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  • Kent Casson

Crowd fills school board meeting

A large audience at Thursday's meeting of the PC school board in Fairbury.

A large crowd filled the Prairie Central High School library during Thursday night’s regular July meeting of the Prairie Central Board of Education.

Several members of the public addressed the board about masks for the upcoming school year. Logan Spenard’s daughter is going into kindergarten and he shared concerns over mask wearing.

“They all need to see facial expressions,” Spenard said, referring to the students.

Spenard encouraged the board to support kids by making what he called a good decision.

Amanda Kester pointed to low infection rates as a way to safely remove mask mandates. She hopes the upcoming school year is mask free and worries about headache, fatigue and muscle strain from mask wearing.

“One huge reason to be mask free is just as simple as a smile,” Kester told the board.

Kester also noted anxiety and suicides are occurring in higher numbers.

Louis John Slagel said he goes to the Chicago area once a week and that it is a different world up there until a couple of months ago when restrictions were lifted.

“I’m just a little confused what there really is to debate about,” Slagel said.

He emphasized the good job board members and the district are doing in these times, especially navigating through the past year when many schools didn’t have in-person learning like Prairie Central.

Board president Mark Slagel thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and expressed his appreciation for the comments.

“I can’t say I disagree with any of you but as a board we’ll have to make our decision,” Slagel explained.

Board member Tim McGreal urged the audience to be patient as the rules seem to always change.

“I think in the end, we’ll make the right decision,” said McGreal.

Another meeting is expected in early August when the board will officially make a mask decision for the upcoming school year.

During her superintendent report, Paula Crane told board members decision-making is in their hands since the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education agreed to go with the new Centers for Disease Control guidance. It is recommended schools pull away mitigation strategies a little at a time. Two big ones are masks and social distancing.

“The good thing is, you have the flexibility to change things up as the need arises,” Crane said.

Crane admits there are still plenty of unknowns about how to get things back to normal as possible while staying safe at the same time.

A budget review was presented to the group. This ended up being one of the better revenue years in recent memory thanks to state payments and grant money.

“We actually received our revenue from the state as promised,” Crane noted.

The district did not expect the USDA lunch program to continue the entire year like it did and they got reimbursed at higher rates than initially thought. Special education tuition was lower than it had been and food costs were lower but supply costs were a bit higher. Transportation salaries were down as the school is also down on bus drivers.

“These are pretty accurate numbers but they still have to be audited.”

Fiscal Year 22 budget information was also given to the board and this new budget looks different than last year. Additional revenue is expected due to windmills.

Last year’s expenditures were at $23.3 million and this year, Crane budgeted for $26.7 million. Money will also be spent on COVID relief and software programs. Around $1.8 million was put in for capital projects in the balanced budget.

A transportation report was presented to the board and later approved. There were 353,351 total miles for the year with fuel usage at 43,873 gallons. Transportation maintenance totaled $104,755.81.

“We did sanitize buses after every route for the school year,” explained transportation director Charisse Price.

Price said routes had to be eliminated due to no drivers.

“We are down several drivers from a few years ago,” Crane said.

The food services report was also approved. Prairie Central received some grants last year and all students will eat free again this year. There has been a large staff turnover with quite a few openings.

Slagel shared a Building and Grounds Committee update which included the need to get something done with the high school parking lot and to address unsafe light poles on the football field. Windows will have to be replaced and long-term items include expansions and gym updates.

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