- Cass School District 63
- Board Briefs
Board Briefs - November 15, 2022
The Board Briefs are highlights from the most recent Board of Education meetings. The purpose of the Board Briefs is to provide a timely summary to keep our staff, parents and public informed of the key items that were discussed or acted upon. More detailed information is available under the Board Schedules, Agendas and Minutes section of the District’s website. Official minutes are not posted until approval at the following meeting.
New Board Member Chris Green
From a very strong applicant pool of six candidates, the Board of Education has selected and seated Mr. Chris Green as the newest member. He is replacing Kent Absalonsen, who recently moved out of the district. Mr. Green is a real estate development manager and lives in Darien with his wife Prem and two sons. We welcome Mr. Green and thank him for his willingness to serve in this volunteer role.
Board Member Appreciation and Conference
November 15 was Board Member Appreciation Day in Illinois and Superintendent Mark Cross thanked the Board for their support of our district and staff, as well as their representation of the community and taxpayers. Several members will be attending the upcoming Joint Annual Conference in Chicago, and Urszula Tanouye will represent our Board at the 2022 Delegate Assembly.
Tentative 2022 Tax Levy
Mr. Cross presented the tentative 2022 tax levy for Cass School District 63. The recommended levy of $10,360,739 excluding debt service, compared to last year’s actual extension of $9,828,058, is an increase of 5.42 percent. The final amount of taxes on an individual property could be higher or lower and will depend on any changes in assessment of the individual property, as well as what other taxing bodies levy for taxes. This levy is separate from the potential issuance of bonds as a result of the successful referendum on November 8. The final amount for that will be determined at a later date.
Last year’s total tax increase for Cass 63 was 1.8 percent, while the year prior there was a total increase of 2.9 percent. The average increase in local property tax revenues over the previous 10 years has averaged 2.01 percent. Mr. Cross also provided the Questions and Answers about Local Property Taxes for anyone interested in learning more. After some discussion, the Board approved the tentative levy. Since this year’s proposed levy exceeds 105 percent of the previous year’s extension, the Board must hold a public truth in taxation hearing. The Board approved a resolution setting the public hearing for Tuesday, December 13, 2022, at 7:00 p.m.
Board Approves Concord Summer HVAC Project
Separate from the recent referendum, the district had planned a small project to address the most immediate HVAC needs in three rooms at Concord. This will be done as a separate project from our geothermal plans to utilize some of our grant funds and ensure that the art, music and Ivy League Kids rooms remain functional. The Board approved the low bid of $274,000 from Kandu Construction of Skokie for the summer 2023 project.
In Other Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved recommended Board policy updates
- Approved the employee insurance program renewal
- Approved the employment of Tamara Kohout as a bus driver
- Accepted the resignation of Concord teacher assistant Cheryl Walrath
- Approved a $50,000 school maintenance matching grant application
Board Briefs - October 18, 2022
Strong Fiscal Year 2022 Audit
Superintendent Mark Cross and Finance Committee members Alice Esposito and Steve Wyent reviewed the fiscal year 2022 audit. Mr. Cross said that he and Fiscal Services Director Deb Dolehide were proud to share another clean audit with no findings, auditor recommendations or questioned costs.
During FY22, the district built its fund balances, continued its practice of not issuing short-term or long-term debt and reduced existing debt by over 7 percent. Cass 63 maintains a strong “AA” rating with Standard & Poors.
Mr. Cross reported that the district is continuing with its effort to control expenditures, build adequate reserves and avoid issuing any short-term debt or leases, which the district has avoided for the last several years. The only plans for issuance of any long-term debt is subject to the approval of the November 8th referendum for the district’s safety, security and HVAC needs.
Mr. Wyent pointed out that the district is only using about a quarter of its debt margin and even with a successful referendum, the district’s long-term debt will remain well below its legal limit. Members also referenced the district’s strong financial profile, which most recently was a 3.80 out of 4.00, or “Recognition” on the Illinois State Board of Education’s financial profile rating.
Updates Regarding Safety and Security Planning
Superintendent Mark Cross presented several details related to safety and security plans, including pursuit of the BluePoint Security system. After considerable research, he said it is the strong recommendation of the leadership to pursue this at both schools. This is a high level, robust system that drastically reduces the wait time for law enforcement intervention in the event of an active shooter situation. Mr. Cross also explained how the system integrates with what would be a completely modernized camera system, as well as the allowance for instant communication in the event of a crisis. The system allows for quicker intervention and response time during medical emergencies as well.
The cost will be the major consideration and this system and other security plans would be addressed in the event of a successful referendum. The Board also discussed delaying the school district’s maintenance grant application until after learning the results of November 8. This will help the Board determine whether the HVAC system or security must be prioritized. The final recommendations will be made at the November 15 meeting.
Property, Casualty and Liability Insurance Renewal
Mr. Cross reviewed the insurance renewal proposal for coverage including property, casualty, liability, flood, cyber, automobile and worker compensation coverage. The total renewal of $122,966 is a 2.25 percent increase over the current year. Mr. Cross pointed out that while some areas of the insurance costs beyond the district’s control went up, the worker compensation premium has dropped due to a decrease in recent claims.
Interview of Board Member Candidates
The Board of Education held a closed session for interviewing Board member candidates, with the remaining interviews scheduled to take place at a special meeting for this purpose on October 24. It is expected that the new member will be formally seated at the regular November 15 meeting.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved the Fiscal Year 2022 Audit
- Approved the Property, Casualty and Liability Insurance Renewal
- Approved Olesya Leopoldo as Cass Junior High School Teacher Assistant
Board Briefs - September 27, 2022
The district’s most recent fiscal year payment was $423,933, but if we were fully funded under the formula, we would receive $5,272,197. In other words, Cass 63 gets about 8 cents on the dollar of what we would receive if this land were taxable. The school district must advocate to maintain this funding along with other school districts who are federally impacted by having 10 percent or more of their land as federal property. For more information, please review Federal Impact Aid in Cass 63 and here is an Impact Aid Overview.
Lana Johnson Elected Vice President
Lana Johnson was elected Vice President of the Board of Education. This follows the recent resignation of Kent Absalonsen. The deadline for applications for the current vacancy has passed and the Board will be interviewing six finalists during closed session on October 18 and October 24. The goal is to seat the new Board member at the November 15 meeting.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education …
- Adopted the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget
- Accepted the resignation of teacher assistant Justin Iglesias
- Approved the $50,000 school maintenance matching grant application
- Approved the District’s Concussion Oversight Team Members
- Acknowledged the Board of Education’s role as DCFS Mandated Reporters
Board Briefs - August 16, 2022
Board Approves Tentative FY23 Budget
Superintendent Mark Cross presented the fiscal year 2023 budget, which includes an estimated deficit of just over $375,000. He stated that inflationary increases have impacted the district just like any other business and added that while this is a significant deficit, some of it is also related to the timing of local tax payments. Mr. Cross also shared the good news that FY22 ended with a surplus, which he credited to careful and conservative management of expenditures as well as the timing of tax payments that arrived earlier than expected.
The biggest concern for the FY23 budget and beyond is related to how to manage the loss and replacement of the district's HVAC units over time. Mr. Cross emphasized that there are not funds in the budget to handle these types of costs and it would be much better to replace these as part of the long-term plan that the Board has previously developed. This relates directly to plans to upgrade the district's safety, security and HVAC systems with a successful bond referendum. He said that in the absence of approved funding to finance the Board's plan, other budgetary decisions will have to be made to get the work done, which will impact the education of our students.
Later in the meeting, the Board voted to approve the tentative FY23 budget and establish the public hearing and adoption for Tuesday, September 27, at 7:00 p.m.
Healthy Kids, Safe Schools
The Board reviewed the new Healthy Kids, Safe Schools section of the district website. This ties in with the strategic plan and will be a central resource for students, parents and families. Information includes updated school health guidance, medical, mental health, anti-bullying, suicide prevention, sexual abuse prevention and school safety information, as well resources for families who may be struggling. Resources will continue to be added and information pushed out as needed. Also included is a listing of the school district's nurse, guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologist to facilitate communication and contacts when help is needed.
Board Approves Pursuing November Referendum for Safety, Security and HVAC Needs
The Board continued its ongoing discussion to address critical safety, security and facility needs at both schools. Mr. Cross reviewed a summary of the key issues and facts regarding proposal:
- The district would issue up to $12.8 million in bonds that must be approved by a referendum of the voters at the general election on November 8, 2022.
- The primary purpose is to address specific safety, security and HVAC needs, and also refunding an existing bond. Funds can be used for no other purpose.
- The safety and security needs include replacing the old fire alarm system, updating and modernizing the video surveillance system, and purchasing an integrated intercom and communication system for extreme emergencies.
- The HVAC needs would be addressed through a geothermal system in both schools. This approach provides a permanent solution that is the most cost-effective in terms of total life-cycle costs.
- The proposed solutions will save in the range of $70,000 to $100,000 in annual utility costs, which frees up funds in the district’s operating budget.
- The last voter approved referendum was in 1990 to increase the overall tax rate by 40 cents. After 32 years, the district is still not asking for a change to the rate outside of the proposed bond from what was approved in 1990.
- If approved, the impact for an average priced home of $300,000 is estimated at $235. The estimated $0.25 increase would impact the current tax rate of school district residents by less than 4 percent.
- The refunding of the bond would immediately save over $200,000 in interest costs from the existing bond, while freeing up over $300,000 in revenue for the district’s operation and maintenance budget each year going forward.
- While the school district continues to build on its strong financial health, the vast majority of budget expenditures are committed toward the educational program. With local revenues tied to the consumer price index, school finances do not allow for a comprehensive overhaul of an infrastructure cost of this nature.
- If the referendum fails and the district is forced to replace the existing system within the existing budget over a period of year, the long-term costs will be far greater and will also come at the expense of the educational program.
The Board unanimously agreed that nothing has changed from the needs that the district has been trying to address, although now the solutions have been delayed for another year even if the November referendum is successful. Mr. Cross and the Board will continue to provide the community and taxpayers with detailed, factual information to make them aware of the needs, as well as the proposal and cost for the solutions.
After stating its full support for placing the resolution and question on the ballot for November, Mr. Cross stated that he will soon update information from the district to share with the community.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education …
- Accepted the resignations of Quinn Csuk, Lauren Malik, Kevin O’Toole, Amber Hanke and Ernest Brown
- Approved the employment of Amy Gorzkowski, Sladjola Jemin, Tim Stangarone, Karen Lampl, Joanne Groh and long-term substitute Nancy Betker
- Approved the Behavioral Threat Assessment Procedure
- Approved the Fiscal Year 2023 Tentative Budget
- Approved September 27, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. to hold the Fiscal Year 2023 Public Budget Hearing in the District Community Room at Cass Junior High School
- Approved the Resolution Providing for and Requiring the Submission of the Proposition of Issuing $12,800,000 School Bonds to the Voters of the District at the General Election to be Held on the 8th Day of November, 2022
- Approved the release of Closed Session Minutes from January 18, 2022
- Approved the destruction of verbatim audio records from Closed Session meetings held prior to January 1, 2021 per the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120
Board Briefs - June 21, 2022
At its most recent meeting, the Board of Education approved several recommended policy updates, reviewed potential changes in health and safety protocols, discussed the district’s long-term facility plans and approved the recommended employment of several new staff for the 2022-23 school year.
Safety, Security and Geothermal HVAC Planning
If approved by the district’s voters on June 28, safety and security updates will be the first priority in the district’s planning to ensure a safer learning environment for our students. The next steps in plans and timelines for the replacement of the aging HVAC systems with a geothermal system will also begin if the referendum is successful. Mr. Cross stated that if the voters approve, future energy and maintenance cost savings are one of the things he is most excited about as this will be a relief to the district budget. He emphasized that passage will commence much more work with the district’s architect and engineer to take the next steps in planning. Should the referendum not pass, then the Board will review and discuss the next steps at a future meeting.
Food Service Program Update
Superintendent Mark Cross shared with the Board concerns he has had with the food service program. The school district will go through the procurement process for the 2023-24 school year to consider the possibility of a new provider.
He also shared that it appears school lunches will no longer be free for all students and only eligible students will receive free lunches. Should that be the case, the Board established the 2022-23 school year price at $3.50 per lunch.
2022-23 Health and Safety Protocols
Mr. Cross shared current recommendations for health and safety protocols beginning with the 2022-23 school year. While subject to change, Mr. Cross shared the importance of having a plan in place, particularly if future health guidance would require any adjustments.
The most obvious changes would be the elimination of contact tracing, low-risk notifications and weekly screening testing. Onsite testing options are being researched for when symptoms are present or a test is necessary. Other recommendations under consideration are as follows:
- Parents should keep children home with symptoms, per CDC guidance.
- Masking remains recommended for a specified period of time after symptoms or close contacts, or until a negative test result is achieved. Masking would remain welcome for any child or family who wishes to do so.
- The district will encourage COVID testing after symptoms or close contacts.
- The district will provide information regarding vaccinations and boosters, as appropriate and recommended under health guidance.
- The district will maintain the use of air purifiers in certain rooms until such time it is either no longer necessary, or after possible new HVAC systems are installed.
- The district will maintain data on known cases in the school setting.
- The district will retain the ability to re-implement protocols if needed or required under health guidance.
- The district will create a "Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids" section of the website dedicated to this information, as well as other health information to promote and share with parents.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved the employment of the following staff effective at the start of the 2022-23 school year:
- Caitlyn Isaacson, Concord 4th grade teacher
- Kathy Mensik, Cass Junior High library resource assistant
- Kerri Soriano, Concord teacher assistant
- Daniel Murphy, long-term substitute Spanish and ELL teacher and long-term substitute band teacher, both at Cass Junior High
- Approved the 2022-23 school year lunch fee of $3.50
- Approved the recommended Board policy updates
- Approved the Federal ESSER III grant funding application, most of which will be used for HVAC improvements
- Approved the 2022-23 food service contract with Aramark
- Approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Darien Park District
- Approved the Illinois Student Online Personal Protection Act Addendum with Embrace Education for Use with SASED Platforms
Board Briefs - May 17, 2022
At its most recent meeting, the Board of Education primarily focused on recognizing important milestones of some of our staff members, reviewing the progress made to date on the strategic plan, discussing some key programming and staffing changes and reviewing the updated grading system scheduled to go into effect beginning with the 2022-23 school year.
Recognition of Staff Service and Retirements
The Board of Education and Superintendent Mark Cross recognized the following individuals for achieving milestones of dedicated service to the district, as well as one retiring staff member.
10 Years of Service – Beth Dooley, Katie Doyle and Mike McLean
15 Years of Service – Dr. Laura Anderson, Filomena Manna-DeChiara and Amy Underhill
20 Years of Service – Helen Park
25 Years of Service – Yvonne Ilko and Wayne Ostrowski
30 Years of Service – Jen Callahan, Karen Hyder, Kristen Orr and Angela Zurawski
2022-23 Retiree – Yvonne Ilko
Strategic Plan Progress Review
Mr. Cross shared a report to assist the Board in monitoring progress toward the Vision 2025 Strategic Plan. In the short time since its adoption, much progress has been made, particularly as it relates to long-term facility planning, adjustments to the student grading system, curriculum development and staffing needs. Mr. Cross will provide the Board with a quarterly progress review and adjustments will be made when needed or as goals are accomplished.
2022-23 Grading System Changes
Pillar 1-A of the strategic plan is to “Evaluate current progress reporting to determine if there are more effective methods for communicating academic and behavioral progress to parents.” This was a result of significant feedback from graduate and parent surveys in particular from when the plan was in the development stages.
At the meeting, Mr. Cross shared the work that has been done with Principals Laura Anderson and Christine Marcinkewicz, while relying heavily on feedback and suggestions from the teachers. Much work remains over the summer to prepare for the transitions, but the changes will be implemented with the start of the 2022-23 school term. Mr. Cross will communicate a summary of the changes to parents and the school community. Board members praised the staff for their effort in improving and clarifying the system, while maintaining the strengths of the current system.
Long-Term Facility Plans for Safety, Security and HVAC Systems
Mr. Cross shared additional details from the school district’s engineer regarding the proposed GeoExchange System, which if approved by the district’s voters on June 28, would provide significant energy savings to the school district for years to come. Mr. Cross said that more information on this system will be provided. The Board discussed the two upcoming facilities meeting to be held next week. On Monday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. there will be a virtual meeting for all that are interested and on May 25 at 6:30 p.m. there will be a meeting held in person at Cass Junior High School.
Proposed 2022-23 Staffing Recommendations
Mr. Cross and Dr. Anderson updated the Board on proposed staffing recommendations, including the need for a full-time nurse to help serve the medical needs of our students, the need for a full-time occupational therapist at a cost savings in lieu of a contracted service, and the proposed concept of a STEM teacher/facilitator to be implemented for the 2022-23 school term. The Board expressed support for these staffing and programming changes, while Mr. Cross and the Board discussed the plan for paying for these services within the fiscal year 2023 budget.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved the employment of the following effective at the start of the 2022-23 school year:
- Samantha Cerven, occupational therapist
- Katie Beringer, school district nurse
- Kayla Briant, Concord teacher assistant
- Carolyn Rundell, Cass teacher assistant
- Approved the low quote for parking lot resurfacing at Concord and Cass.
- Approved a contract with Sunrise for special education transportation.
- Approved an intergovernmental agreement with Center Cass District 66 for the 2022-23 lunch program, with a plan to review the status of the lunch program for the 2023-24 school term.
Board Briefs - April 19, 2022
At its most recent meeting, the Board of Education primarily focused on communicating information related to facility planning and the June 28 general primary election, as well as adoption of new mathematics curriculum resources and planning for some changes with the current grading system across the school district.
Planning for Safety, Security and Replacement of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Systems
The Board discussed plans to provide clear and factual information to parents, taxpayers and the community related to the long-term facility needs for the school district. The referendum to fund the project that is on the ballot for the June 28 general primary election.
Current communication efforts include an informational flyer that is being mailed to all homes in the district this week, three community informational meetings that have been scheduled for the public, as well as the Facility Planning Frequently Asked Questions on the district website.
The first public information meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Cass Junior High School. Anyone with questions, concerns or who also may be interested in helping share information with the community should contact any Board member or Superintendent Mark Cross at email@example.com.
Adoption of Math Curriculum Resources
Dr. Laura Anderson presented the teacher and leadership team recommendations related to adoption of mathematics curriculum materials to be implemented at the start of the 2022-23 school year. Envision Math from Pearson was the recommendation for grades 4 through 8, including Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry, while Into Math from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was the recommendation for grades K through 3. Intervention resources at the lower grade levels include Number Worlds, Reflex Math and easyCBM to be used for progress-monitoring.
Adjustments with Standards-Based Grading
Mr. Cross shared that when the district conducted strategic planning surveys last fall, there were some concerns expressed regarding the current grading and reporting system. This led to the inclusion of a strategic plan indicator to review this and determine if more effective methods of reporting can be developed. He shared that Mrs. Marcinkewicz and Dr. Anderson joined him in carefully reviewing the issues, looking at what works and what could be improved and formulating solutions.
Mrs. Marcinkewicz provided a brief overview for a more comprehensive grading, monitoring and reporting system that achieves the goals of being clear, balanced and helps students transition to traditional grades at the high school level, while also maintaining several important strengths in the current system. While details are still being discussed in depth and teachers are currently providing feedback, the new system will include both percentages and letter grades.
Mr. Cross stated that when presented at the May Board meeting, he believes the district will have one of the most robust grading systems that not only measures student progress, but also encourages and rewards growth and improvement.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved a three-year contract extension with Ivy League Kids for providing before and after school care
- Approved new mathematics curriculum and resources to be implemented with the start of the 2022-23 school year
- Approved the Consolidated District Plan for federal Title grant funding
- Approved 2022-23 Board of Education meeting dates
Board Briefs - April 5, 2022
The Board held a special meeting on April 5 for the sole purpose of addressing several safety and security concerns as well as the district's aging and inefficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, prior to voting on a resolution to submit this question to the voters in the June 28, 2022 general primary election.
Discussion of HVAC, Safety and Security Needs and Financing of the Projects
The Board continued its ongoing discussion and planning to address these critical facility needs at both schools. Mr. Cross presented to the Board and those in attendance a summary of the key issues and needs that have been vetted by the facilities and finance committees as well as the district’s architects and engineers. The 12-member facilities committee was also unanimous in its recommendation to pursue the most cost-effective plan through a geothermal HVAC system at each school.
This was presented and discussed in detail, including the cost estimates, funding process and other details. All of this can be reviewed under the Frequently Asked Questions on the district’s website, which outlines the work that needs to be done, the cost, the timeline and the need for approval of a bond to cover the cost of the proposed work.
In the only action item for the special meeting, the Board voted unanimously to approve the resolution providing for and requiring the submission of the proposition of issuing $13,425,000 school bonds to the voters of the district at the general primary election to be held on the 28th day of June, 2022.
The district is planning to host at least two community information meetings, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 27 and Wednesday, May 25, at 6:30 p.m. These will include a brief presentation of the plans, details and costs, as well as an opportunity for any questions from our parents and community. Information about the dates, times and locations of these meetings will also be shared with the local community.
Board Briefs - March 22, 2022
At its most recent meeting on March 22, the Board of Education focused much of its time working on the district’s HVAC and safety needs, as well as filling several key staffing positions for the 2022-23 school year.
Special Board Meeting to Address HVAC Needs
The Board continued its ongoing discussion and planning to address the district’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacement needs at both schools, as well as several safety and security items. Most of the HVAC system has been maintained far beyond its life expectancy but must be replaced. The Board’s goal is to replace the system in the most cost-effective manner, while greatly improving energy efficiency and indoor air quality, while maintaining an optimal teaching and learning environment.
While no action was taken, the Board agreed to hold a special meeting on Tuesday, April 5, at 6:00 p.m. to discuss and share final details, hear any questions from the public and consider a resolution to place the issue on the June 28, 2022 primary election ballot for the voters of our community to consider.
Alignment of CDC and School District Health Guidance
On February 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance on community transmission levels and school guidance. The CDC’s new COVID-19 Community Levels aligns mitigations and precautions in the school setting with those in other indoor settings. At this time, DuPage County remains in low (green) community level status.
As a result, Cass School District 63 has aligned the Stay Healthy, Stay Smart! Plan with the recent CDC guidance that includes details on how isolation and quarantines are to be handled. The school district also maintains mitigation strategies above and beyond what is required, including on site PCR testing, contact tracing and low risk notifications. The Board approved the health guidance updates.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved requests for retirement from STEM teacher Ken Kohnke at the end of the 2023-24 school year and chorus teacher Becky Kriz and speech pathologist Jane York at the end of the 2025-26 school year.
- Accepted the resignations of Concord special education teacher Sierra Desiderio, Cass English language arts and social studies teacher Shannon Wachowski, school psychologist Jessica Scharf and Concord teacher assistants Kelly Skalnik and Kylie Wild.
- Approved the employment of several staff positions for the 2022-23 school year, including:
- Sara Zimmerman, school psychologist
- Taylor Dazzo, Cass English language arts teacher
- Katy Modglin, Concord special education teacher
- Lisa Daly, Concord special education teacher (half-time)
- Approved one-year contracts for the 2022-23 school year for assistant principals Katie Doyle and Michelle Roberts.
- Approved membership for the school district’s Concussion Oversight Team.
- Approved four classroom lease agreements with the SASED special education cooperative for the 2022-23 school year.
Board Briefs - February 15, 2022
At its most recent meeting on February 15, the Board of Education had a long but highly productive meeting as the school district looks forward with proactive planning to resolve the district’s HVAC and safety needs and a smooth transition to the next phase of managing the pandemic, while also remaining focused on monitoring the academic growth and progress of our students.
Board Taking Next Steps with Geothermal and Safety Needs
The Board continued its planning and work related to the district’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacement needs, as well as the safety and security updates that are necessary at both schools. The current HVAC system is outdated, inefficient and costly to maintain and through the strategic planning process, the Board is working to identify the solutions that are safest for our students and the most cost-effective for our taxpayers, both currently and for the next generations as well.
The Facilities Committee, which is made up of 12 individuals representing parent and community members, Board members, teachers and staff, was tasked with working with the school district’s architect and engineer to make specific recommendations. The committee had previously identified educational environment, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, maintenance and life-cycle cost as the key items to balance in the planning.
After detailed work and reviewing several options with the school district’s architect and engineer, the Facilities Committee was unanimous in its recommendation to pursue the most cost-effective and long-term plan through a geothermal system at each school. This system scored the highest in each of the identified key areas, while also having by far the lowest life cycle cost.
The other key advantage to the geothermal system is a significant savings in the school district’s annual energy costs. Energy savings through a geothermal solution are estimated at approximately 35 percent between the two schools, resulting in an estimated annual savings from the operating budget of approximately $70,000 per year.
The committee is also identifying safety needs related to the outdated fire, burglar and video surveillance systems as well as the need for an updated intercom, phone and communication system to help ensure student safety during a crisis situation.
After the Facilities Committee completed its work, the Finance Committee reviewed various options to fund the necessary work. This committee is also comprised of parent, community, Board and staff members, and was also unanimous in supporting the recommendations of the Facilities Committee as the most cost-effective and long-term solution. The eight members of the Finance Committee reviewed several options for financing the project, including refunding some of the school district’s outstanding debt which will help offset some of the costs related to the project.
While there was no action to be taken at this meeting, the Board authorized Superintendent Mark Cross to pursue the necessary actions and work with financial advisors and bond counsel to develop a resolution for the Board to consider at its regular March 22, 2022 meeting. At that time, the Board will discuss the details, determine final costs and possibly take action on moving forward with a resolution.
Transition Plan for Masks in School
Mr. Cross presented the Board with a data-based transition plan to move from masks being required at school to masks being recommended. Assuming that current health metrics are maintained and there are no other legal interventions in the interim, the district would implement this option for both students and staff on Monday, February 28. This plan includes an option to implement a temporary masks required policy in specific settings should the health metrics dictate such a move.
Mr. Cross emphasized that the purpose of the plan was to provide health-based guidance in the current absence of any plan from the state level. However, he also clarified that any part of the district’s transition plan for masking, or other parts of the Stay Healthy, Stay Smart plan, is subject to any court rulings or other legal proceedings that may supersede any guidance or timelines currently in place. He stated that if legal guidance is clarified at any point after Board approval, he will communicate those changes and the school district will adjust and implement immediately.
It was also noted that per federal requirements, all drivers and riders must wear a mask when on a school bus. The other exception is our prekindergarten program for students and when staff is working closely with students, due to the fact that those parents have not yet had the opportunity to have their children vaccinated.
The Board discussed the plan in detail and emphasized great support for the proactive nature of the metrics and the transition, while also expressing concern that school districts are forced to take their own action with no state guidance during this unusual time. During action items, the Board unanimously approved the recommended plan.
Presentation Regarding Academic Growth
Dr. Laura Anderson reviewed the district’s Student Learning and Academic Growth Report with the Board of Education. This included overall data by grade level for both the Illinois Assessment for Readiness (IAR) test results, as well as the NWEA Measures of Academic progress (MAP) assessment results. IAR is a statewide assessment for grades 3 through 8 that shows how students performed to statewide academic standards the previous school year, while the district uses MAP to measure academic growth and to see where instruction and interventions need to be targeted to help our students make as much progress as possible.
Overall, the administration is pleased with how well our students performed on the statewide IAR, especially with the effects of the pandemic over the previous two years. Our students far exceeded the statewide averages for achieving levels 4 and 5 (meeting or exceeding expectations) in both reading and mathematics. By the culminating exit level of 8th grade, our students exceeded the statewide average by 16.9 percent in math and 20.1 percent in reading.
The MAP assessment is provided three times each year for students in grades 1 through 8. Dr. Anderson reviewed the current scores in comparison to prepandemic norms. Our students in Cass 63 have continued to consistently score above the national norms in every grade level, including last year and so far this year. The administration and teachers discuss the scoring patterns in professional development, use the discussions to inform classroom instruction, set goals, and analyze the patterns to improve student achievement.
Concord Elementary School teacher Karen Mosquera gave a presentation on the math intervention program. Mrs. Mosquera serves as the math interventionist, a position that was created this school year to help address any deficits students are experiencing at the lower grade levels. Mrs. Mosquera reviewed the program and the improvements she has witnessed in student achievement. Concord teacher Karen Hyder then gave a presentation on the 1st grade advanced math program which began the year with zero students, but now has 26 students. The growth of our students has been tremendous. This achievement is impressive and both the teachers and students have worked extremely hard to show so much growth.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved the 2022-23 School District Calendar.
- Accepted the resignation of half-time teacher Lauren Hodge.
- Approved the 2022-23 school year fees, with no increase in registration fees except for transportation and preschool tuition.
- Approved employee salaries for the 2022-23 school year.
- Approved the recommended Board policy updates.
- Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Cass Education Association to extend the existing collective bargaining agreement for one year.
- Due to a scheduling conflict, approved the cancellation of the regular March 15 meeting and established a new Board meeting on March 22, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.
Board Briefs - January 18, 2022
Presentation Regarding Federal Impact Aid in Cass School District 63
Mr. Cross presented to the Board an overview of the Federal Impact Aid Program. Approximately 37 percent of land in Cass School District 63 sits on the federally owned Argonne National Laboratories. Because Argonne is owned by the federal government, Cass 63 in turn does not collect tax dollars on over one-third of our property. Impact Aid was created to help compensate impacted public school district, of which there are only eight in the state of Illinois. More information is provided under the link above for those interested I learning more about this program and its importance to the Cass 63 school district, community and local taxpayers.
Stay Healthy, Stay Smart! Plan
Mr. Cross reviewed the Stay Healthy, Stay Smart! Plan that has been updated recently to reflect the new guidance approved by the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The updates largely affect the length of isolation and quarantine, as well as the test-to-stay program that is available for unvaccinated students. Under the link above, please pay special attention to questions 7-13 which outlines the updates.
HVAC Needs and Long-Term Facilities Planning
The Board discussed the recent Facilities Committee meeting at which the committee, staff members and school district architects and engineers reviewed the various HVAC needs at both Concord and Cass and the best ways to address the concerns. In addition to the age and prioritization of the equipment in need of replacement, some of the areas of focus for the committee include the educational environment, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, sustainability, maintenance costs and potential grant and funding opportunities.
The architects and engineers will be providing the committee with three possible solutions to address these needs, the associated costs and the pros and cons of each option. The Finance Committee will also be meeting to discuss the possibilities for funding the recommended solutions. More information and possible recommendations will be provided at the February 15 Board meeting.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved Sandy Leonard as the Concord Elementary School administrative assistant.
- Approved the updated Stay Healthy, Stay Smart! Plan
- Approved the release of closed session minutes with exceptions as noted.
Board Briefs - December 14, 2021
Discussion Regarding Long-Term Facilities Planning
The main focus of this month’s Board of Education meeting was related to addressing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) needs at both Concord Elementary and Cass Junior High Schools. After recent meetings with the school district architect and engineer, Superintendent Mark Cross reviewed the main issues and safety items, possible priorities and potential costs for replacement.
At Concord, 9 of the 11 zones are heated and cooled by HVAC systems that were installed in either 1996 or 1997 and have already exceeded their 20-25 year life expectancy. The remaining two were installed in 2000 and 2004. Concord does not have a central boiler system for heat, but a series of electric or gas-fired units that cover various areas of the building. At Cass, 15 of the 19 zones are heated and cooled by HVAC systems that were installed in 2002 or prior, with the vast majority at or nearing the end of their 20-25 life expectancy. This means that approximately 80 percent of the district’s current HVAC units have exceeded or on the verge of exceeding their expected life span and will require replacement in the short to medium term.
The Board discussed in detail the options for funding the work that needs to be done, with the understanding that it is not possible to fund what needs to be replaced within the existing budget. The Board will continue these discussions at the January meeting and will also have the Finance Committee discuss the various options and make recommendations for how to fund future projects. The Facilities Committee, which includes two Board members, three community member parents and several staff, will meet in January with the school district architect and engineer to consider the HVAC and safety work that must be completed and make specific recommendations for the Board of Education to consider. It is expected the final recommendations will be determined no later than February 15, 2022.
Presentation of the Recommended 2021 Tax Levy
Superintendent Mark Cross presented the recommended 2021 tax levy, as well as the Questions and Answers About Local Property Taxes he provides to the Board and public in the interest of transparency and for anyone interested in learning more about the tax levy and property taxes.
While the overall levy proposal is a 4.1 percent increase, the school district’s extension is limited to the 2020 Consumer Price Index, or 1.4 percent plus any new construction within the district. The recommended tax levy is unchanged from what was presented to the Board in November. It is estimated that the final extension will be just under $10.2 million, compared to last year’s total extension of just over $10 million, which represents an estimated 1.68 percent increase.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Adopted the resolutions for approval of the tax levy and supplemental tax levy
- Approved the transfer of funds and tax abatement to pay debt service on certain bonds
- Approved the Teachers’ Retirement System supplemental savings plan employer participation agreement
- Approved a statement regarding effective school board governance, communication and cooperation of local school districts
- Accepted the resignations of Cass Junior High custodian Mark Blend and Concord Elementary administrative Assistant Maggie Skurzewski
- Approved the employment of Kayla Briant as long-term first-grade substitute teacher
Board Briefs - November 16, 2021
Review of Tentative 2021 Tax Levy
Superintendent Mark Cross and Fiscal Services Director Deb Dolehide presented the tentative 2021 tax levy. While the overall levy proposal is a 4.1 percent increase, the school district’s extension is limited to the Consumer Price Index. It is estimated that the total extension will be just under $10.2 million, compared to last year’s total extension of just over $10 million.
Since the proposed levy is less than a 5 percent increase, a public hearing is not necessary. Mr. Cross also provided a detailed presentation entitled Questions and Answers about Local Property Taxes that is posted on the district website for anyone interested in learning more about the tax levy process and property taxes in general.
Adoption of the Vision 2025 Strategic Plan
After over three months of meetings, surveys and discussion, the Board of Education reviewed the final proposed Vision 2025 Strategic Plan and updated Mission and Core Beliefs and Values. The areas of Academic Growth and Achievement, Student Services and Support and Student Health and Safety are the three pillars of the plan and each pillar includes seven underlying indicators. This will be monitored by the leadership team and Board, and Mr. Cross will periodically report progress to the staff, parents and school community.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved Amber Hanke as Concord Elementary teacher assistant
- Approved Michelle Carter as long-term prekindergarten substitute teacher
- Approved Lisa Daly as long-term special education substitute teacher
- Approved Janet Miller as long-term second grade substitute teacher
- Approved the tentative 2021 tax levy
- Adopted the Cass School District 63 Vision 2025 Strategic Plan, Mission, Core Beliefs and Values
- Appointed Vice-President Kent Absalonsen as the Board’s representative to the 2021 Illinois Association of School Boards Delegate Assembly
- Appointed Liz Mitha, Steve Leopoldo and Rick Gawel to the Board Facilities Committee
- Approved the employee health, dental and vision insurance renewals for 2022
Board Briefs - October 19, 2021
Accepted the Fiscal Year 2021 Audit
Superintendent Mark Cross and Finance Committee member Steve Wyent presented the Fiscal Year 2021 audit to the Board. Mr. Wyent noted the clean audit and net increase in the district’s fund balance for FY21. Mr. Wyent praised Mr. Cross and Director of Fiscal Services Deb Dolehide for their work in managing the budget and finances.
Board of Education Goals and Strategic Plan
The Board discussed the final draft of the proposed Vision 2025 Strategic Plan. Mr. Cross finalized the draft which included detailed input from the Board through two special strategic planning sessions held in August and September. The Board expressed praise for the plan with the overall sentiment being that it captured the collective feedback and direction, and also took heavily into account the feedback from the parent, staff and graduate surveys.
After some discussion, the Board will review and provide any final feedback with the intent to approve the goals and plan at the November 16, 2021 meeting. After final approval, the plan and goals will be communicated to parents, provided on the district website and periodically monitored for progress with the Board of Education.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved the Property, Liability and Worker Compensation Insurance Renewal.
- Accepted the resignation of Concord Teacher Assistant, Lisa Wagner
- Approved the Fiscal Year 2021 Audit
Board Briefs - September 23, 2021
Goal Setting and Strategic Planning
Mr. Cross thanked the Board for their time and efforts in helping create a direction for the strategic plan at their September 7 meeting. Mr. Cross noted that he is in the process of taking their direction and creating a draft plan that he will share with the Board, receive feedback and also review with staff for any feedback prior to final approval.
Matching Grant for HVAC Improvements
The state of Illinois has a school maintenance grant that will match up to $50,000 in costs for districts that apply and are approved. Cass School District 63 will apply for this grant and if approved, will use the funding to address the most immediate HVAC needs at Concord Elementary School. Mr. Cross also shared that he has been in communication with the district's architect regarding future planning to address the district's larger HVAC needs. Later this fall, the Board Facilities Committee will meet with the architect and engineers to develop long-term solutions to this critical area.
Mr. Cross presented the upcoming changes to the Stay Healthy, Stay Smart! Plan which will be sent to parents once finalized. The updated plan includes the Test-to-Stay Program that was developed under guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In Key Action Items, the Board of Education…
- Approved the employment of Katie Robinson as temporary part-time contractual nurse at Concord Elementary School.
- Adopted recommended Board policy updates.
- Approved the school maintenance matching grant application.
- Approved the updated Stay Healthy, Stay Smart! plan and test-to-stay protocols.
Board Briefs - September 7, 2021
Board Goal Setting and Strategic PlanningThe Board of Education held their second strategic planning meeting at which the survey feedback received from parents, staff and graduates of Cass 63 was reviewed in detail. Well over 400 responses were received, including 317 parent, 63 staff and 49 graduate surveys. Each of the three surveys were unique but also had common themes to elicit feedback from each respective group. The survey feedback was very validating as a high percentage of respondents from each group responded very favorably to the statements provided. The intent is to use the data to focus on potential areas of growth and improvement.The collective data and responses helped the Board and Superintendent Mark Cross focus on our vision, beliefs and beginning framework of general goals. The Board narrowed down to three goal areas with thoughts on what should fall under each goal. Mr. Cross shared that the leadership team will also utilize information for internal planning and work outside of the strategic plan. The Board will continue its work to finalize the goals and hope to have them approved by the October 19, 2021 meeting.