Masks, vaccines and taxes were the topics of the Waterloo school board meeting on Monday night with the board, building administrators and a public gathering at the Gardner Elementary cafeteria.
Prior to public comments, Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron briefed the community on the district’s COVID-19 landscape. As of Monday, four students had COVID-19 and no student was excluded from school as close contacts.
An employee under contract with the district had tested positive.
In the previous week, five students tested positive and 12 students were excluded from school as close contacts. Among them, 10 were exposed to the virus outside of school.
“Things are going in the right direction, at least right now,” Charron said.
Charron briefly mentioned the lawsuit in which Waterloo and over 140 other districts are defendants. Currently, they are awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court on which cases can be consolidated and tried with the grand trial and which court will hear the case.
As the Republic-Times previously reported, the Illinois Supreme Court may not rule on these issues at all.
“I can tell you that at this point there hasn’t even been a decision yet on where the temporary restraining order will be heard. I think the Illinois Supreme Court should weigh this soon, but at this point they’re still debating where to hear the case, ”Charron told the crowd.
Many community members who spoke to the school board discussed some of the same topics as the lawsuit – the COVID precautionary mandates in schools, who has the capacity to enforce them, and what, if any, are these. measures that are legal.
Jason Jones offered the board a “statement of support” on behalf of Waterloo Listens, a local group which, as it describes on Facebook, “focuses on political, social and judicial accountability and reform.”
“We support the board’s decision to follow the guidelines of the Illinois Board of Education and the Governor of Illinois regarding vaccines and masks in public schools. We support the council’s efforts to follow all guidelines and laws of the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois General Assembly, ”Jones said. “We recognize our citizenship in a nation, state, county and municipality of laws and that every person must obey all laws regardless of their opinion (of them).
“Therefore, the group opposes the efforts of public bodies and officials who try to overturn laws passed by these entities,” Jones said.
After Jones, who had already asked Charron to speak before the meeting began, spoke, the board moved to discussing other issues on the agenda.
Before the adjournment, Don Voelker has asked to speak.
Stating that even though the board “had (already) public input,” school board chairwoman Lori Dillenberger said Voelker could address the board.
Voelker’s comments drew reactions from people of all opinions.
“It’s time to stop hurting our children with these masks. Our children can’t breathe, ”Voelker began, after which a member of the audience laughed.
“There’s nothing funny about that,” Voelker paused, later continuing to state, “I agree with (Jones) here – it’s always time to listen to our laws. established by the legislature, not the executive branch of government. These mask mandates are not laws. ”
“That’s right!” said a parent.
Voelker questioned the effectiveness of the masks and expressed concern about a vaccination mandate.
Another concerned resident spoke of the vaccine that allegedly caused myocarditis.
Dr Norah Baker, a board-certified physician who then spoke to the public, asked Voelker what his professional qualifications were, prompting a wave of ‘it doesn’t matter. From others.
“It has been studied and it has been shown that masks do not harm your children. There is not an unhealthy level of CO2. The vaccine saves lives, ”Baker said, later adding that it was rare to get myocarditis from the vaccine.
Zachary Sheets, a parent of three students from Waterloo, said he believes the COVID mandates have overshadowed the benevolent part of education.
“You are more concerned with my mask than if I went through that door with a gun.” It’s a shame! “Sheets said.” My kids can’t even trust you guys anymore! They’ve got a headache (and) they’re so worried they’re going to have to get the shot or go back to the doctor and get their nose dabbed because they have a headache.
In previous meetings, the board asked the audience if anyone who had not requested to address the board before the start of the meeting wished to speak.
After the meeting, Charron explained this.
“The board would like to return to an orderly board meeting; we would like to respect the processes and the policy for those who wish to speak at a board meeting, ”said Charron. “The board isn’t opposed to having a public forum at one point, but we don’t want a public forum at our board meeting. Those who sign up to address the board for public participation can and will have their time. ”
Charron said those who wish to speak to the board should email or call the board, preferably on the Wednesday before the meeting.
However, he said those who contact him after this point will not be banned from speaking.
Last week, the district’s finance committee met to discuss what council is asking to levy in the 2021 property tax year, payable in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. As Charron explained to meeting attendees, the district is asking for 4.99% more than the $ 18,271,927 it actually received the previous year.
This brings the total levy requested by council to $ 19,183,855.
The actual amount the school district will receive depends on the equalized assessed value, which will be determined at a later date.
Individual tax rates also limit the amount of money that can be invested in each fund.
“Although the board is asking for 4.99% this year, we do not expect to receive this total amount like the previous year where the board requested up to 4.98% more than what we received before, but after the assessor and county clerk had done actual AVE calculations, the district was only entitled to a 2.91 percent increase, ”Charron said.
Charron also circulated a tax rate comparison document for 2020 property taxes payable in 2021. Charron highlighted rates from other school districts such as Bethalto, Highland, Triad, and Mascoutah. Their tax rates are 5.07270, 4.66710, 5.13920 and 4.83830 respectively.
“I am personally proud of the education Waterloo provides at the tax rate it offers,” said Charron. “With our 4.32 tax rate, I would say Waterloo is giving you value for your money. ”
The American Rescue Plan’s elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds were also on the agenda for finance committee and school board meetings.
As the Republic-Times previously reported, ESSER funds are supposed to be used for COVID-related expenses.
Previously, Waterloo program coordinator John Schmieg was able to secure a grant of $ 120,930 from the USAC emergency fund for 250 Chromebooks, 160 iPads and 20 T-Mobile hotspots. Before this E-Rate funding was received, the district planned to use ESSER funds to reimburse the cost of this technology.
The district has since applied for another E-Rate grant, this time for $ 280,000. If they get that, it will be used to replace 1,000 Chromebooks.
These Chromebooks are still functional, however, as they age they will eventually lose the ability to update. This will prevent them from using them for health testing and more.
“If it were funded, that would represent a total of $ 400,000 of ESSER money that would have been spent on technology that could be used for other beneficial things,” Charron said, referring to the cost of replacing Chromebooks that was supposed to be initially be covered by ESSER funds.
Therefore, how the ESSER III funds will be spent depends on whether or not this second E-rate funding is granted to the district.
Once this outcome is shared, an ESSER III committee made up of a designated group of parents and representatives from its schools will meet and work on the budget.
From there, the budget will be posted online for public comment. As Schmieg said previously, parents will receive a link to send their thoughts to the board.
Waterloo expects to receive $ 988,094 for ESSER III, bringing the total for the three funding rounds to $ 1,508,835.