Plethora of topics for school board

The Waterloo School Board met Nov. 20 for its monthly meeting, with several individuals addressing the board and later discussion turning to the district’s recent performance and various action items.

Waterloo Junior High School art teacher Annette Rau opened the meeting during the public comment portion, saying she has been teaching in the district for 25 years and wanted to highlight some positive points.

She noted the school’s exemplary status on the recently released Illinois State Board of Education Report Card.

“Our test scores and high ratings are wonderful, but as a junior high, we also focus on the whole student as a person and creating a sense of belonging, whether that be in student recognition, sports, activities or clubs,” Rau said.

Rau went on to describe various goings on at WJHS, including high attendance at the Halloween dance, strong performance in fall sports and a very successful canned food drive she said helps the students learn and appreciate generosity.

Next to speak was Melissa Milano, who described how she became disillusioned with the school board during the COVID-19 pandemic upon hearing her child was told to run the PACER Test with a mask on.

The bulk of Milano’s presentation centered around disapproval of Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron’s conduct. Milano said she had heard accounts from others of Charron being unprofessional or harassing to parents who speak with him.

“In March, I received an email from the superintendent regarding the (restroom) protest, and the tone was so unprofessional that it prompted me to stand up at the next board meeting,” Milano said. “While everyone else was addressing the policy, I voiced concern about the lack of leadership in the response.”

Also speaking was Zac Scheetz, who first spoke against how the board publicizes meetings, with the Zoom video and audio for those attending virtually being quite poor especially compared to the Columbia School Board’s which are streamed and recorded on YouTube.

Scheetz also voiced concerns regarding an action item on the agenda: consideration to approve the first reading of a number of district board policies.

“It was just brought to my attention about all the policies that you’re gonna read and hopefully get to pass through that the community has no idea what’s on it, what’s the improvement,” Scheetz said. “I feel that this is something just like the last policy that got pushed through without the voters of the community actually knowing what the board’s plan on changing all the policies.”

This prompted an extended discussion between Scheetz and several members of the board including John Caupert, who explained that this agenda item was merely a first reading, meaning the board’s approval would open the policies up to questioning and consideration, with the community able to provide feedback for the next month until it was voted on at the next board meeting.

It was also established – and Charron later reiterated after the meeting – that this particular item was routine for the board. The list of policy changes and recommendations are provided to the board as the district is subscribed to Press Plus, a service from the Illinois School Board Association which regularly drafts school district policy based on Illinois law and then shares these recommendations with districts in the state.

The board previously voted on another round of Press Plus policies as recently as July.

It was also expressed how many of these policy recommendations are quite minor, with most of them simply being changes to word usage or other clarifications.

“Many of them we actually have to adopt because it’s a change in the law and it’s something required,” Charron said. “Some of the items are not mandatory, they’re just recommended updates for various reasons. I don’t see any of these policy recommendations by IASB to be controversial in any way.”

Press Plus Issue 113 is currently available for viewing in the agenda for the Nov. 20 meeting.

Last to speak was WJHS Principal Nick Schwartz, who opened by praising the district’s students, staff and parents, adding that everyone should be “pulling in the same direction.”

He went on to speak in support of Charron given the criticism he has faced at school board meetings over the last few months.

“He is passionate,” Schwartz said. “He does treat people fairly, and outside of our district, outside of our board meetings, he has a very good reputation of being someone who does treat people fairly. Finally, he’s honest. In my experience he has never intentionally misled anyone, and yet he takes all of this abuse month after month, and we just sit here and don’t say a thing.”

Following the approval of the consent agenda which involved several resignation and hiring items as well as awarding a cafeteria bid for Gardner Elementary School to Ford Hotel Supply Co. in St. Louis, the board heard further discussion from district administration.

Charron noted four recent FOIA requests and also spoke about discussions among several committees, including the finance committee which recently met to speak about the district’s planned tax levy as well as the idea of hiring an assistant superintendent for the district.

District Curriculum Coordinator John Schmieg spoke about the district’s performance in this year’s ISBE Report Card.

Included as part of his presentation were several “points of pride.” Among these was the district’s ranking of 23 out of 380 districts on ELA assessments and 11 out of 380 on math assessments.

School Board Secretary Kim Ahne offered his congratulations and thanks to district teachers and staff for their contributions to the district’s performance and recovery from the pandemic.

Regarding action items, the board approved the first reading of the previously discussed Press Plus policies, also setting the tentative tax levy for 2023 taxes.

The board also set the date and time for a truth in taxation hearing on the proposed levy – a requirement for a taxing body asking for a greater than 5 percent increase in a tax levy compared to the previous year – which will take place at the usual starting time for the board’s next monthly meeting.

Charron spoke about the district’s request for a greater increase in funds in the coming year.

“We’re estimating in generic terms what we anticipate needing to operate with a balanced budget the following year,” Charron said. “We know that we’re going into teacher negotiations this summer. We’re aware of what the trend is in districts settling teacher contracts throughout the Metro East, and we know that we always try to be conscious of two of our neighboring districts that pay more than we do, and we try to remain competitive so that we can continue to attract the best teachers to our district.”

Other action items approved by the board included several donations from the Waterloo Optimist Club as well as the appointment of WHS Assistant Principal Tim McDermott as interim principal with the coming departure of current WHS Principal Lori Costello at the end of December.

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Andrew Unverferth

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