The meeting drew a little more than the usual attention with two
presentations taking up a majority of the meeting. One presentation
concerned construction projects that CEL may undertake, and the
other was about problems the school is facing due to new food
Resident engagement committee construction
For the last two months, CEL has had special meetings where
members of the public were able to come to the school and meet with
an architect from BLDD, an architectural firm from Decatur. During
the course of those meetings, Todd Cyrulik, an employee of BLDD,
explained what the district was hoping to accomplish by having the
Members of the community were also given the opportunity to
provide ideas and suggestions for what they think should be done to
improve the school and provide a more modern educational experience
for the students.
At the meeting on Sept. 27, a vote was taken to determine which
of eight potential plans would be presented to the school's board of
education. The presentation was made by a group consisting of both
faculty members and members of the community.
The group assembled to give the presentation consisted of Daniel
Sheehan, Craig Strampp, Mark Mathon and Mark Shew, all four of whom
are community members, along with Greg Hoffert, Jeannie Schutz and
Jill Urish, who served as faculty advisers. Sheehan served as the
spokesman for the group.
Sheehan provided a recap of the meetings and the group's goal.
The plan presented to the board, titled Option 7, was the cheapest
of the eight plans put together by BLDD. The plans were all
conglomerations of various ideas that were suggested by parents and
faculty members, including one designed by school administrators and
one designed by BLDD.
Option 7 would provide the following changes to the school:
One of the art
rooms would be expanded into what is currently being used as
would be moved to the center of the school and expanded. This
would also isolate the kitchen and separate it from the
cafeteria, as the kitchen would remain where it is currently.
The current main
entrance would be sealed and a new entrance would be installed
directly to the right. The main office would also be expanded in
size with an increase in security measures.
A new media center
would be built next to the new cafeteria, replacing what is
currently a large classroom.
The plan also includes a number of
upgrades to the school, such as electrical, HVAC and the
replacement of old floor tile. These are referred to as status
Altogether, Option 7 would cost $3.7 million to build. Out of all
the plans, it has the least changes to the school.
After the presentation, members of the public were given the
opportunity to make comments and voice concerns. Jim Rohrer, a
farmer in Logan County, was one of the guests who expressed
Rohrer was concerned about the school's budget, specifically the
education fund. He presented numbers on the ending balances in that
fund the last four years.
"In July 2009, four years ago, your (CEL) education fund had an
ending balance of $955,000. Today, your current budget that you
passed last month, (the) ending balance is at $498,000," he said.
These numbers indicate that this year, the ending balance would
be 48 percent of the ending balance in 2009. As a result, Rohrer
called into question whether or not the school wants to educate
students or add on to the school. Rohrer acknowledged that the state
government is far behind on payments to schools, but there still
appears to be a problem with overspending.
"You either have some serious spending problems, or you have a
lack of revenue. We always go back to Washington or Springfield and
talk about their problems, but we have it here on the local level,"
Board member Leslie Starasta replied that the proposed building
plan would be paid for out of two separate funds, neither of which
would be the education fund; 95 percent of the education fund is
used for personnel costs. Furthermore, she and board vice president
Kenny Golden both stated that the district would do as much as
possible to avoid raising taxes to pay for any projects.
"The 1 percent sales tax is what we're focused on primarily to
pay for the improvements," said Golden. Golden also said that
everything still remains in the planning stages at this point.
[to top of second column]
Former board president Jeff Brooks echoed Rohrer's concerns about
cost and asked the board where the money to pay for this project
would be coming from.
Superintendent Jennifer Hamm reiterated that most of the money
would come out of the 1 percent sales tax, which would provide $1.5
million. The district also has access to a reserve of $1.2 million.
The rest could be covered by grants and financial bonds.
It was also noted that out of the $3.7 million the project would
cost, $2.9 million of it would be status quo upgrades. Hamm also
said that in December a more detailed list would be provided as to
Karen Beverlin, business and compliance manager, also gave a
presentation to the board. Her presentation concerned the new USDA
guidelines for student lunches. These guidelines have proven to be
difficult for many schools in Illinois to adjust to.
There are a number of issues that have arisen because of the new
The same is true
with foods that are high in sugar or fat. For example, the
school now has to serve fat-free milk, which a lot of students
do not like to drink.
The school also
now has to provide a serving of fruits and vegetables every day.
While the school wants to see the students eat healthy, they
cannot force the students to eat their lunch, but they do have
to make them take it off the lunch line.
As a result of the lack of choices
students are willing to eat, a lot of the food gets thrown away.
A cafeteria worker present at the meeting said it is
"unbelievable how much gets thrown away."
The new guidelines went into effect Oct. 1, and the school has to
provide a menu to the USDA each week in order to be evaluated.
However, the school did not receive the required software used to
evaluate their menu until after the guidelines were issued.
The school was found in compliance with the guidelines, aside
from a few too many snacks and providing too many grains.
Should the school choose to ignore the new guidelines, they could
serve more food that students like to eat, but they would lose
nearly half of their cafeteria budget (or just over $40,000), as the
state government would cease to provide the financial support that
comes along with the guidelines. As a result, CEL would have to
charge students $4 per day to eat lunch.
Because of these problems, the entire menu will be re-evaluated
starting with November.
Beverlin provided a possible solution: The school could try
moving closer to a "hot lunch"-type menu, similar to District 27.
This would provide a greater variety of food the school could serve.
However, that would require the school to hire someone to wash trays
every day or use styrofoam or plastic trays, both of which would put
strain on the cafeteria budget. These options would cost $4,400 and
Another problem the school is experiencing with lunches stems
from a lack of time for students to eat. Because there are so many
students at the school, CEL has moved from three lunch periods to
four. As a result, there is less time in each lunch period, and some
students are having difficulty eating all of their food, even if
they brought food from home they were willing to eat.
Board members present were Keith Birnbaum, president; Kenny
Golden, vice president; Tina Warfel; Larry Hall; Ben Roland; Joel
Vinson; Leslie Starasta; and Superintendent Jennifer Hamm.
[By DEREK HURLEY]
Past related article