By Steve Robinson | February 28, 2020 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Unit 5 School Board members voted unanimously to grant a two-year extension to the bus service which has been providing transportation for students from home to school and back for nearly eight years. Board members also were formally introduced to the man who will take the reins as location manager overseeing its operation when dealing with the district.

Board members unanimously approved a two-year extension for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based provider continuing to serve the district’s student transportation needs. The extension will carry through both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. First Student’s first contract with the district was signed in 2012.

Chris Coyle, area general manager for First Student, introduced Board members to Nick Sorey, the new location manager responsible for seeing the buses get where they need to be on time as well as for hiring drivers and substitute drivers. Sorey is currently employed in Danville and is the father of five. He told Board members he has five kids ranging in age from 4 to 11, adding he “has a vested interest in your kids” as a result with this job. Sorey is succeeding Robert Pawlik in that position. Pawlik had been with First Student since last spring.

Previously, Sorey told Board members, he worked for UPS Delivery Service, where he explained, his job included “streamlining logistics involving 23 routes.”

“I’ve always tried to strive to provide a service, not just deliver packages,” Sorey told Board members. “It’s my goal to give you the best service I can to keep your kids as safe as I keep my own. My kids are going to ride these buses. I want to look a parent in the eye and say if I make a mistake, I want to apologize. But I also want them to know I care about their kids just like I care about my own.”

As of the meeting, Sorey said, First Student has 143 of the needed 145 drivers required to cover all routes, and will continuing recruiting drivers. He said there are two potential drivers taking needed classes for the job and he is looking over 20 applications for driver positions.

Coyle added that starting pay for new drivers will go up beginning in fall from $16 hourly to $19 hourly.

Daniel Explains Decision For Feb. 26 Snow Day: While Board members met Wednesday night, a decision to keep students home due to inclement winter weather that day eliminated the need for a scheduled “Late Start Wednesday.” District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel explained crews worked starting at 1a.m. that morning twice salting parking spaces and other areas. He said by 5:15a.m., the district had every intention to proceed with the scheduled “Late Start” as scheduled.

However, Daniel said, shortly after that decision was made, increasing winds accompanied by a heavy snow band came through prompting District officials to change their minds about staying open, he said, particularly with the weather causing problems for residents living in rural residents. “The weather conditions declined quickly, leading to many safety issues, including reduced visibility.

“We had to decide whether to stick with our original decision or change it,” Daniel said. “We decided safety first, which is why we closed today. It’s never an easy decision, but we believe it was the correct one.”

Board Approves Borrowing $37 Million, Partly For Working Cash: Board members unanimously approved a pair of measures, both related to financial issues. The first was to approve issuing $29 million in taxable general obligation school bonds as a means to have working cash. The bonds have an interest rank not to exceed five percent annually. The bond sale will take place sometime before mid-August. In addition, Board members unanimously $8 million in tax anticipation warrants are being issued based on revenue Unit 5 derived from taxes levied for 2019 and collected this year. The warrant sale will be overseen by Naperville-based PMA Securities and can take place no later than June 15.

Board Approves Contract On HVAC And Geothermal Upgrades At KJHS: Board members unanimously approved the hiring of Urbana-based A & R Mechanical Contractors, Inc. for work to be done on HVAC and perform upgrades to the geothermal system at Kingsley Junior High School. The company submitted a bid of $2,703,725, the lowest of three companies’ bids submitted for the assignment. The other companies submitting bids were from Bloomington and Peoria.

In addition to approving the projects, Adelman also gave Board members a quick tutorial concerning geothermal projects currently either completed or underway in the district. He explained that, as of this meeting, geothermal projects at George L. Evans Junior High School and Parkside Junior High School have been completed, as have energy efficiency projects at both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School.

A geothermal project is slated to begin at Kingsley Junior High School in May, Adelman said, adding planning for geothermal work to begin at Kingsley Junior High School will start soon with geothermal work to be done there sometime next year.

Adelman said completing the project will help the district save over $707,000 in energy costs

Public Comments Center On Standards Based Grading: Unit 5 using Standards Based Grading as opposed to a traditional grading method, many parents and students have raised objections and taken their complaints to Board members at meetings recently during public comments segments. This meeting was no different, with two Normal Community High School students raising their objections. Unlike a traditional grading scale of 90 percent to 100 percent being an A, scores in the 80s being a B, and so on, Standards Based Grading uses a grading range of 4 down to 1, with 4 indicating students have exceeded the desired target for what was expected of them to learn; 3 indicating meeting the desired target; 2 meaning the student has achieved “partial mastery” of the target, and 1 meaning having little or no mastery.

Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), led off public comments representing members of that organization on the subject telling Board members, “We operate best when we receive clear, consistent messages. We believe parents, students, and the community desire the same thing. We need more clear, consistent communication.” We need more clarity on how the success of SBG will be measured.”

Behind her in the audience were about UFEA members, some of whom held small signs which displayed their opposition to Standards Based Grading. Two high school students also spoke concerning their perspective on Standards Based Grading.

Emily Dusin, a senior at NCHS, told Board members, “I firmly understand our teachers know what is best in their classrooms, including what is best to teach and to grade their students. That I why I believe teachers should have a choice to the grade book, be it either Standard Based Grading or the traditional grade book. Let teachers have a choice.”

Conner McLelland, an NCHS junior, followed Dusin telling Board members a group of students at the school took it upon themselves to find out how their classmates felt about the use of Standards Based Grading. He told Board members, “A total of 93 students found it was harder to earn the same grade in a Standards Based Grading class than it would be in a traditional class.” He added 95 percent of the students surveyed believe this method is not motivation enough for them to do their assigned homework and study more versus having their work evaluated using a traditional grading system.

He added a number of those students questioned do not believe Standards Based Grading was not transferable between subjects. McLelland reiterated the request for teachers to have the choice between using either Standards Based Grading or the grading system that was in use prior to its implementation, which started this school year.

During his comments at the beginning of the meeting prior to public comments, Daniel said, at the last Citizens Advisory Council meeting held in January, Council members heard a presentation on the subject and gave their input on the matter. “I want to thank CAC members for their input,” Daniel said. “They were honest, offered feedback, and asked questions. The group discussed the benefits of Standards Based Grading and what could be improved upon. They also identified areas that need to be addressed immediately.”

Daniel added while parents philosophically agree with the system, he said some concerns about it still exist in their minds. “We’ll continue to seek feedback from students, staff members, and parents to address these challenges,” he said.

Epperson Retiring From Public Education: Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, announced to Board members he will be retiring from a career in public education at the end of this school year. He has been in public education for 38 years. After he exits Unit 5, Epperson will become superintendent of Parkview Christian Academy, based in Yorkville. Epperson has served as Unit 5’s second in command for three years, earning his doctorate while employed at Unit 5, receiving it in the study of Educational Leadership from Northern Illinois University in 2018.

Julia Knepler Named New Principal At Hudson Elementary: Epperson announced to Board members that Julia Knepler has been named the new principal for Hudson Elementary School, effective July 1, succeeding Scott Myers, who is retiring. Knepler began her career as a teacher’s assistant and worked through the ranks and served on various committees within the district. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Millikin University, and a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Illinois State University. “I’m very thrilled for this opportunity, and I’m very excited to get going with Mr. Myers with this transition,” Knepler told Board members.

NORMAL – In the world of high school basketball, going into an opponent’s gym can be a challenge for the team coming in. But on Feb. 20, Normal Community West’s girls’ team were still the visitors, but the opponents were New Lenox, Ill.-based Lincoln-Way West High School, ranked 4th in the State. Despite being seeded fourth prior to the start of the contest, the Wildcats fought hard only to fall to the Warriors, 70-54, as roughly 2,200 fans crowded into NCHS’ main gym for the contest.

While senior guard Olivia Demosthenes scored the game’s opening points for Normal West (21-8), putting her team up, 2-0, the Warriors countered quickly with three unanswered baskets – one from sophomore forward Brianna Woolridge followed by two from senior guard Taylor Gugliuzza, putting that team up quickly, 6-2, with 5:58 left in the quarter. Sophomore guard Megan Williams hit West’s next basket, reducing their opponent’s lead to 6-4 with 4:35 remaining. Williams, having been fouled by Warriors senior guard Sydney Swanberg added a pair of free throws to trim the Warriors’ lead to two, 8-6, with 3:58 left in the quarter.

Taylor Gugliuzza’s next basket in the quarter put the Warriors up, 10-8, but was followed by back-to-back countering baskets for West by Demosthenes which pushed West in front, 12-10, with 1:06 remaining. Woolridge tied the game at 12-all for Lincoln-Way West and Normal West quickly responded thanks to a bucket from senior forward Rosh Webb, putting the Wildcats in front, 14-12, going into the second quarter.

The second quarter began with an exchange of treys from freshman Warriors guard Ava Gugliuzza and West’s Webb, but the Warriors pulled out to a 24-16 advantage halfway through the quarter. But as the quarter continued, the Wildcats held off the Warriors by just one going into halftime, 28-27.

But as the third quarter began, Lincoln-Way West (28-3) went on a 7-0 run which featured a basket and free throw, and another basket from Woolridge, and a basket from Taylor Gugliuzza, pushing the Warriors up, 34-28, and prompting Normal West head coach Corey Ostling to call time at the 5:47 mark. Following the timeout, senior forward Rosh Webb hit a deuce at the 5:41 mark reducing the Warriors lead to four, 34-30. Swanberg countered with a trey putting the Warriors in front, 37-30 with 4:36 remaining in the quarter.

Another Swanberg three would push the Warriors up by seven, 40-33, with 4:36 remaining in the quarter, and would extend it 44-35 before a pair of Demosthenes free throws reduced Lincoln-Way West’s lead to seven, 44-37, with 1:52 left in the quarter. Woolridge’s next basket came as she was fouled by Normal West, but she missed the shot for the third point, but the Warriors still owned a nine point lead, 46-37, until Woolridge hit a quarter-closing trey, reducing the Warriors lead going into the fourth quarter to 46-40.

For the second straight quarter, Swanberg would hit a trey to lengthen the Warriors lead, 49-40, as the fourth quarter began. That prompted Ostling to call time to help the Wildcats regroup. Coming out of the timeout, Warriors junior guard Tara Gugliuzza, having been fouled by West’s Megan Williams, missed her free throws, but Williams’ teammate, Demosthenes, having been fouled, sank one of a pair of free throws, cutting the Warriors’ lead to eight, 49-41, with 5:41 remaining in the contest. A Tara Gugliuzza basket put the Warriors up by 10, 51-41 and a pair of free throws by Ava Gugliuzza pushed the Warriors up, 53-41. Demosthenes’ next basket reduced that lead to 10, 53-43, before two foul calls against Normal West and one against the Warriors led to a battle of free throws, resulting in Taylor Gugliuzza and Swanberg going a combined 3-of-4 for the Warriors, and Demosthenes going 2-for-2, with the Warriors leading 56-45.

Demosthenes’ next basket at 3:24 in the quarter reduced the Warriors’ lead, 56-47 but Taylor Gugliuzza hit a deuce and was fouled leading to a three-point play, putting the Warriors up, 59-47. A trey by Demosthenes followed by two free throws by the 5 foot-5 senior helped West reduce the Warriors’ lead to seven, 59-52, before West players fouled all three Gugliuzzas in order. The end result of that was Tara Gugliuzza, Ava Gugliuzza, and Taylor Gugliuzza, in order being fouled and going a combined 3-for-6 and the Warriors owning a 62-52 lead, prompting Normal West to call time with 1:24 left in the contest.

Coming out of the time out, having been fouled by West sophomore guard Carlie Boitnott, Tara Gugliuzza hit two free throws with 1:04 left followed by a basket from Taylor Gugliuzza, putting the Warriors up, 66-54, with 40.1 seconds remaining and prompting the Wildcats to call time, but when the game resumed, Taylor Gugliuzza closed out the contest by adding four more points resulting in the final score.

Taylor Gugliuzza and Woolridge led the Warriors’ scoring with 26 points and 24 points respectfully. Demosthenes was Normal West’s top scorer with 15 points, followed in double figures by Williams with 13, and 10 apiece from Rosh Webb and Miya Webb.

Lincoln-Way West head coach Ryan White admitted West forced his team to switch defenses from zone to man-to-man, which, he admitted, his team normally does not do. “West was beating us with zone, so we had to switch it up a little bit. We’re usually not a great man team, but I thought we did a pretty good job of handling it. At the half, we were only down by one, and I felt if we were to bear down defensively, we would be in great shape.”

White said even though his team was victorious, he and his girls were aware each game at this point gets a little harder and that Normal West “put a scare into us.”

“The fact that Normal West held us to 27 points and didn’t allow us to score any threes in the first half says they did a great job,” he said, adding his team took the approach of not forcing plays into happening helped them in the second half.

Despite being eliminated from making it to State, Ostling said afterward, “I was proud of what our girls did tonight. I just thought our girls kept competing the whole way through and we played Normal West basketball. We didn’t get caught up into what they do. We paid more attention on what we do.

“From the get-go, the girls said they were going to be fearless in this game, and they did that,” Ostling said. “They didn’t bat an eye and they were laser focused on the game plan, and I’m proud of them.”

Looking back on the season overall, Ostling, wrapping up his fifth season as head coach, said the team has nothing to be discouraged about, adding he thought it was one of the best seasons the school has ever had. He reminded the team has made it into the regionals for the last three years.

NORMAL – The question Normal Town Council members debated Monday at their regularly-scheduled meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station: Should the Town of Normal agree to give Illinois State University’s Art Gallery at the west end of the Uptown Station parking deck free rent for the next five years? It was a question debated around the Council dais and there were Council members who found the notion of continuing the agreement, which began in 2013, had pluses and minuses.

After a lengthy discussion, Council members voted 4-3 to approve the measure which would maintain the lease under current conditions. Those conditions date back to 2013 when the Town and ISU executed a lease permitting the University to use the west-end ground floor portion of Uptown Station parking deck for gallery space. Total amount of lease payments the Town received from ISU tallied $2,081,658. The original lease expired last October and the two sides met then to extend it until this month.

Approving the contract at Monday’s session were Mayor Chris Koos, along with Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Chemberly Cummings, and Kevin McCarthy. Council Members Stan Nord, Karyn Smith, and Scott Preston voted in opposition to the measure.

ISU pays its own expenses for the space, but Nord raised the issue of no property tax coming in from the museum because the University is a tax-exempt entity.

McCarthy reminded that all events at the gallery are open free to the public, and with people coming to see the gallery, local businesses, shops, restaurants, and nearby hotels benefit by being visited by patrons using those facilities.

Koos said ISU invested a “lot of money to improve a raw space from the floor up. It was oddly configured for retail. There was no interest in the space from business. And since it’s been there, there has been community involvement there.” He reminded ISU paid $2.1 million to place the gallery at that location.

City Manager Pam Reece told the meeting, the Town picks up the tab for general maintenance costs. She added if ISU wanted to reconfigure the site to, for example, put a wall in, the University would need the Town’s approval.

Making a profit seemed to be on Smith’s mind as she explained that Rivian Automotive, which is scheduled to roll out their first electric vehicles sometime later this year, is approaching having 1,000 employees and that ancillary businesses with employees coming to town or already living here will become consumers in Town, which she said will help the Town profit.

Preston said he didn’t find an “out clause” for either side from the way he read the five-year lease contract Council members voted on.

Council Approves Ordinance Making On-Street Café Seating Permanent: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance which amended a section of Town Code concerning on-street café seating, making it permanent after a two year test run. Town Council members unanimously voted to establish a pilot program for street café seating in May 2018. On North Street, Stave Wine Bar, 111 W. North St., is an example of on-street café seating.

Under the program, any on-street café can operate between April 1 and Oct. 1, and once installed would be required to operate five days a week, weather permitting.

Among the rules for such establishments, referred to as “parklets” because they are primarily in established parking spaces in front of the business operating it, the owner must provide parking blocks on all sides not adjacent to a curb; must be associated with a business that serves food; and hours of operation would be restricted to between 6a.m-12 midnight.

The Town sent a questionnaire last October to five businesses which surround Stave seeking input. According to the report provided Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, five of six businesses replying responded calling Stave’s operation a positive for those experiencing Uptown. One respondent did express a concern about the amount of garbage on-street operations produce.

Adult-Use Cannabis Operation Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance granting a special use permit for adult-use cannabis at 501 W. Northtown Rd. The business at that location, The Green Solution, submitted a request for a special use permit so they could operate a dispensary at that location. The business currently operates a medical use dispensary at the location, something permitted by State law. The adult-use ordinance concerning cannabis does not permit consumption at the Northtown Rd. facility.

The State would not approve an adult-use cannabis permit for The Green Solution until the Town provided zoning for the business. Among special use standards by the Town the business had to meet were: Providing the hours of operation and an anticipated number of employees and customers; An anticipated parking demand and the number of parking slots to be considered private; A site plan, and a sign plan.

The operators of the business informed the Town they will operate from 8a.m.-10p.m., the business will have video surveillance at all times, and that the business will not have a drive-through, according to the report provided Council members by Davison.

Business Trip Expenditure Questioned: Nord questioned a line item in the Town budget concerning paying for six staffers of the Children’s Discovery Museum to attend an annual conference of the Association of Children’s Museums which is scheduled to be held in St. Louis in May. He contended the Town should not send that many Town employees to such a meeting. ACM annual conferences rotate cities in which they are held, the last one being held in Denver last year, Reece explained. The Town spent $3,905 in registration for those staffers, including Children’s Discovery Museum Director Beth Whisman and five CDM staffers, to attend the four-day event.

Reece said that many staffers attending the event would allow for them to cover many aspects of what would be presented at the conference and would qualify as professional development time for those Town Staff members. Council members unanimously approved the item.

Ordinance Abating Taxes For Special Service Area Questioned: Also during the portion of the meeting concerning omnibus items, Smith pulled an ordinance which would abate the levy of 2019 property taxes for a section of the Town identified for tax purposes as Special Service Area Number One. This area specifically pertains to The Shoppes At College Hills, and the Special Service Area has existed since the shopping complex was built in the 1970s becoming familiar to shoppers as College Hills Mall.

Smith asked about what obligation the Town had concerning the bond. Koos explained while the Town is the issuer of the bond, it has no obligation on it, only the owners of the shopping complex do. Reece added to the conversation explaining the bonds end in December 2024.

Chizuko Tsukamoto Appointed To Sister Cities Committee: Council members heard of the appointment of Chizuko Tsukamoto to the Town’s Sister Cities Committee, an announcement made by Mayor Pro Tem McCarthy. A long-time resident of McLean County, Tsukamoto holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Illinois State University, focusing on finance. She has had employment with both Seven Seas Travel and Mitsubishi Motors, and currently is working for Komatsu America as a translator and a safety instructor. Tsuksamoto will be filling a vacant seat on the committee with her term expiring March 31, 2022.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting held Jan. 21, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 15, 2020.

• A resolution retaining confidentiality of executive session minutes from June 19, 2017, Feb. 18, April 15, and December 19, all 2019.