By Steve Robinson | August 29, 2019 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Students may be gearing up for a new school year, but Normal-based Unit 5 School District is winding down its 70th Anniversary celebration which began July a year ago. At the regularly-scheduled meeting of the district school board, held at district headquarters on Aug. 28, Board members were introduced to students who participated in and won a poster contest to honor the district.

Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the district, introduced Board members to poster contest winners who ranged in age from toddler to junior high. The winners Brown introduced (and the program or school they were from) are: Sugar Creek Early Learning student Aeden Emery; Prairieland Elementary student Quinn Dobson; Northpoint Elementary student Abhinav Avala; Oakdale Elementary student Jordan Nunoo-Ponder; Benjamin Elementary student Kaitlyn Call; Grove Elementary student Sophia Smith; and George L. Evans Junior High School student Elijah Noll.

The posters varied in size, and Brown explained to Board members the district accepted those differing sizes because Unit 5 didn’t want to limit student participation. “These posters were selected because they best showed what Unit 5 represents.”

Parkside Elementary Honored By Special Olympics Illinois: During his comments at the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, announced Parkside Elementary School has been named one of 18 schools in the state to receive recognition by Special Olympics Illinois as a “Unified Champion School.” According to Special Olympics Illinois’ website, that makes Parkside Elementary one of 160 schools in the State which, “utilizes provided tools and resources to create inclusive school communities through Unified Sports, Leadership opportunities and whole school involvement activities.”

Special Olympics Illinois’ website explains its Project UNITY initiative this way: “Special Olympics Project UNIFY is an education and sports based strategy powered by an engaged youth community that increases athletic and leadership opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities. All of this success helps to create communities of acceptance for all.”

First Student Presents Busing Update: Board members heard an update on how Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., the district’s transportation provider, has been doing since the beginning of the school year three weeks ago. Chris Coyle, area general manager for the company, gave a summary, explaining changes in a student’s living situation often leads to route changes for drivers.

He said since Aug. 5, First Student received reports and made adjustments as a result of 955 route changes. But he was quick to add that, as of the time of the meeting, he had been informed of their being roughly 35 changes per day. He said that large a drop “is natural,” as a result of late registrations of students, among other reasons.

“We are continuing to review the route timing,” Coyle said, adding, “Just like anything, when you have distance and traffic, what looks good on a computer isn’t necessarily right in reality.” He added the company “continues to struggle” to communicate changes such as late buses, to the public.

Despite Coyle’s explanation, Board Member Mike Trask responded by telling Coyle, “It’s your job to communicate effectively. I feel that we struggle with the communication issue constantly. We pay you a lot of money to do this. The communication piece always ends up being the problem.” Trask concluded by saying, “The communication piece has to get better or we move on.”

Board President Barry Hitchins, and members Alan Kalitzky and Meta Mickens-Baker added their concerns on the matter. Mickens-Baker urged managers to give consideration to what is going on in students’ minds during such delays. She likened the anxiety students could feel to waiting for a late but to running late for a job interview.

Trask noted the school system is paying First Student taxpayer dollars to do a job that Unit 5 isn’t able to oversee itself. Trask suggested the district might not renew First Student’s contract if problems continue.

In June 2012, over the objections of drivers then represented by American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Unit 5 Board voted to enter into a first contract with First Student. In 2016, the district threatened to not renew its contract with First Student due to issues related to getting students either to their schools or to home in a timely manner.

Once the issues were resolved to the Board’s satisfaction, the two sides pressed on, with Unit 5 and First Student agreeing to a two-year contract extension in January 2018.

New Assoc. Principal At PJHS, New Assistant Principal At Pepper Ridge Elementary: A new associate principal for Parkside Junior High School and a new assistant principal for Pepper Ridge Elementary School were formally introduced to Board members by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson. DeAndre Henderson is the new associate principal at PJHS, coming to Unit 5 from Urbana High School where he was a dean, student interventionist, and professional development facilitator there. He also has taught in Champaign and Galesburg. He received a Bachelor’s Degree from Knox College and two Master’s Degrees, both from Western Illinois University.

Epperson also introduced Emily Masten as the new assistant principal at Pepper Ridge Elementary School. Prior to joining Unit 5, Masten was employed by Peoria-based District 150 School District where she was a third grade teacher. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Bradley University.

Infinite Campus And Tyler Training Continues: As the start of the new school year approached, and after it started, reported District Business Manager Marty Hickman, district staff were continuing to receive training on both the Infinite Campus and Tyler Vision Accounting System, both newly operational beginning this year.

Tentative 2018-19 Budget Update Presented: Hickman also updated Board members concerning the district’s tentative 2018-19 budget report. He said that the district education fund had been expected to come in starting the year evenly balanced, but the district was surprised to find that account actually had a surplus of nearly $770,000. Expenditures in that account for this past school year totaled $106,317,959 while the money the district took in during that same period totaled $107,087,571.

In addition, Hickman explained, five of the seven other accounts the district maintains – Operations and Maintenance, Bond and Interest, Transportation, Municipal Retirement, and Working Cash – all showed surpluses. Only the district’s Tort fund and Fire Prevention/Life Safety account showed deficits to open the school year.

Tort Fund income was reported as being $5,496,835 while having spent $5,716,787. The District’s Fire Prevention/Life Safety took in $1,254,601 and although spending money on projects tallied $4,919,438. That left that fund with a deficit of $3,664,837.

Hickman said part of the reason for the surplus in the transportation fund was receiving four payments for that account coming due from the State.

Opening Day Enrollment Figures Presented: Although enrollment figures typically don’t become final until sometime in October, Epperson gave Board members enrollment figures for the opening day of school for this year. As of Friday, Aug. 16, Unit 5 had 13,203 students in class on day one of the new school year. That’s an increase of 256 students, or nearly a full percentage point increase above the 12,947 students registered by the first day of school last year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2019 at 10:21 pm and is filed under The Normalite, Unit 5. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.