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Paul Fregeau

DECATUR — The Decatur Board of Education took several steps Tuesday toward achieving its wide-ranging facilities plan, including the addition of air conditioning at schools that don't have it. 

The five-year plan ultimately will decommission five district buildings, combine the district's two middle schools and expand the space for popular programs at Dennis Lab School and the two Montessori schools.

The board on Tuesday approved plans to study the cost and work required to install air conditioning at Pershing Early Learning Center and Enterprise School.

Pershing has air-conditioning in the 2003 addition but not in the 1955 portion of the building. Similarly, Enterprise has air conditioning in the 1974 addition but not in the original 1956 wing. Costs approved by the board are $37,000 for Enterprise and $31,000 for Pershing.

Another step forward is approval of a proposal from BLDD Architects to complete the processing of all health/life/safety amendment work, which will allow the district to access funding for work this summer. This will require walk-throughs of all buildings and reports of uncompleted work, among other measures. 

Almost all district buildings have at least one health/life/safety project, which are repairs to meet building codes under the state board of education, state fire marshal and Department of Public Health requirements. Due to the district's plan to close some buildings, BLDD will work with the Illinois State Board of Education to determine whether the projects in those buildings still need to be completed.

The board also held a public hearing on proposed layoffs due to the consolidation of the Stephen Decatur and Thomas Jefferson middle schools and Harris School with Hope Academy. Harris will become the district's alternative learning center in August. The affected positions are classified as related to extra duties such as coaching and extra-curricular activities which staff take on in addition to their regular duties, rather than teaching positions. The decisions on those positions will be made at the March 12 board meeting. Some positions will be reposted and staff can re-apply for them.

In other business, Franklin, Muffley and French Academy all qualified for school improvement grants from the Illinois State Board of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act, based on their test scores, and the board approved their selection of literacy support materials. The materials are already in use as part of a pilot program at Parsons and Stevenson schools.

Superintendent Paul Fregeau gave a report to the board on the reading levels of district students. In the fall, 42 percent of students started the year at grade level, and almost 51 percent were at reading level on the winter assessments.

Based on the winter assessments, the following percentages of students were considered one grade level behind:

  • 66 percent of kindergartners;
  • 42.5 percent of first-graders;
  • 31.1 percent of second-graders;
  • 20.9 percent of third-graders;
  • 20.7 percent of fourth-graders;
  • 16.9 percent of fifth-graders;
  • 18.9 percent of sixth-graders.

The board approved re-applying for the Community Eligibility Program, which provides breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost to the students and families, because the district meets the low-income percentage required for the program. The district first applied in 2015 and was approved and must re-apply every four years. The program reimbursed the district for all student meals at school.

Board Vice President Beth Nolan objected to the application on the grounds that the district will appear to be less desirable as a result of emphasizing the percentage of low-income families in the district. 

"Is this the story we want to tell about ourselves?" she said.

Board member Sherri Perkins said that students consider it a stigma to receive free meals if they have to apply for them, and the way to ensure that they won't feel singled out and won't skip meals is for all students to receive the same treatment. Some students only have access to the food supplied at school and don't get to eat otherwise, she added.

"If we don't apply, we're sending the message that we don't care about the essential needs of our students," said board member Courtney Carson.

The vote was 6-1 in favor of the application, with Nolan voting "no." 

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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