Unit One adopts tax levy, settles sexual abuse lawsuit
by Michele Longworth
Jan 03, 2014 | 1481 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Massac Unit One board members spent much of the Dec. 23 meeting learning from Metropolis Elementary School Principal Laura Walker and Massac County High School Principal Jason Hayes how the elementary schools and high school handle the topic of bullying.

Before Walker began, Unit One Superintendent Bill Hatfield told the board that André Meadows would be at the January meeting to discuss how bullying is handled at Massac Junior High School. Walker said she would go over how she handles bullying at MES. She said she begins each school year by talking to students about what physical aggression is and emphasizing and discussing what respect is.

Walker pointed out that at the elementary level, often times the bullying is more of the “playful” kind.

According to Walker at some time in January or February she makes time to talk to the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to read them the stories The Torn Heart and Don’t Laugh at Me.

She said MES tries to be proactive, and she encourages Write Not Fight forms, which are forms students may use to write about an incident or a situation that has happened or is happening. She said having the students submit a complaint in writing is also helpful because that way the story tends not to change.

She said students may still report things verbally, but in the last seven years since she has been principal, she has seen a lot less fights and suspensions. Walker said she has the data to support that, but did not bring it with her to the Dec. 23 meeting.

The one thing she has noticed is that many times the bullying is happening outside of the school’s walls, and she and other school officials are left to try to deal with that. “I wish parents would intervene more,” she said.

Some of the board members asked if parents are aware of what is being done to prevent bullying. Walker explained she has a newsletter that she sends to parents and often she includes information about what the school is doing to prevent bullying. In addition to that, she said the school’s website also contains information about bullying.

Hayes told the board the high school has special student presentations, one of which was on cyber bullying and suicide prevention.

The high school also has a trained crisis team, which is available for students to text. Hayes said students may send an anonymous text to any of the eight team members. He explained students are able to put in their email address instead of a phone number and it shows up anonymously on the team members’ phones.

Hayes also said that at the high school they are also dealing with a lot of things and situations that happen outside of school. He explained if there is a conflict, one of the main things he and other school officials try to do is to get

See UNIT 1, page 8A

students face-to-face.

He said every report is investigated and verified actions are documented. He said the school focuses on conflict mediation. Hayes pointed out at the high school, one of the biggest issues is that often times students don’t like to “tattle” on people.

According to Hayes, he is looking at making future improvements to the way bullying is addressed at the high school.

One thing he said is being looked at is the development of a peer team, which would be trained to help assist the crisis team with information. He also mentioned another program, called Life Savers, which is affiliated with Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, that he intends to investigate further.

Hayes said he wants to improve communications by informing students, parents and the community about what measures the school is taking to address bullying.

He estimated about 90 percent of his day is spent on discipline. He also told the board one of the biggest issues right now is cyber bullying that happens outside of school, which spills into school.

After hearing the presentation from Walker and Hayes, the board then was informed by Hatfield about this year’s tax levy. He told the board the Consumer Price Index (CPI) this year is 1.7 percent.

He explained with the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, the district would be limited to last year’s extension, plus the CPI, which would essentially meant about 1.7 percent more to be spread across all the district’s funds.

Hatfield said when PTELL was created, there was no consideration for what happens when property values go down. He went on to say in a “tax capped” county, it is a good thing when governing bodies hold truth in taxation hearings. But, he noted in his 12 years as superintendent, Unit One has not held a truth in taxation hearing because the district has never levied more than 5 percent.

When comparing Unit One’s tax rate to other school districts, Hatfield pointed out there are some districts in the East St. Louis region that have tax rates at high has $8 to $10 per $100 of assessed value. In looking at 92 school districts near Interstate 64 and south, there were only 19 other districts that had lower rates than Unit One. Currently Massac’s rate is $4.31 per $100 of assessed value. According to the tax rate comparison, among the highest tax rates are near east St. Louis. Cahokia #187 has a rate of $11.04 and East St. Louis #189 has a rate of $10.83, per $100 assessed value.

Some of the local tax rates for 2012 include: Century Unit #100 - $4.16; Joppa-Maple Grove #38 - $5.27; Pope County #1 - $3.46.

According to Hatfield the last two year the county’s equalized assessed value has gone down, due in part to declining valuations on property. This year, he said after talking to Gary Hamm, Massac County’s supervisor of assessments, he learned there is a slight 2.3 percent increase and the estimated Equalized Assessed Value for the county is $142 million.

Hatfield told the board though, that all the district can levy is 1.7 percent based on last year’s extension, pointing out the district would essentially be getting about $90,000 more locally than over last year.

After discussion on the levy, a motion was made to approve Unit One’s tax levy, in the amount of $6 million.

While Hayes was still at the meeting, the board turned its attention to an item on the agenda concerning the proposed MCHS graduation date. Hayes told the board his recommendation was to move graduation to Friday, May 16.

According to Hayes, prior to the board moving the high school graduation to Sunday afternoons, it was usually held on a Friday evening. He said several reasons are behind his recommendation.

After graduation, the school has its Project Graduation, which lasts all night. He said it has become inconvenient to have the event and then turn right around with school starting on Monday morning. In addition to that, when graduation is on a Sunday, the district has to pay extra for the janitors to come in and set up the gym for graduation and to disassemble graduation to prepare for Project Graduation.

If graduation were on a Friday evening, then the janitors will already be there to set up for graduation and the district would only have to pay for the cost of disassembling graduation and setting up for Project Graduation.

He also said he and other school officials hope that having Project Graduation on a Friday evening may increase the number of participants at the event. Another consideration too is that hopefully a Friday evening would not interfere with church activities on a Sunday afternoon.

Still another point Hayes made was that currently graduates practice on Friday and then return to school on Sunday afternoon for graduation. If it’s held on Friday evening, he said graduates would be able to practice that morning and then come back that evening for the ceremony. He also pointed out that trying to cool down the gymnasium on a Sunday afternoon is difficult. He and others feel that possibly trying to cool the gym on a Friday evening might work out better.

After hearing Hayes’ reasoning for moving graduation back to Friday evening, the board unanimously approved a motion approving the high school graduation date for Friday, May 16 at 7 p.m.

Before the board adjourned its business, the only other action it took was approving a settlement and release agreement with Jane Doe 77. The settlement and release agreement stems from the May 2012 lawsuit that was filed by a former Franklin Elementary School student, born in 1977, who alleged that form Unit One teacher, Darryl Bentson, a teacher at Franklin, had molested her.

Though the board had no public discussion regarding the settlement and release agreement before or after it was approved, Hatfield said the settlement and release agreement releases the board from two lawsuits: the lawsuit with Jane Doe 77 and from the lawsuit with the district’s insurance company. Hatfield explained the lawsuit with the insurance company was regarding a dispute over who should pay for the defense of Bentson. Once the settlement with Jane Doe 77 was agreed to, the lawsuit with the insurance company became void.

According to Hatfield, the district will have 30 days to implement the settlement and release agreement. As of press time, the Planet has filed a Freedom of Information Act with Unit One to obtain a copy of the settlement agreement.

In other business, the board:

• Approved an updated policy concerning teen dating violence, which was given to the board at the previous month’s meeting for the board to review. The changes to the policy were made in response to a new law that required some portions of the policy to be changed.

• And, accepted the resignation of Stephanie Allen as aide at MES.

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