The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 5, 2014

D118 to look at cuts, uniforms

The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE — Danville District 118’s proposed student uniform standard of dress code is expected to be discussed by school board members Wednesday night.

The proposal has been on public display since the last school board meeting on March 12.

“The administrative proposal was presented at the last meeting, but there will be no action taken,” Superintendent Mark Denman said.

School board members could vote on the uniform standard of dress at their April 23 meeting. School officials have said they want to allow parents and students the maximum amount of time to prepare for any transition.

If approved, the uniform standard of dress will be implemented districtwide for all students in grades K-12 beginning next school year.

The idea of a uniform standard of dress resurfaced in January after parents rejected a similar plan in August 2011. Several local ministers appeared at school board meetings this fall and winter to speak in favor of school uniforms, saying they would prevent the display of gang colors, make visitors more visible at the schools and minimize economic class difference and bullying. Opponents, however, believe uniforms will not curb bullying nor improve learning. Some parents with multiple children in the district claim buying uniform clothes in addition to their children’s everyday clothes would create a financial hardship for them.

At a Jan. 22 school board meeting, board members voted 6-1 to implement a uniform standard of dress districtwide next school year, with board member Dr. Randal Ashton casting the dissenting vote.

Since the January vote, Associate Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat has conducted 22 separate meetings and met with more than 200 people, including parents, students and faculty members, to collect input on uniform dress suggestions.

For the proposal, the district used suggestions gathered in 2011, when parents were last surveyed about possibly implementing uniforms, as the framework for the new policy.

The dress code for balanced-calendar Northeast Elementary Magnet School students — black, navy blue or khaki pants, white shirt and white shoes — remains unchanged.

Administrators contend the uniform standard of dress has nothing to do with actual school uniforms, but rather is a consistent way of dressing. They contend the standard for dress will improve the learning environment, reduce classroom distractions, bridge socio-economic differences and increase students’ self-respect and self-esteem.

At last month’s school board meeting, some board members thought the proposed dress code had too many variables, making it cumbersome and difficult for administrators and teachers to monitor.

Also on Wednesday, board are scheduled to:

• Consider a Reduction in Force (RIF) and reducing other expenses.

The possible reductions in staff that have been proposed include two grant-funded Title I math coaches for a savings of $122,333; non-certified positions including seven class-size teaching assistants for a savings $214,305; and a family liaison position for a savings of $32,082. Any staff that would be affected by the reductions would be notified 45 days before the end of the school year.

“We may have some who resign or retire and then the position would not be filled,” Denman said.

Board members also will consider reducing costs for travel and instructional supplies and building and grounds supplies, which would save an additional $100,000.

The cuts are necessary because funding remains a challenge for the school district. The district is receiving only 89 percent of its state aid allotment, which amounts to a loss of $3 million a year. It is projected the state funding level might drop to 85 percent next year, which would be a loss of an additional $1.1 million to the district plus a $100,000 loss in special education funding.

Expenses are projected to increase $117,418 for district transportation costs and $260,204 in salary increases, which includes $839,000 in pay raises that is offset by $579,000 in cost savings due to retirements and hiring new staff at lower wages. It is unknown how much insurance costs may increase next school year.

The total projected deficit for the 2014-2015 school year is $2 million.

• Consider a recommendation to conduct summer school — both high school academic courses and driver’s education — at the high school, credit recovery for ninth-graders at Kenneth D. Bailey Academy, summer school for sixth- through eighth-graders at North Ridge Middle School as well as special education summer school. There will be no elementary school level summer school offered.

• Consider approving two new courses — career-skills math and career-skills reading — that would go into effect in the 2014-2015 school year and affect the Class of 2015. The semester-long courses, which would be part of the DHS school improvement plan, would ensure all students are college and career ready. The courses would aim to improve student competency in math and reading and would be required of all seniors in order to graduate unless a student demonstrates proficiency by earning a meets or exceeds on the Prairie State Achievement Examination’s math and/or reading tests or by scoring a 5 or higher on the WorkKeys applied math and/or reading for information tests. If approved, the curriculum for the courses will be developed in consultation with Vermilion Advantage and will be aligned to the National Career Readiness Certificate Program.

• Review the first reading of a proposed curriculum change at the high school in which all freshmen would take either biology or honors biology. Human life science and cellular life science would no longer be offered.

• Review the first reading of a proposed change in the New Tech house at the high school in which New Tech would become a four-year program rather than three years.

“The philosophy of New Tech is project-based learning,” Denman said. “It is recommended that it starts with freshmen.”

• Consider purchasing middle school math textbooks for sixth through eighth grades at a cost of $39,518.

• Conduct a public hearing declaring the parking lots at the high school and at Cannon, Edison and Garfield elementary schools as a life, health, safety issue so they may be repaired.

• Consider accepting the low bid of $314,131 from McDowell Builders of Sidell to renovate the plumbing at Cannon and Edison schools by replacing all plumbing fixtures and water lines.

• Consider accepting the low bid of $73,400 from Duce Construction of Danville to construct a handicapped accessible ramp to the left of Circle Drive at the high school.

“It’s not handy for parents, grandparents and visitors to go down to the Clock Tower to enter the school,” Denman said.

COMING UP The District 118 school board will hold its next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St.