By Charlie Feldman
After a public hearing, the Triad School Board approved its proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 at its Monday, September 27 meeting. But that was not the big story.
Members of the Speak For Students anti-mask mandate group were there waiting till the end of the meeting for the public comment portion. So were Triad Education Association (TEA) President Andrew Frey and Triad Educational Support Personnel (TESP) President Robin Pulley, who spoke in support of the Illinois public health and COVID-19 school safety mitigation measures. Members from the TEA, TESP, and Triad Custodial Maintenance Utility Association came to support them. Enough people were expected to show up that it was moved to the Triad High School cafetorium.
“There were more than 100 people there and the mask supporters were wearing red,” Speak for Students’ Mandi Hartley texted the Times-Tribune after it was over. She added a photo of “so-called mask supporters” letting their child go without a mask during the meeting. “Practice what you preach,” she added.
Most of the speakers addressing the board were not in favor of the mask mandate and other measures taken. Most feared for the future. One condemned the board for following the governor’s mandates in August (“You allowed fear and threats”) and said that only those who filed lawsuits had the courage to stand up, saying their names reverently one by one like war heroes already dead in battle. She also said that the mandate was a civics issue, not a health one.
Ryan Cunningham said the battle was really spiritual. “God wants us to operate by faith, just like Daniel in the lion’s den,” he said. “We’re called to have radical obedience to the faith that we have in our hearts. If you have faith not to get vaccinated like many teachers in this room today, stick by it. Make up your mind. If you have faith to speak truth over love, have faith and speak truth and love. If you have faith to wear your mask and get vaccinated, have faith to wear your mask and get vaccinated.” Once you place your faith in God, he said, let your decision be known, even though you will face trials and tribulations “like many of us here today,” comparing them to the Hebrews who would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol even though it meant being cast into the fiery furnace.
Jim Hartley, one of the Triad parents who filed a lawsuit against the school district, spoke about their upcoming hearing, scheduled for September 29. “The only thing that matters now is what happens on Wednesday. Are we following the rule of law or not? It’s as simple as that.
“The court’s gonna decide whether we’re following the rule of law or not,” he said. “And I’m gonna accept whatever that outcome is. I hope you all do the same.”
A smaller number of speakers praised and encouraged the board and its decision-making. “This is not the time to stop,” Pulley said. “The highly contagious delta variant has taken a toll on all our communities. For Madison County, as a whole, 14 percent of the population has been infected with the virus over the course of time, but in Troy, it’s 22 percent, in Marine, it’s 28 percent and in St. Jacob, it’s 33 percent.”
Without the mask mandate, TEA president Frey said in a prepared speech that also doubled as a press release, “according to a new study released Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and from the data from other districts that have not had a mask mandate in place, outbreaks are likely and remote learning would be inevitable.
“As you have heard and read again and again,” he continued, “vaccines are the number one way to fight COVID. Ninety percent of our members have done that. Absent the vaccine and testing, masks are the best way to keep students and staff in classrooms and keep them safe. The Triad Education Association will support the safety guidelines designed to keep students, staff and the Troy community safe.”
But the safety issues on the board’s agenda that night regarded buildings, not COVID-19. There were no substantial changes to the annual Risk Management Plan – that’s building, not COVID risk – when it was approved. The 10-year Health Life Safety Survey, also for buildings, will allow the district to repair the walls at the old gymnasium at C.A. Henning Elementary.
Director of Secondary Education Rodney Winslow reported that he is completing the process to apply for an American Rescue Plan (ESSER III Grant).The money will be used for school building upgrades and improvements, activities to address unique needs of students, summer and after school learning, technology devices and assessments and activities relating to loss of instruction time, according to the superintendent’s report by Leigh Lewis at the June meeting.
A total of $2,371,115 was made available directly to the district with a requirement that 20 percent of that amount, ($408,657) be spent to address learning loss. Along with this federal requirement, state allocations for ESSER III dollars include the following targets: learning loss ($234,163), after school programming, ($46,833), and summer school programming ($46,833). The district may use the remaining funds to continue addressing learning loss along with offsetting the cost of continuing to support in-person instruction in a safe environment.
The district already has a preliminary spending plan for Esser III. But all depends on if the grant application is successful. The deadline is Thursday, September 30.
As for the budget? According to estimates at this time, the district will total $50,896,00 in revenue and $50,222,750 in expenses with a $673,300 difference. The district expects to receive $400,000 in solar rebates from the Operations and Maintenance Fund.
The next school board meeting will be held on the last Monday in October (October 25) at 6:30 p.m. at the central offices.