Board Briefs: August 2021

Board Briefs: August 2021

The District 58 Board of Education held a Regular Business Meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 at Downers Grove Village Hall and via YouTube livestream. View the agenda to access all presentations, memos and other information. The meeting video will be posted on the District 58 YouTube page.

Superintendent’s Report: 

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Russell addressed several timely topics with the Board:

Cultural Inquiries and Equity 

Dr. Russell said District 58 received a few community inquiries regarding critical race theory. He publicly addressed these inquiries and shared that District 58 does not teach critical race theory. He added that District 58 teaches children to follow the Golden Rule and treat each other like they would like to be treated.

“The District stresses the importance of character education. We have met and will continue to meet with anyone who has questions about our curriculum. It is extremely important that we promote a strong dialogue between the District and community members,” Dr. Russell said. 

Dr. Russell added that District 58’s community-created Strategic Plan calls for equity to be addressed in District 58 schools. As such, District 58 remains committed to ensuring all students have access to high quality learning and programming. 

“Please note that equity does not mean that we are lowering the bar for any of our students or taking away opportunities from others. Ensuring that all students have access is the cornerstone of the educational system,” Dr. Russell said. “As always, all of our work will be done in a transparent manner that involves the community.”

As an example, Dr. Russell pointed out that this summer District 58 offered a specialized summer school program for students who struggled more than others this past school year. 

Mask Wearing 

District 58 will follow the Governor’s Executive Action that mandates universal mask usage inside schools. Dr. Russell explained that school districts that ignore or refuse to comply with this mandate risk losing accreditation, state funding and insurance coverage. This is not a risk District 58 wishes to take. The Illinois State Board of Education previously placed a school district on probation for violating the last mask mandate and was in the process of revoking its accreditation. 

Rather than view mask usage as a burden, Dr. Russell encouraged the community to view the mandate from a positive perspective. Universal masking will result in significantly fewer close contacts and students being quarantined. 

“One of the District’s highest priorities throughout this pandemic is to increase in-person learning to the greatest extent possible, and universal masking certainly will diminish the need for students to stay at home,” Dr. Russell said.

Upcoming Learning Plan Presentation

District 58 will present its final 2021-22 learning plan during a special Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. District 58 will continue to follow all State guidelines and mandates, which could require learning plan updates throughout the school year if guidelines change due to the pandemic. He encouraged community members to contact their state representatives if they have any concerns about the guidelines or mandates, as local school boards do not control requirements made by the State. Finally, Dr. Russell urged the community to unite for the sake of all students. 

“Our children are watching and let’s continue to be role models for them all,” Dr. Russell said. “We have done a great job as a community during this pandemic and let’s continue serving as an example for other school districts.”

Learning Plan Preview

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Justin Sisul and Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Jessica Stewart joined Dr. Russell in previewing District 58’s 2021-22 learning plan. 

Dr. Russell said that District 58’s learning plan continues to focus on three priorities:

  1. The health and safety of students and staff
  2. Maximizing in-person instruction
  3. Minimizing disruptions to the educational environment

District 58 will follow state and local guidance, which emphasizes in-person instruction, encourages layered mitigations, and eliminates most close contact occurrences/quarantine requirements, with the exception of the bus.

“With the exception of mask wearing, school will pretty much look like it did pre-pandemic,” Dr. Russell said.

Per the Governor’s mandate, District 58 will require and enforce universal indoor mask usage (unless a medical exemption is received). Masks will not be required outdoors. Schools will offer frequent mask breaks and, during warm weather, students and staff in schools lacking full air conditioning will rotate into the school’s air conditioned spaces throughout the day.

During regular instruction, District 58 aims to distance all students by 3 feet in accordance with the updated guidance. During lunch, elementary students will remove masks and be distanced by 6 feet to the greatest extent possible. By maintaining these distances, students will not be required to quarantine if someone else tests positive for COVID-19. At the middle school level, students will be seated for lunch at a regularly-spaced lunch table, as all middle school students have had an opportunity to get vaccinated. The District is exploring creating optional 6 foot spaced seating for those students who would prefer more distance.

Mr. Sisul shared that District 58’s school day will reflect pre-pandemic hours:

  • AM Preschool: 8:50-11:30 a.m., Monday through Friday
  • PM Preschool: 12:30-3:10 p.m., Monday through Friday
  • Kindergarten: 8:15-11:20 a.m., Monday through Friday
  • Grades 1-6 and Kindergarten with OKEEP: 8:15 a.m.-2 p.m. on Monday and 8:15 a.m.-3 p.m. on Tuesday-Friday
  • Grades 7-8: 8:30 a.m.- 2:10 p.m. on Monday and 8:30 a.m.-3:17 p.m. on Tuesday-Friday. Early Bird classes (band, choir and orchestra) will take place from 7:45-8:25 a.m. Monday-Friday.

Mr. Sisul added that many pre-pandemic learning activities will resume, including shared materials, cubby and locker usage, and small group instruction, among others. Elementary students will also enjoy outdoor recess unmasked, and extracurricular activities and clubs will resume in a phased-in approach. He added that although District 58 is not offering a full remote learning option this school year, the District is committed to connecting daily to students who may find themselves in a mandatory quarantine. Details will be provided in the full plan on Aug. 18.

Mrs. Stewart gave a preview of the District’s health and safety plans. District 58 will continue to follow a layered mitigation strategy. Daily self-certification forms will no longer be required. The District will require masks, encourage students to stay home while sick, stagger arrival and dismissal, and permit only essential visitors in schools (for the start of the year). The District is also exploring a voluntary and free weekly COVID test for unvaccinated students and staff who opt in to participate; this would help identify asymptomatic positive cases. The District will also voluntarily collect vaccination cards to help more quickly identify and eliminate close contacts. District 58’s full health and safety protocols will be shared on Aug. 18.

E-Learning Plan Preview

The Board will conduct a public hearing regarding the draft District 58 e-learning plan during its special meeting on Aug. 18. This draft plan was first presented during the Board’s July meeting and, if approved, would give District 58 the option to use an e-learning day in lieu of an emergency day. District 58 typically uses emergency days when school cannot be open in person, such as after a heavy snowfall. The District will also invite families and staff to complete a short survey to gauge interest in the e-learning day option.

Business Report 

Summer Construction

Director of Buildings and Grounds Kevin Barto reported that most of the District’s summer construction projects are wrapping up on schedule. A few projects are running behind due to supply chain delays, and the District is working with school principals and the contractors to ensure any delayed work can be completed without any learning disruptions. 

Revenues and the 2021-22 Tentative Budget

Assistant Superintendent for Business Todd Drafall reported that District 58’s revenues are higher than usual for July because DuPage County adjusted its property tax distribution cycle and delayed a payment typically dispersed in June to July.

Drafall previewed some of the action items later in the agenda, including approval of the District’s tentative 2021-22 budget. The tentative budget includes a $560,000 surplus, which offers some flexibility for unexpected pandemic-related expenses. This week, the tentative budget will be placed on display for public inspection online and at the Administrative Service Center and Downers Grove Public Library, and a public budget hearing will take place on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Village Hall, prior to a vote to approve the final budget.

Longfellow Sale, Administrative Office Lease and ASC Renovations

Drafall previewed three action items related to the Longfellow sale and administrative office space lease. After years of discussion, the Board approved a resolution in May 2021 to sell its Longfellow Center for a minimum price of $3.8 million. District 58 received one bid, and it was not responsive. The District spoke with several interested bidders, who indicated that the price of land with building removal (including unknown asbestos abatement costs) was higher than the market would accept and the rent-back period was too long. The District used this feedback to inform a revised resolution that set a lower minimum price, shortened the rent-back period, and included asbestos abatement and demolition cost estimates.

As previously shared, part of District 58’s Longfellow plan includes the unification of all District 58 administrative and central office staff into one building. Currently, these staff are split between the Longfellow Center and Administrative Service Center (ASC). The District researched, visited and negotiated with several properties that would accommodate the entire District 58 administrative and central office team. This research yielded a recommendation to lease 5,384 square feet of furnished class-B administrative office space at 2300 Warrenville Road at $16 per square foot with a 2% annual increase. The proposed lease is for seven years, offers three early out provisions, and includes all costs (i.e. utilities, cleaning, taxes etc.). The office space is a sublease from Aramark, and its building also contains several rentable rooms suitable for professional learning and meetings.  

District 58 compared the costs of the office lease with the costs associated with maintaining the existing Longfellow Center and found that the average annual savings of leasing office space over continual ownership of Longfellow is $27,600 per year. The estimated costs for Longfellow considers averaging out the large capital improvement to the facility over a 10-year time frame. It is very likely that several expensive repairs will need to be done in the short term, such as replacement of a $75,000 fire alarm system and a roof replacement. A conservative cost of Longfellow ownership was used to calculate the savings in order to not overstate the savings of leasing. 

District 58 intends to use $2.5 million of the proceeds from the Longfellow Center sale to fund critical school capital work in summer 2022. If District 58 were to keep the Longfellow Center, it would be a financial liability and require financial resources to be diverted from schools to the property. The impact of continual ownership of Longfellow and lack of proceeds to make improvement to schools would have a $3.35 million impact on the fiscal year 2023 budget.

District 58 will convert the ASC into a maintenance warehouse and operations center. The space conversion will require demolition, electrical upgrades and other building code updates. District 58 bid out the ASC renovation work and recommended that the Board award the bid to Construction Inc. for a total cost of $364,000. The Board approved this recommendation. 

Meanwhile, District 58 and the Village of Downers Grove are exploring possibly building a shared Village Hall/District 58 administrative building. District 58 structured its office lease to allow three opportunities to exit the lease early, should this partnership come to fruition. 

Amended School Calendar

The Board approved a recommendation to amend the 2021-22 school calendar. The amended calendar reflects the following changes:

  • The DuPage County Teacher Institute Day was moved from Feb. 25 to March 4, 2022. 
  • The State recently moved Election Day from March 15 to June 28, 2022. As such, March 15 became a student attendance day, and the last day of school was changed from June 7 to June 6, 2022.

During the Meeting, the Board Also:

  • Listened to a Financial Advisory Committee meeting update. This Board committee met on Aug. 6 and discussed the tentative budget (and noted that the budget was balanced with a small surplus), tentative budget public hearing, District 58 ESSER funding, fund balance policy, the Longfellow Center sale resolution, the administrative office lease, ASC modification bid and the change in the County’s property tax payments.
  • Received eight public comments. Four comments expressed opposition to the Longfellow Center sale, three comments expressed concerns related to universal indoor mask usage, and one comment supported mask usage and culturally responsive education.
  • Approved minutes from the July 12 Regular Board Meeting.
  • Approved all items presented in the Consent Agenda.
  • Designated a Sea Ray floor machine and a Service Master floor machine as surplus equipment and be placed on a public auction site. 
  • Awarded the 2021-22 snow removal bid with two alternates to DGO Premium Services. 

Upcoming Events

  • Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 7 a.m.: Policy Committee Meeting at the ASC
  • Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m.: Special Board Meeting at Downers Grove Village Hall
  • Monday, Aug. 30 at 3:45 p.m.: District Leadership Team Meeting at TBD
  • Friday, Sept. 10 at 7 a.m.: Financial Advisory Committee Meeting at the ASC
  • Monday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.: Regular Board Meeting at the Downers Grove Village Hall

District 58 Board of Education members are: Darren Hughes, president; Gregory Harris, vice president; Kirat Doshi, Melissa Ellis, Emily Hanus, Steven Olczyk and Tracy Weiner, with Dr. Kevin Russell, superintendent; and Melissa Jerves, board secretary.