By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

Effingham Unit 40 School Board dove into a request Monday from a student who swims with the Heartland Hurricanes swim team.

Effingham High student Austin Huebner is a long-distance competitive swimmer with the Hurricanes. He practices early before school at the Richard Workman Sports Complex pool and also after school, as well as Saturday. He puts in 25 miles per week in the pool, so Huebner is in excellent physical shape.

Huebner wants an exemption from a physical education class similar to what other EHS athletes receive through the school year. He also asked if he and his teammates could gain recognition from the school through the sports banquet and possibly an athletic letter.

David Duncan, Austin’s swimming coach with the Hurricanes, said this request should not cost the school district any money with his swimmers already supplying their caps, goggles and fins. He said other schools in Illinois have terrific swimming programs recognized by the Illinois High School Association. He added IHSA encourages participation for disabled swimmers, as well.

Later in the meeting, board member Carol Ruffner said it would be good for the school district to recognize Austin and other swimmers and offer an athletic letter, as well as provide an exemption from P.E. classes.

Unit 40 Superintendent Mark Doan was agreeable to recognition to the swimmers and noted they are allowed to participate in state competitions. He suggested establishing the potential costs on the proposal.

On financial matters, the board approved several contracts through bidding with South East Purchasing Cooperative on food and supply purchases; Effingham Equity as the district fuel supplier at rates of $2.40 per gallon on diesel and $2.31 for gasoline; Herrmann’s Landscaping on mowing for $30,464 over three years for 28 mowings of district properties, a $115 increase from the current mowing contract.

A new security camera software management arrangement is expected to decrease more than $5,000 per year with in-house assistance and consolidation. The district also renewed its agreement on beverages with Pepsi Mid-America with better benefits.

The Unit 40 health insurance agreement will experience a 3.5 percent decrease on 2018 premium costs through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Board member Jane Willenborg asked if other insurance companies could offer their prices. Superintendent Doan said that would require a bidding process, and the last time the district tried that method the low bidder offered a good package the first year, but the next year the premiums were raised by a considerable amount.

Board President Jeff Michael asked if a change at this point might cause a problem on coverage of pre-existing conditions of policyholders. Board member Angie Byers said complications, like more paperwork, might be preferred by district employers rather than annual premium increases.

The board then took a vote on the new health insurance agreement. Willenborg was opposed, while board members Michael, Ruffner, Byers, Todd Schaefer, Kathleen Smith and Patty Russell in favor of the motion.

Russell and Byers requested the board lower monetary limits on expenditures requiring board action from $25,000 to $10,000. She also asked for a clarification of some expenditures, like those related to the Teach to Lead program.

“It’s getting more elaborate than we thought it would be,” Russell said.

Doan asked about how the district would handle emergency expenditures requiring quick action during weather emergencies or equipment breakdowns. When it was noted a local government board leaves the decision to its president, Michael admitted he was reluctant to be placed in that position because his vote is equal to others on the board. The request could be drafted for a future policy change action.

Russell also reminded everyone there is an ethics policy against school employees engaging in political activity during work hours, including passing candidate petitions. She also cautioned against employees using school property for personal use.

In other business, the board approved the following personnel actions: hiring Amy Hines as a driver’s education teacher and behind the wheel instructor at EHS; and Kim Adair as transportation director; transfer of Kara Pickowitz, as special education teacher at Effingham Early Learning Center; acceptance of resignations from EJHS teachers Eric Brandenburg, Kim Heal and Stacey Zerrusen and special education teacher Mary Jo Bushur; appointing Carissa Niemerg  as football cheer coach and Weston Peno as head soccer coach. In addition, the board accepted the following volunteer coaches: Michaela Chrappa, EJHS volleyball; Chase Green, EJHS baseball; and Phil Hull, EJHS baseball and basketball.

Amy Hewing, of the Effingham Classroom Teachers Association, announced the teachers raised $1,128 during the Effingham County Relay for Life. She added this is one of several activities the ECTA joins in over the year.