By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Crunching the numbers will continue on the proposed Effingham Junior High School renovation project.
The Effingham Unit 40 School Board on Monday voted 5-1 for continuing work on determining financing through Health Life Safety bonds. Health Life Safety compliant work on a school building must be approved by the Illinois Board of Education before a school district can seek a sale of those bonds.
Health Life Safety work covers repairs or renovations to ensure the safety and health of students and school employees in a structure. The junior high building opened nearly 80 years ago as a high school. It was converted to a junior high building 20 years ago when the new high school opened across the street.
A long list of work has been on the Health Life Safety list for the junior high, including replacement of outdated heating and air conditioning, removal of asbestos, roofing, ceiling and window repairs. One proposal would call for changing the cafeteria in the lower level to make it more compliant with safety regulations, including accessibility.
Unit 40 Superintendent Mark Doan said the goal is to have answers from state officials later in the summer on what work could be included in a Health Life Safety Bond sale. He was reluctant to nail down an exact estimate on the total cost due to the review of the state board of education on the scope of work. Some estimates on the work considered costs ranging from $15 million to $20 million, but those options included new construction, which cannot be paid through Health Life Safety bonds.
The financing of the work, if approved by the school board, will rest with the school district, similar to recent bond issues for repairs at Central School and Effingham High School. State funding is not available to help fund these projects for school districts, Doan said.
“We need to know from the school board if we need to move forward on this,” Doan said during the special board meeting.
Before the vote, board member Angie Byers asked if additional work on the junior high building repairs could be placed on hold so the administration and board could concentrate on settling the teacher contract. The negotiations have been deadlocked for months and many people in the community are asking for both sides to reach a settlement. A federal mediator was called in this week to move toward a compromise acceptable for the teachers and school district.
“I’d like to hold off until we have all the contracts signed,” Byers said. “That is something we need to focus on.”
School board president Jeff Michael said funding for the junior high work, if approved, and a teacher contract come from different funds.
Jane Willenborg said the board couldn’t delay a decision on the junior high building work.
“We can’t let it sit there,” she said.
The vote had Michael, Willenborg, Patty Russell, Kathleen Smith and Todd Schaefer voting in favor of continuing a study on the Health Life Safety proposal, while Byers was opposed. Carol Ruffner was absent Monday due to an illness in her family.
After the meeting, Byers explained she was not opposed to work at the junior high school building, but she believes the contract negotiations should take priority for the district for now.
In other business, the school board accepted the following employment matters. Ashley Bergbower was hired as a second-grade teacher at South Side School for the 2018-19 school year; Becky Dial was hired as a cashier at Central School for the next school year; and Pam Hiatt was transferred as head cook at the Early Learning Center.
Resignations for the end of the current school year were submitted by Erin Schackmann, a teacher and junior high track coach; Jedediah Shumaker, a teacher; and Amber Will, a paraprofessional.
The board also approved a student expulsion and approved a student field trip to St. Louis. The student discipline matter and collective bargaining were discussed during a closed session.