Taking two motions, the Joppa-Maple Grove School Board voted 4-3 to set its tentative tax levy at $1.1 million.
The board met Monday, Nov. 21, in the Joppa High School library with all board members — president Danny Burnett, vice president Denise Meyer, secretary Rachel Henson, Kevin Castleman, Chris McGinness, Peggy McNeill and Corey Willenborg — present.
Superintendent Dr. Vickie Artman, during her report, presented three examples to the board for the tentative tax levy for 2022 payable in fiscal year 2024, The levy must be filed with the Massac County Clerk by Dec. 27.
Artman’s first example called for no increase on the extension from the prior year, keeping the amount requested at $1.5 million. She noted while the dollar amount would remain the same, the formula would increase the rate for taxpayers to 5.79247 due to the drop in EAV (Equalized Assessed Value).
The second example kept the current tax rate of 5.09587. She explained while this would maintain the tax rate, it would provide fewer dollars for the district, a loss it would feel in 2025. The amount requested would be $1.3 million.
The third example dropped the 5.09587 tax rate down to 4.95, resulting in an overall decrease in the extension. The amount requested would be $1.2 million. Artman explained that while that decrease save taxpayers 3%, once that extension is dropped “we’re losing money by not keeping our levy the same and next year, this number would determine what the new extension would be.”
After going over the examples, Artman discussed the district’s budget. The new fiscal year began with $4.8 million and, as of Oct. 31, had $5.5 million. “We still look good and have almost $1 million in ESSER funds we haven’t used,” she said.
“In a way, things look good, but I want us to be very cautious when we’re looking at our numbers because we know the cliff is coming,” she emphasized “We know that’s going to happen. We need to think long-term — what are we going to do to make sure we will be able to sustain ourselves. We want to make sure we have enough money for payroll.”
The vote came following a 15-minute closed session.
McNeill made a motion to go with the second example, keeping the tax rate at 5.09586. Its vote failed 3-4 with she, Castleman and McGinness voting yes and Burnett, Meyer, Henson and Willenborg voting against.
Willenborg then called for the levy to be set at $1.1 million “due to all money coming in from other sources and the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes from Vistra) payments,” he said.
Willenborg explained his number was based on charts and graphs sent by Massac County supervisor of assessments Gary Hamm, stating that “$1.1 million would put it at a point where it won’t have to be adjusted for several years, from my understanding. With EAV dropping, our taxes would double in that five-year time, from my understanding. We have $4.2 million on hand, with extra money from different directions.”
Artman noted setting it at $1.1 million would be a $400,000 drop from the current $1.5 million.
Willenborg’s motion passed 4-3 with he, Meyer, Henson and Burnett voting in favor and McNeill, Castleman and McGinness voting against.
“I want to keep our school viable,” McGinness said when he voted, adding after the motion passed, “This is not long-term.”
The board approved its 2021 audit. CPA Jeffrey Stroder from the auditing firm Beussink, Hey, Roe & Stroder, LLC, briefly discussed the audit with the board during its public comment section.
Stroder noted the audit had a clean opinion and there were no deficiencies found in the controls, but there were two items found regarding compliance — the annual statement of affairs was filed to ISBE around Jan. 1, 2022, after the Dec. 15 deadline and the treasurer’s bond was not set at a high enough percentage to cover threshold of the higher cash balance at the end of last year.
“My personal opinion of all the different things you had to comply with, if those were our only problems, to me, that’s a pretty good report,” Stroder said.
The report showed the district’s preliminary fiscal score was 4.0 out of 4.0, which is labeled as “recognition” by the state.
Stroder discussed how he sometimes has to make recommendations for adjustments to financial statements before giving a clean opinion. He told the board his firm didn’t have to do that for J-MG.
“We did not find any adjustments this year, which is very rare for any of our audits,” he said. “The information you were using and making decisions on several months ago before the audit was started was the same information we’re putting out as our opinion that they’re fairly stated. We did not make any adjustments to those numbers; they were reliable.”
Stroder also commended the district’s staff. “We bother a lot of people (over a week) to get this audit work done,” he said. “Everybody we worked with always treats my auditors very professionally, very courteously. Everybody’s very helpful, knowledgeable. It’s always a pleasure to work with the folks here at the school.”
• Steve Heisner, chairman of the Shawnee Community College board, was one of seven board members visiting area school boards Monday night “to let you know how much we value the relationship we have with the schools in the district. Remember that what you’re doing makes a tremendous difference. Thank you.
“We fully realize these are the conduits for how we do business. That’s one reason, we’re very pleased to announce, our enrollment is up 10.5%. We fought very hard to turn some serious corners and make the college as viable as it can be, to make it financially stable and to make sure we’re building these relationships for the future, so we all have a future going forward,” he said.
Heisner noted JHS’s 19-member senior class has several scholarship students and is offering 11 dual-credit courses.
“It’s great to know that your faculties and faculties throughout the district are being credentialed to be able to teach those courses. That’s a great conduit for our young people in the district to be able to get those courses under their belt when they’re ready to move on,” he continued.
Artman noted JHS teachers “are serious about getting the credentials. We had four graduate with dual degrees last year. We have students that value education and work hard to take those dual credit classes. We thank you for the relationship that we have.”
Heisner added that SCC is looking to expand programming at the Metro Center “to make as many courses available as we can as close as possible.”
• Trish Stickenrider, executive director of the Greater Metropolis Convention & Visitors Bureau, discussed with the board about the opportunity to be a host site for a midwest indoor drone race on Saturday, Dec. 18, at JHS. In addition, the event’s coordinators can hold a demonstration and talk about the various areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education with students the previous day. Stickenrider said the opportunity was presented to Massac Unit 1, which declined. The J-MG board gave its approval for JHS to be a host site for the event.
During his report, J-MG principal Hunter Kreuter:
• Updated the board on his discussion with teachers on the the district’s drop in math and ELA proficiency scores, a subject he addressed at the Sept. 26 meeting. Kreuter said during the Nov. 4 teacher meeting, following discussion of the school report card data and test scores, he challenged each teacher to find three underperforming areas and provide him with feedback on how they will change or modify instruction to improve those areas. The feedback was to be turned in prior to Thanksgiving break. He noted that high school teachers voiced areas in which they can assist.
“It’s getting everybody on board to understand it’s a group effort. When you look at test scores, you’re not just looking at one class, but a team effort, and we can improve that way,” Kreuter said. “The next teachers meeting, we’re going to meet grade-level wide so teachers can work with each other to see if they can improve and work as a a team.”
• Reported a new scoreboard for the JHS gym has been ordered. The board costs $5,500 and $3,000 has been provided by the Booster Club. He is looking for a company to remove the old sign and install the new one.
• Discussed the upgrade of three of Maple Grove’s older Promethean boards, made possible with a portion of a Title 1 grant. Artman noted she has written a grant to get new boards district wide.
• And, thanked Tami Peck and the Maple Grove PTO for their work on the school’s annual chili supper.
During her report to the board, Artman:
• Reported the J-MG faculty and staff voted to switch to the “tethering” model for their health insurance, leaving the district’s membership in Egyptian Trust Insurance. She noted the move will save the district 10% in premiums. Dropping out of the Egyptian Trust membership will cost approximately $25,000. The board later voted 6-1, with McNeill voting against, to go with “tethering” model and remain with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
• Reported the district has received a $50,000 matching maintenance grant, which will be used to replace exterior doors and interior gym doors at JHS. The project will be put out for bid in December.
• And, reported renovations to the JHS gym lobby are still underway. She said attendees of the school’s Meet the Teams event on Nov. 5, were very complimentary.
In other business, the board, following its closed session:
• Approved the linkage agreement with Cairo’s Women’s Shelter.
• Approved 3-2-2 to hire Adam Tucker Harris as the Maple Grove boys head basketball coach. Voting for were Castleman, McGinness and McNeill. Voting against were Burnett and Meyer. Abstaining were Willenborg and Henson.
• Approved 5-1-1 the extracurricular and volunteer personnel list with the omission of the fifth- and sixth-grade boys basketball coach and the addition of a cheerleading coach. Voting for were Castleman, McGinness, McNeill, Burnett and Henson. Voting against was Meyer. Abstaining was Willenborg.
• And approved its consent agenda, which included the purchase of $50 gift cards for the teachers and staff for the holidays.
The board’s next regular meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12, in the JHS library.
Thanksgiving break is Nov. 23-25.
Christmas break will be Monday, Dec. 19, through Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. Students will return to school on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. Teacher in-service will be Tuesday, Jan. 3.