal. As a result, the two governing bodies will form a Liaison Committee which would be comprised of two members from the district and two Town Council members. With an initial meeting scheduled for Aug. 29, it is anticipated that group will meet quarterly. Each group will choose two members to be part of the committee, with City Manager Mark Peterson and Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, attending, as well. However, Peterson and Daniel would not be voting members.

At a joint meeting of Unit 5 Board members and Town Council members held in Council Chamber July 26, Normal Mayor Chris Koos directed Peterson to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and the district. Peterson would negotiate the agreement with Daniel.