Chrisman school gets another $100,000 in federal funding

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CHRISMAN – A surprise $100,000 is available for improvements at the Chrisman-Scottland Junior High School.

Principal Cole Huber discussed the award during the Monday, Aug. 12, board of education meeting. This is the second year Unit 6 has received the money to address learning deficiencies identified by testing during the 2017-2018 school year.

“Everybody who got it last year automatically got it this year,” said Huber.

The federal pass through money is administered by the Illinois State Board of Education with a goal of identifying and then remedying problems when schools do not meet the testing standards. Per requirements, Huber and the teachers worked with an academic coach supplied by the ISBE to complete an in-depth survey of the Unit 6 junior high school program. One of the issues identified was a lack of access to technology.

As a result, the $100,000 grant last year helped update technology with improved servers, expanded networking capability and the district now providing a Chromebook to every junior high and high school student to use in the classroom and for doing homework.

Huber was only recently made aware the second $100,000 was coming. He explained the people administering the program recognize schools need time to plan for and implementing changes.

The staff will do another in-depth assessment with the ISBE representative to determine the best way to use the new award, and Huber anticipates increased professional development will top the list.

“There are strings attached to it,” Huber said. “There are limits on how we spend it.”

Part of the good news is the money does not end with this school year. Chrisman will receive $66,000 for the 2020-2021 school year and $34,000 for the 2021-2022 school year to continue implementing changes.

Interim school superintendent Jim Acklin told board members the $100,000 Huber reported is not reflected in the $3.6 million tentative budget presented for review.

Acklin said the new money does not change the bottom line as it will show up as an additional $100,000 in revenue for the education fund and $100,000 in expenses for the same fund as it is spent.

The superintendent’s projected budget includes an estimated positive balance of more than $300,000 at the end of fiscal year 2020. He noted the district has put more than $500,000 into cash reserves for each of the last two years and created a healthy rainy day fund.

“I think we have turned the corner financially as long as the state evidence-based funding remains in place,” said Acklin.

Improved financing, however, does not resolve the growing problem of an overall teacher shortage, which is especially acute in the areas of mathematics and science.

Acklin asked the board to approve a contract with Proximity Learning to provide three sections of high school math in an online learning format. The cost is $33,729 and provides a real time teacher communicating with Chrisman students through online visual and audio connections.

“I know a live teacher would be better, but we didn’t have any applications,” said Huber. “We are not the only school in this situation.”

Huber added he will remain in contact with area universities and colleges that have mid-year graduation in hopes of hiring a math teacher to start with the second semester. The contract with Proximity can be canceled with 30-days notice if the district does hire a teacher.

“I’m almost complete on my staffing, but I’m not there yet,” said grade school principal Kelly Schluter.

The grade school still needs to fill a combined part-time music teacher and aide position.

Schluter also serves as the district’s transportation director and struggled all last year with a shortage of bus drivers. That problem is continuing as she is going into the new school year with a full-time driver position still vacant.