ROCHELLE — At its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Rochelle Elementary District Board of Education unanimously approved a $260,000 settlement it will receive for problems with geothermal system work done at Central School in the early 2010s.
The district has been in active litigation with a variety of companies involved in the original Central School build out of the geothermal system and most recently had ongoing issues from 2016-2018 with “very serious” sinkholes where geothermal heads were at the school, Superintendent Jason Harper said.
The board contracted a company from the Oregon area in 2018 to rectify the issue and began seeking a legal remedy to recoup costs.
Harper detailed the district’s proposed tax levy for 2023. The district’s equalized assessed value has seen an increase from $330 million to $351 million since this time last year. The amount the district will receive is “near exactly” what it received last year.
“Right now with this recommendation, our projected tax rate is 3.2035,” Harper said. “At this same time last year, our projected tax rate was 3.2583. That's just for District 231 and that's a decrease of 5.48 cents. Further along in the process our rates combine with the Rochelle Township High School rate and that is projected to be an even larger savings for our taxpayers.”
The district recently received designations for the Every Student Succeeds Act for all of its schools and Harper said Central School, Tilton School and Rochelle Middle School were found to be commendable while Lincoln School was found to be a targeted school.
The ESSA, which was passed in 2015 or 2016, requires each state to come up with a designation system for each school in their jurisdiction. Illinois' process has four tiers: exemplar, commendable, targeted and unsatisfactory.
“This is largely based on our schools' testing scores, and what's odd is that Lincoln is a K-1 building and there are no state assessments for that,” Harper said. “Basically, the federal government says each school must have a designation. They've decided to take performance elsewhere in the district and back map it down to the K-1. They've taken pre-pandemic performance for students who are currently at Central School and compared that versus during pandemic performance and found that our students with special needs from that cohort are performing lower than the lowest five percent of schools' total populations in the entire state.”
Lincoln will be a targeted school for the next three years and will go through a school improvement process and receive $10,000 a year to help improve the performance of students with special needs in the building.
Harper said the designation’s requirement won’t necessitate “a huge deviation” from school improvement work the district is already doing.
“I think it's a crack in the system and doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense, but that's just where we're at,” Harper said. We have a great relationship with the Ogle County Educational Cooperative and we'll continue to work with them to try to figure out how to improve the performance of all of our students, especially those with special needs. This is the first time we've had this situation. We're assessed every year and those designations come out.”
The board unanimously approved a Health Life Safety amendment for a $50,000 project to replace the roof at Central School and also unanimously approved a state grant application that could be used to pay for it.
Harper said the roof at Central School has been leaking and needs to be addressed. The state grant reimburses any school maintenance project up to $50,000 and the district has used the grant for the last two years on other projects. Bids for the work will be brought to the board in the future and the project is slated to start in summer 2023.
The board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the state’s International Visiting Teacher Program. Participation will have no cost to the district other than paying for the international teacher’s salary and benefits. The district will have access to international teachers for up to three years with a two-year option after that.
“In January, the district will give our anticipated needs to ISBE and they'll take on going out and finding people who are qualified to do so in Spanish-speaking countries or that have Spanish proficiency,” Harper said. “They submit their licensing and accreditation through ISBE. This is the first time we've ever done this. If a teacher comes here, they get the same introduction and training as our other teachers do. If it doesn't work out, we can still not renew this teacher if they aren't right for us.”