Varied discussion for Columbia school board

It was a relatively quiet school board meeting in Columbia on Thursday, with discussion largely focusing on faculty and staffing in the district along with a few smaller action items.

Among the action items on the agenda for the board was a vote on the student fees for the 2023-24 school year.

Per a document available on the district website, annual instruction costs for Eagleview Elementary and Parkview Elementary were $80 for the 2022-23 school year while Columbia Middle School’s annual instruction cost was $100 and Columbia High School’s was $125.

Additional costs are also listed, including a $30 annual Chromebook maintenance fee.

With little discussion, the board approved no change for student fees, with Columbia Superintendent of Schools Chris Grode remarking on the solid financial position of the district.

“I wish I could tell you that COVID hadn’t caused revenues and expenditures to be all crazy, but we are doing fine,” Grode said. “There’s no reason to raise the fees at this point in time.”

The board also approved the return of a list of non-tenured teachers, though one individual was omitted from the list.

Grode said a special meeting would likely be held in the future to discuss the unidentified individual.

The district’s Illinois High School Association membership was also approved, with Grode saying membership was free.

Following an executive session, the board approved several contract extensions for administration in the district as well as the hiring of Amanda Bedard as CHS assistant principal.

Additionally, the board saw two resignations with CMS math teacher John Heeg and CHS freshman volleyball coach Elizabeth Stone leaving.

Filling three positions, the board approved new CHS agriculture, CHS English and CHS/CMS business positions along with several extra-curricular assignments.

Also during the meeting, Grode remarked on recent progress made by district administrative assistant Kimberly Johnson in working on recycle bins around the schools.

Grode said no one had previously known what to do with them or who really managed them, but Johnson was able to get the situation sorted in order to get the bins emptied on a regular basis.

“The little things in life are sometimes the hardest to get done,” Grode said, “but it’s relentless and you just keep going until it happens.”

He also spoke about the Columbia School District Foundation, noting he is currently looking for individuals interested in serving on a quarterly board.

Additionally, Columbia School Board President Greg Meyer offered an update on the high school facility study and recent conversations with Cobalt Construction Consulting, which was previously selected to serve as owner representatives for the high school renovation project.

Meyer spoke positively about the process, saying contract fees are currently being finalized. He further commended the board’s decision to hire an owner’s representative as it appears it will help save money overall.

“We’re kinda stepping outside the box and doing something no one really has done before having an owner’s rep,” Meyer said. “And in my experience, when you’re prepared for something, the project just goes so much better, start to finish. And Cobalt has really performed. They’re very impressive.”

Columbia School Board Vice President Lisa Schumacher also offered her comments near the end of the meeting, questioning why the board seemed to have moved away from inviting new hires to school board meetings. Grode replied that a larger meet-and-greet is planned for shortly before the new school year.

Schumacher also spoke about the district’s recent action in freeing up its substitutes in order for them to assist in Waterloo.

As she described, Columbia wanted to allow its subs to assist in order to allow additional Waterloo teachers to attend the funeral of young teacher Jennifer Eckenfels, who passed away recently following a cancer diagnosis.

Schumacher said she couldn’t recall who specifically spread the word about the situation, prompting Grode to also comment on the situation.

“I think everybody said something,” Grode said. “And it’s, I mean, I’m glad that they’re praising us. It’s sad that our society’s gotten to the point that those kind of normal actions are… seemed surprised.”

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web