Jacksonville School District 117 may be in good shape financially despite the current circumstance. The school board heard good financial news and heard of the uncertainty surrounding Fall instruction at June 17’s first in-person school board meeting. School District Treasurer Jamie Hadjan told the board that rather than the $1.2 million deficit expected at the beginning of the year, the district’s deficit had narrowed to just over $318,000 according to her most recent calculations of expenses and revenue.
Superintendent Steve Ptacek says that the district’s financial picture may actually be in a financial surplus by the end of the year. “We went into the year knowing that we increased our expenditures. A large portion of that was the contract with our instructional staff, which we know they deserve. In order to attract and keep top talent, we needed to renew our contract – review and update our contract. It has worked. It’s been much easier to find staff, and that’s in the best interest of our students. From that, we planned on anywhere on being a million to two million dollars in the hole, but understanding that over time as state budgets and things increase, we would be able to make that up over the next couple years. To find out that right now, even with the amended budget, we are only about $318,000-$387,000 in the hole and our financial officer Jamie Hadjan thinks that after everything is said and done over the next month and with all the final computations, we’re still going to be somewhat positive. That’s a big win compared to where we thought we were going to be a year ago at this time.”
Ptacek says the biggest uncertainty for the district is what Fall instruction will look like. He says that he’s set on conference calls with various state agencies over the last week and things appear to be out of touch around the state. He says there is no guarantee students will be back in the classroom this fall. “Phase 4, schools being opened does not mean we are going to be in normal operation. That is something that I have had a lot of conversations with people about. Just as businesses they are talking about limiting them to 50% capacity. Schools could be under the same limitation. From that, I’ve had a lot of people say we should just ignore that and just open up the schools. The reality of it is, is that our insurance companies are not going to support us if we do that. The state does control a substantial and sizable portion of our budget. The state gets to make the determination in the long run whether our school days actually count as school days. Those are just some of the things that you just can’t rebel against. While the limitations are not palatable to many individuals in our community, they are what we right now have to work within and they are substantial. I’ve been multiple meetings over the last week and a half and we are getting the exact same message – prepare.”
Ptacek says that he received word from the Illinois State Board of Education on June 16th that masks will be mandatory for everyone, 50% capacity will be mandated at school buildings, there will be limited individuals on buses, and health screenings will occur for every student and staff member entering buildings. Ptacek says the district is simply in “wait and see” mode on directives from the state and figuring out logistics for classes. He says he is open to suggestions from the public.
Personnel was the other major topic of discussion on Wednesday. The district announced the official hiring of Joey Dion as Jacksonville High School principal and accepted the upcoming retirement of superintendent secretary Debbie McKean. McKean’s position won’t be replaced at the district. She says that she is currently working out a way to remain the school board secretary after her eminent retirement in December. She has been with the district for 21 years.
The other major personnel announcement was the upcoming retirement of Jacksonville Middle School principal Gary Barlow. The 2020-2021 school year is scheduled to be his last at the helm. Ptacek says with Barlow’s advanced notice the district can begin looking for a suitable candidate well in advance. “It’s always best to have a heads-up notice that someone in an influential position is going to be leaving. It’s a lot easier to do a candidate search and to open up the bucket of all the potential candidates out there when you have an extended period of time. We will probably post for this position early in the Fall, and wait to see what the candidate pool is. It gives you an option if your candidate pool wasn’t what you felt you wanted, you can decide to reopen it and advertise different ways. There is just so much more flexibility to find the right candidate to replace the person that’s leaving when you have an advanced notice.”
Ptacek says the district is also preparing ahead of time for the retirement of Director of Operations Mike McGiles and Eisenhower Principal Beth Brockschmidt in two years and Grounds and Buildings Director Craig Castleberry in 2 ½ years. Ptacek says that by the early notice given to the district, the district is able to both financially plan and begin the search for suitable replacements.