AMBOY - The Amboy School Board approved a tentative tax levy at their Nov. 29 regular meeting and agreed to a Dec. 20 tax levy hearing. Superintendent Jeff Thake discussed several factors contributing to the proposed 2012 levy. First, he presented a historical comparison of assessed valuation in Lee County from 1999 to the present. He said in 1999, the value of farmland started going down but then over the last five or six years changed course and has been increasing consistently.
The construction of new wind turbines has also benefited Lee County schools, and Thake said there are rumors that more turbines will be built. “That’s something we’re watching closely,” he said.
Board member Reed Akre asked if there was a time limit on how long the district would benefit from the wind turbines. Thake replied that they would continue to benefit the district throughout their lifespan. However, board member Tony Becker pointed out that the benefit is offset by a corresponding reduction in General State Aid the following year. “That takes away any gain,” Becker said.
Thake reminded the board that declining enrollment is an important trend that has affected Amboy, as well as many other small towns across the country. He said in 1999, Amboy’s enrollment was 1,117 students. This year, it was 802 at the start of school and has since dropped to 798.
Another closely watched statistic is the number of low-income students in the district. Thake said that number has gone from 22 percent in 2004 to more than 40 percent currently. “That’s an important trend we need to be aware of,” he said.
Thake also noted the considerable shift in state versus local school funding. In 1995, local funding was 65 percent, while 36 percent came from General State Aid. In 2012, local funding had grown to 81 percent with 19 percent coming from the state. “Our levy is $5,835,275 in tax dollars,” Thake said, “and about $1.3 million in General State Aid.”
Thake said during the past seven years the district has managed to stay within budget, but that is becoming more difficult. “We have healthy fund balances but we are starting to dip into those now – that’s something we need to keep monitoring,” he said. “How far are we willing to go?”
Thake said the district levied more this year in the Transportation Fund so they could start replacing aging busses. The normal rotation of bus replacement has been stalled due to a 46 percent reduction in transportation funding from the state. “We need to be in a position where we can financially do that [replace busses] without eating through our entire fund balance in the next three years,” he explained.
In conclusion, Thake said the levy continues to increase for two main reasons: declining enrollment and unreliable state funding. Despite these obstacles, the district’s schools continue to thrive. Thake said Amboy’s elementary schools have continuously met AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and the high school was a Bronze Medal Award winning school. “The reason we need to levy more each year is to maintain the programs and high quality instruction we’re able to provide students,” he said.
Principal Mary Ann Redshaw, Central Elementary, said Young Authors has started sponsored by Mrs. Cleary. Students will meet the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Mrs. Schnaiter has been hosting Science Club during October and November.
Redshaw reported a significant change in the ECE (Early Childhood Education) program that takes place at AFC (Ashton-Franklin Center). Some incoming 2013-14 kindergarten students will attend the morning session rather than the afternoon session. Redshaw said overall, the change will benefit the students and the district. The morning session of ECE is from 8:10-10:40 a.m. and the afternoon session is from 12:10-2:40 p.m.
The PBIS second quarter incentive for December will include a selection of movies students may choose from, along with popcorn and hot chocolate.
Family Literacy Night will take place on Feb. 7 featuring guest "sports" readers.
Redshaw thanked Amboy High School coaches and students for helping to make Central’s October PBIS incentive a success. The elementary students each selected two different sports activities that the high school students and coaches presented. Redshaw also thanked the PBIS committee, Jenni Shafer, Jamie Melin, Liz Bontz and Mr. Gruber. “Our staff was very impressed with the high school students and how they helped the younger students,” she noted.
Parent Teacher conferences were conducted on Oct. 25 and 26 and Redshaw said only two more parent contacts are needed to have 100 percent participation. “That’s outstanding,” she said.
The PTC Book Fair held in November raised over $2,500, which will be used to purchase books for the school library. That week, students also invited their grandparents eat lunch with them. Redshaw said each day about 30 grandparents attended.
On Nov. 12, Central students participated in the high school’s Veteran's Day program. Central students sang "Proud of Our Veterans" under the direction of Terry Weber.
Redshaw expressed her appreciation to the many volunteers at Central including classroom and special event volunteers, foster grandparents, retired teachers, special education therapy dog owners and readers, copying person and PTC members as well as the kitchen staff for their extra effort during grandparent lunches.
Amboy Junior High dean, Andrew Full, read the junior high report in the absence of principal Joyce Schamberger. Full said the School Improvement Committee discussed moving the junior high’s open house to the beginning of the school year, which will allow students to visit the building, receive schedules, find lockers and meet teachers. The team also discussed adopting a school wide compact for parents. This would inform all parents of the expectations and responsibilities of their child at AJHS.
Seventh and 8th graders took the EXPLORE test on Nov. 7. Students will take the same test again in April so teachers can measure growth.
AJHS hosted the IESA Speech Contest on Nov. 2. Full said over 300 students from 10 schools were involved and nearly 500 people attended the event. He congratulated Yvonne Vicks for her work coordinating and planning the event.
The junior high student council is sponsoring a Family Movie Night on Friday, Dec. 7. The movie "Brave" will begin at 7 p.m. in the big gym. There is no charge to attend.
The V.P. Group (violence prevention) meets every other week to teach students effective ways to deal with bullies and how to help those being bullied. Aaron Fassler is the teacher/sponsor for the group.
A written report was submitted by Principal Ron Gruber of Amboy High School. The "Clippers, Set Sail!" Team recently completed trips to technical schools for freshman students. They visited Morrison Institute of Technology Nov. 29, Kishwaukee Community College Nov. 26 and Educators of Beauty Nov. 27. Trips to a four-year state university and to Sauk Valley Community College are planned for the spring.
Six AHS faculty members, Jim Browne, Erika Kelly, Amelia Hemmen, Emily Rose, Deb Cleary and Liz Scriven, attended the second in a series of Common Core State Standards workshops at Sauk Valley Community College on Nov. 9. The teachers left the meeting with a better understanding of the time and effort it will take to fully implement the Common Core Standards by the 2014-2015 school year.
Gruber thanked Mrs. Schamberger for organizing the Veteran's Day assembly on Nov. 12 and also thanked Kelly Whitman and Tank Jones and their PE classes for helping to clean up afterward.
Gruber congratulated the AHS football team and their coaches for their accomplishments. The varsity team finished 9-3 and the fresh/soph team finished 8-1.
In Gruber’s absence, Thake reported on results of the School Report Card recently issued by the state. Thake said under the federal No Child Left Behind, the high school did not make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) last year. “However, we are about two years away from AYP becoming obsolete,” Thake told the board. “At the same time, that is still the law of the land and the high school is doing some things in order to address the deficits noted.”
Reading Essentials course designed to target and remediate students whose results on the PLAN and EXPLORE show skill deficits in reading.
Focus on instituting the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts across the curriculum with several faculty members attending professional development to help aid the transition.
School improvement meetings will continue to focus on implementation of the Common Core Standards by 2014-15.
Targeting interventions in math with reinstitution of Algebra 1A and Conceptual Geometry for students who show weaknesses in math on assessment tests; resource time working with students earning low grades in math courses; and a Math Applications course to increase students’ ability to score well on the ACT and Prairie State math assessment.
Thake said most progress monitoring tools are geared toward elementary students, while high school level progress monitoring tools are still being developed.
In his financial report, Thake said expenditures are up slightly and are now exceeding revenues. “We’re dipping into fund balances for the sole reason that our General State Aid was funded at only 89 percent,” he said, adding that financial forecasters say that number will be even less next year. “But our expenditures still are down a little from last year overall.”
Thake also noted that talk continues regarding the funding of pensions, which is expected to shift from the state to local school districts.
Thake said the district will have only one outstanding bond as of Feb. 1, 2013. He said compared to other school districts, Amboy is still in an “exceptionally good position” for the size of the district. “There is a huge difference between making expenditures based on needs versus wants,” he said. “These bonds represented needs.”
However, the district has several needs pending including new fire doors at the high school and completion of the roofs at the high school and the junior high. “These are things we absolutely have to do in the future,” Thake emphasized.
Five board seats are up for election next April. Thake said people interested in running may stop by the district office for packets and information. The completed packets will be accepted in the district office from Monday, Dec. 17 through Friday, Dec. 21 and also from 3-5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26.
Thake noted that the Amboy district is divided into 10 townships: Hamilton, East Grove, May, Sublette, Harmon, Marion, Lee Center, South Dixon, Natchusa and Amboy. By law, no more than three members from any single township may serve at the same time. Currently, the board is comprised of two people from Amboy, two from Lee Center, two from Sublette and one from East Grove. “If you would like to get involved or stay involved, please contact me for more information,” Thake said.
The board approved several items of business including IASB policy revisions, the School Report Card, and a District Heat Policy. The Heat Policy includes provision for early dismissal on days when the heat index reaches 97 degrees or higher as determined by the superintendent.
Following closed session, the board approved Jessica Wittenauer as mat manager for the 2012-13 school year.
The next regular meeting and tax levy hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20 at Amboy High School.