Liberty school upgrades

The new addition to Bourbonnais Elementary School District’s Liberty Intermediate School sits on the east side of the property, accompanied by new bus lanes and a two-lane parent pick-up loop.

BOURBONNAIS — The Bourbonnais School Board approved the 2020-23 teachers contract and heard about the first day back to regular in-person school hours during a Tuesday evening meeting.

The result of year-long negotiations and a six-day teacher strike, the board and Bourbonnais Education Association reached a tentative agreement on the contract March 11. The BEA voted that night to ratify the tentative agreement.

The union declined to release the vote total but reported that it was “close to unanimous.”

Some contract changes include: a sick leave bank, common plan time for all teachers every day, and a cap of 22 meetings principals can call per year (it was unlimited before).

The contract also includes salary increases of 3.75 percent the first year, 3.5 percent the second year and 3 percent the third year.

“It wasn’t the simplest of things to do [to reach an agreement],” School Board Vice President John Hall said. “It did take a long time.”

Hall noted the district has received criticism for using legal services during negotiations once the federal mediator was involved; he said it was necessary to ensure they moved through the process correctly.

“The majority of school districts use lawyers in their negotiations all the time,” Board President Rob Rodewald noted. “We are an anomaly that we don’t.”

Back to normal school days

School days are now six hours and 45 minutes five days per week for all five schools, with Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center students no longer on an every-other-day schedule.

Schools took Monday off for a teacher planning day, and classes resumed Tuesday.

BEA President Lauren Lundmark reported what it was like for teachers to be back to full school days after being on half days all year.

“In many ways it almost felt like the first day of school all over again, like back in August,” she said.

She said teachers adjusted to new schedules, routines and seating charts, but overall it was “a great day.”

“Our hearts are full, and we’re looking forward to so many more of these great days with our students as we continue on through fourth quarter,” Lundmark said.

The remote option is still being offered through the end of the school year.

“I could hear children on the playgrounds today,” Rodewald said. “That was nice to hear again.”

Superintendent Adam Ehrman also said that Tuesday felt like a second first-day of school.

“I think back to July 1 when I came here and look at the fears and obstacles we had in front of us — and then turning those into opportunities — getting to this day was just an immense feeling,” he said.

Ehrman said there hasn’t been a major influx of families wanting to switch from one learning format to the other.

Many parents had been asking about the district’s plans to return to full days and expressed excitement at the decision to return, he noted.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Erhman asked the board to consider a temporary change in policy to allow staff to roll over vacation days to the next fiscal year.

He explained that the district’s employees are just now returning to full days of in-person instruction, and many of them have not used any vacation days. Typically, the days do not roll over.

“This is not any odd board policy language; the oddity is COVID-19,” Ehrman said.

If everyone started using their vacation days at once, it could jeopardize staffing levels, he said. The board gave affirmative feedback and will take action on the matter at a future meeting.

In other news…

Dennis Crawford, chief school business official, addressed an $850,000 transfer the district made in August 2020 when filing its new fiscal year budget.

He said the transfer was made at the direction of the district’s independent auditor to account for a negative fund balance in the building and operations fund, which was the result of an unanticipated HVAC issue at LeVasseur.

The negative fund balance had to be addressed in order to file a new 2020-21 budget with the state, Crawford explained.

He added that the Liberty expansion project was completed under budget — it was budgeted to cost over $7 million and ended up costing $6,864,073 — and that it had “no bearing” on the fund transfer.

After the meeting, Crawford said he wanted to address the fund transfer in response to “misinformation” that had been circulating.

“We want to make sure we address it to people so they understand what it was and what it was for, so they wouldn’t have a misconception of why it was done,” he said.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.