Tuesday, November 20, 2012
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Chester-East Lincoln Board of Education holds 1st
Q-and-A session

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[November 20, 2012]  Prior to its monthly meeting on Nov. 13, the Chester-East Lincoln Board of Education conducted a special question-and-answer session for the community. This was the first of the Q-and-A sessions the board plans to have once every three months in order to hear concerns and feedback from the parents in the community.

One of the questions asked concerned the school's satisfaction with Jennifer Kascel, who was hired last month by the board as a part-time instructional aide and as the new first-aid coordinator. Kascel's job as first-aid coordinator involves gathering data on the students as to their health and any medications they may need to take.

The board responded by saying that they have been very happy with Kascel's performance so far in both of her positions.

While on the topic of medical-related news, Superintendent Jennifer Hamm gave an update as to the large number of students with the norovirus that caused the school to let out early Nov. 2.

"It was not a foodborne illness," said Hamm. She said the school has been working with the health department in making sure the school has stayed clean. Hamm also said she has heard that the virus, commonly associated with the stomach flu, has hit a few other students in other school districts in the area.

A guest in the audience asked how the board felt about the new buses they have been using. These buses also feature cameras as part of a security system.

Hamm answered by saying that the new buses have been proven so far to be a great improvement. While on the topic of transportation, Hamm also said that the school has gone from five bus routes to four.

A question as to the state of the education fund was raised.

Hamm took the opportunity to give a brief explanation as to the fluctuations in the education fund over the last 10 years. The education fund is used primarily to pay teacher salaries and benefits for teachers.

While some people may believe that the school is spending too much from the education fund, the real problem is not the spending, but much lower revenue to draw on. The school could not have predicted the educational support fallout that began in 2008.

"Say what you will about Blagojevich, but he spent a lot of money on education," said Hamm.

During 2008 and 2009, the state withheld nearly $107,000 from CEL. Between the change in state spending and the late payments, CEL, like other schools, has had a difficult time adjusting to such financial instability.

Furthermore, the school has been able to refrain from terminating faculty due to a relatively high number of retirements. In the past two years, five faculty members have retired, and the school did not refill those positions.

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Guests asked for an update on the problems the school is facing in following new USDA lunch guidelines.

Hamm said the issue would be revisited during the board meeting following the Q-and-A and that on Wednesday the students would be eating a Thanksgiving-style meal, regardless of the new guidelines. Hamm said this would be a very exciting day for the students, and the special meal would be a relatively formal event. More than one parent in the audience said their child was very excited about it.

Board member Leslie Starasta commented on another lunch issue that was raised last month. Some parents are worried that their students are not being given enough time to eat. Starasta said she sat in on a few lunches and that there is "plenty of time for the students that want to eat their lunch."

A question was asked as to the progress on the plans for new building projects. The board is still in the process of deciding what will be done, though there was a presentation on a possible time frame at the board meeting after the session. Hamm also reported that so far, $8,500 has been spent on the resident engagement process.

Hamm also emphasized that the money used to pay for any school upgrade will come from the 1 percent sales tax, not the education fund. Furthermore, the board is looking into a bonding process to help pay for the improvements, and Hamm said they will do everything possible to keep the tax rate at 2.7 percent.

Hamm also reported on the recent upgrade of the windows in the section of the school that was built in 1967. The new windows are coated with a special tinting that makes it very difficult for anyone to see into the classrooms, yet natural sunlight is still filtered inside.

Board members present were Keith Birnbaum, president; Kenny Golden, vice president; Tina Warfel; Larry Hall; Ben Roland; Leslie Starasta; and Superintendent Jennifer Hamm..


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