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District 87 Adopts Tax Levy; Earns Mental Health Grants

WGLT file photo
District 87 schools are preparing for spring's hybrid and remote learning options. The school board met remotely Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.

More than half of District 87’s teens have opted for remote learning through May, Superintendent Barry Reilly told the school board Wednesday night.

Also at the meeting, held remotely because of pandemic restrictions, the school board adopted a nearly $45 million property tax levy for 2020; OK’d the creation of a pandemic preparedness policy; and learned about more than $1.5 million in grants headed to the district to support behavioral health issues.

Spring semester begins all-remote, then shifts

About 60% of the district’s 7th-12th graders have opted for remote learning through May, said Reilly.

Families of sixth grade students must select hybrid or remote by Dec. 13; and families of Pre-K to 5th grade must select by Jan. 7. The district details the processon its website.

The deadline has passed for 7th-12th graders. However, the district has created a waiting list to allow students to switch to hybrid, as space is available.  

With the coronavirus steadily battering the area and the country -- Wednesday saw more than 3,000 COVID deaths across the nation -- District 87 officials are bracing for another pandemic-affected semester.

"That’s going to be a challenge, no doubt,” said Reilly.

“It’s been tough times, doesn't seem like it's going to get any easier any time soon,” said Brigette Gibson, school board president, who praised Reilly for keeping the board informed throughout this unusual school year.

District 87 students won’t begin their hybrid program until after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That's because officials anticipate a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases, a trend seen locally and nationally following Thanksgiving.

“So those two weeks, making those remote, makes a lot of sense,” and creates a buffer for preparing for the second semester, said Reilly.

Just since Thanksgiving, about a dozen district staff members have tested positive, he said.

Reilly urged students and families to minimize their exposure to the virus by continuing to follow health experts’ recommendations for wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing.

“The more you extend your bubble, the more you put yourself at risk,” he said. Because everyone is so eager to leave 2020 behind and excited to begin 2021, Reilly said he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in everyone’s Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve celebrations erring on the side of caution.

Levy adopted

With the nearly $45 million levy's adoption Wednesday, the process moves forward. The revenue will be received during the 2021 calendar year, and will be used in the 2022 budget, according to district finance chief Colin Manahan.

The levy is about 3% higher than last year’s $43.7 million extension. However, district leaders expect the overall tax rate to remain basically flat, at $5.14 per $100 equalized assessed valuation. 

The school board approves the levy amount, but the actual rate isn’t determined until spring after the McLean County assessor’s office announces the year’s EAV figure.

The levy collections account for more than 60% of the district’s annual revenue. Manahan told the school board in October the proposed tax rate assumes an estimated EAV rate of 3% growth. 

By that count, the owners of a $150,000 home in Bloomington would see a $5 increase in their tax bill.

Comprehensive pandemic plan 

The board voted unanimously to add the Pandemic Preparedness, Management, and Recovery policy. A key component is forming a pandemic planning team, to consist of district staff, board members, and community members. It will be tasked with developing a comprehensive pandemic plan.

The policy outlines information on school closures and remote learning, as well as moving school board meetings online, and a section on payment of employees when schools are closed.

Funds for student mental health

The board also learned a $1.5 million, federally-funded grant focusing on mental health issues is headed to District 87, and with the pandemic causing added stress, the timing of the award is perfect, said Reilly.

The Bloomington district is just one of three in Illinois to receive the Illinois Aware grant, said Diane Wolf, assistant superintendent. The funding allows District 87 to be part of a pilot program centering on social-emotional learning, and broader mental health issues.

The Illinois State Board of Education will distribute the money over a five-year period, beginning next month, Wolf said.

A second grant, for $50,000--from the McLean County Health Department--also focuses on mental health issues. The 2021 award will fund continued programming at Bloomington Junior High School; and expand that to Irving and Sheridan grade schools. The program is a collaboration with the McLean County Center for Human Services.

The board also:

  • Approved a 2020-2021 liability insurance contract for about $288,000, which is about 16.3% higher than last year. Since 2000, District 87 is part of the Suburban School Cooperative Insurance Program (SSCIP). 
  • Approved Delta Dental insurance rates for employees at the same rates as the previous year: $38.26 for an employee; $74.78 for plus-one; and $112.10 for family rate. 
  • Heard from Tony Bauman on a a proposal to rename the Bloomington High School swimming facility in memory of Bob Loy. The longtime swim coach and BHS teacher died in October, and shortly after, a petition for the name change garnered about 3,000 signatures. The board is expected to vote on the proposal Jan. 13.
  • Heard about plans for January and February steps to improve staff understanding of diversity and inclusion issues. Reilly said Illinois State University professor Shamaine Bertrand, a multicultural education expert, will be working with Wolf to create a task force on the matter.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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