Still Looking Forward

While so much of our recent communication and work has revolved around the management of the pandemic, good and consistent work is being done in our school district.  Our Board of Education focuses on four key areas of operations: Student Achievement, Finance, Facilities, and Community Relations.  We have not lost the focus on the critical work of the school district.  The pandemic has certainly created challenges and contradictions, but our focus remains forward and in the best interest of our students and community.

 

Here are some of the things that are being worked on right now or have happened during the fall semester.

 

Student Achievement:

We have completed our fall COGNIA testing and have started the process of digging into the data from those assessments.  We are challenged with two key questions: 1) Do we have unfinished learning as a result of the pandemic; and 2) Are there a lack of self-regulated behaviors that have evolved throughout the pandemic creating a barrier to learning?  Our focus is primarily on achievement and academic growth in reading and math.  We are in the process of investigating the predictability of reading proficiency at 3rd grade and algebra proficiency as a sophomore.  Our intention is to increase our understanding of what pre-pandemic achievement looked like and compare that to achievement during the pandemic.  If it is determined that we have unfinished learning because of the pandemic, then we will develop a plan that likely results in additional opportunities for our students.  If we find that there is no gap beyond what is normal, then we will evaluate our traditional solutions and see if there is a way to improve upon what we have always done.

 

We are also working to make the reinvention of the junior and senior year a more meaningful and relatable initiative for our students, staff, and parents.  As we continue to work on the profile of the graduate, we understand that it is a change in thinking about how we best approach learning in the final two years of high school.  Our goal is simple, we want our students to have the most informed path beyond the high school graduation stage.  We want them to be the most prepared to make the best decisions about their future.  We believe that the greater the opportunity to experience the relevance of learning, the better informed the decision about their future.  We see the partnerships with business and industry as critical to the process, but also accept that this change will take time to both implement and fully embrace.

 

There is an obvious concern about how our students have responded to all the conditions of the pandemic.  We continue to have a growing concern about language acquisition and speech development for our youngest learners.  Masks have made that increasingly more difficult.  We also know that every time a student has to miss school for 8 to 14 days they are placed in a tougher position as a learner.  Maybe our greatest concern is how the pandemic has impacted the confidence and resilience of our school aged children.  Our students are more regularly sharing concerns of anxiety and uncertainty.  We are certain that these challenges are having a negative impact on our student’s ability to achieve their greatest potential.  It is this concern that has most hardened our resolve to keep our students in-person and in school.  Our students are empowered by one another and by their participation in school, we want to keep that as a constant for them.

 

Finance:

At our December 13 Board meeting we will approve the tax levy for next year.  It has always been the goal of the Board to keep our tax rate as near flat as possible and with the new funding model, to ensure an alignment between our tax rate and the presumed prescriptive tax rate that has been determined by the State.  We are projecting a $0.10 reduction in our tax rate next year, from $5.56 to $5.46.  The school district continues to benefit from the high-quality farm ground within the district and the sustainable residential value of our homes.

 

In order to achieve meaningful property tax relief, we need to see growth in the commercial or mineral value of our school district.  There is a windmill (mineral value) development that has been approved and is being built to the east of LeRoy.  We anticipate that the development will add approximately $11,000,000 to our EAV and will correlate to a decrease of another $0.10 in our tax rate.  The windmill revenue will come onto our books in Fiscal Year 2025.  There is another proposed windmill development to the west of LeRoy that, if approved, will potentially bring nearly $20,000,000 in new EAV.  While the growth in EAV from the windmills will be valuable to the school district and assist in the overall reduction in our tax rate, we believe that the existence of Rivian creates additional opportunities for the commercial growth of our community.  If we are fortunate enough to find opportunities in the commercial capacity of our community, the combination of these growing sectors may lead to the needed relief for our land owners and homeowners.

 

The district has also made a strategic decision to use our federal COVID relief resources over three fiscal years.  We have had a deficit in our Education Fund for the past four years.  We have managed to close that deficit each year, but the growth in State support for our school district has not kept pace with the inflationary growth of our business.  Our goal is to use the federal resources to build a bridge to the revenue increase that will be created from the new windmill EAV.  We currently have enough flexibility with the use of the federal resources that it appears our target and our intentions are going to line up well.  We will be using the federal resources to offset the costs of what we currently do within our system rather than add new expenses which would not be sustainable once the federal resources are gone.  There are some additional one-time supports that we will leverage to deal with unfinished learning, but they are clearly targeted inputs to resolve a specific and hopefully short-term challenge.

 

McLean County School District Tax Rates

LeRoy School’s EAV and Tax Rate Projections

 

Facilities:

The auditorium project continues to progress according to schedule.  PJ Hoerr and AEX Architects have worked very well together and have been able to keep the project on time and on budget.  The parents of our elementary students have shown great patience and adaptability throughout the disruption of construction.  We expect the building to be substantially complete at some point in May but much of the exterior site work will need to be completed in the month of June once students are on summer break.

 

Our commitments to the cleaning protocols from last year remain in place and our partnership with R-Zero continues to create a significant benefit to the confidence we have in the cleanliness of our classrooms.

 

We had made the decision to purchase our energy through 2023.  This decision was made almost two years ago and we are now benefiting from the insulated effect shielding us from the increase in energy costs.

 

Community Relations:

We had two inductees to the LeRoy CUSD#2 Hall of Fame this fall.  Jude Sounder,1988, was inducted as a Distinguished Alumnus and Evelyn Lewis as an Honorary Alumnus into the LeRoy Hall of Fame.  You can find their biographies on our district website at the following link: https://www.leroyk12.org/alumni/hall-of-fame

 

This fall we also had an external review team from COGNIA, our continuous improvement partner.  The role that COGNIA plays for our district is to provide an external lens that assesses the effectiveness of our system as well as determine how our stakeholders engage with the school system.  The visit went really well.  The team that visited our district was especially complimentary of our students.  They could not have been more pleased with the politeness and respect demonstrated by our young people in both buildings.  One of the best pieces of information that came out of their interviews with staff, students, business leaders, and parents was the most frequently used word when describing the organization: “Family”.  Given the challenges of the pandemic and the natural occurrence of frustrations throughout, we believe that we have worked really hard to show up for one another.  We believe that in the last 20 months, both the school and community have worked really hard in the best interest of one another.  The link to the full report can be found at this link: 2021 COGNIA External Review Report.