Public comments lead to discussion of limits

By Linda Kennedy

“When is enough, enough?” asked Ben Schmidt, a Massac County resident who resides in the Joppa-Maple Grove School District, at the monthly school board meeting held on April 24.

Schmidt presented two handouts to the board members and made a short presentation on information he had gathered from various websites throughout the state concerning the financial status and tax rates of Joppa versus districts in Goreville, Vienna and Century.

“Will the board ever say that we have done all we can and we can’t have the residents of the district keep writing bigger checks?” stated Schmidt, referring to increase property tax rates.

In his presentation, Schmidt said he had no criticism to the board and had no faults with the board members or administration and that the current situation the district is occurring is just because they are “a victim of circumstances.”

“I deal with numbers on a daily basis, so what I want to talk to you about are the financial facts that I have found by researching different school systems,” said Schmidt, as he was passing out a handout concerning Equalized Assessed Value (EAV). EAV is the result of applying the state equalization factor to the assessed value of a parcel of property. Tax bills are calculated by multiplying the EAV by the tax rate.  “As you can see, Joppa-Maple Grove is the only school district that has seen a decline in EAV, of approximately $1.5 million.  For 40 years, this district lived ‘high on the hog’ because of the industrial tax rate it was receiving from the plants nearby but those times have passed due to these companies protesting their property taxes.”

The handout also showed a comparison of tax rates between Joppa and Massac Unit One.  “In 1996, Joppa’s rate was 3.28 with Unit One being 3.45, which was pretty close in comparisons.  However, in 2014, Joppa had a rate of 6.27, while Unit One’s rate was only 4.51.  If you take a piece of property in Massac County valued at $75,000 and compare the two school districts, it means you would see a $1400 difference in the tax rate if the property was located in the Joppa-Maple Grove school district.”

Schmidt’s second handout was concerning trends, stating most financial decisions are based on trend analysis.  “I looked at the likelihood of something affecting these trends for our school district and with our plants’ cutting staff and fighting assessment rates, I don’t see a positive outlook in the future and, at best, we can hope that it can stay stable,” said Schmidt.  “I realize that you have been operating very lean, and you have no fate on your budget.   But, costs are going to keep going up — it’s just the nature of the beast.

“I am proud of our district.  I had five sons who graduated from Joppa High School. But, where does it end?” concluded Schmidt.  

Earlier in the public comment session, Schmidt’s son, Michael, spoke to the board concerning a letter he had mailed to each board member concerning the possibility of consolidation.  A 2007 graduate of Joppa High School and a fifth grade teacher in the Carterville School District, Michael Schmidt’s letter brought up several points, which Board President Stacey Reames said were very good and the board would research more his remarks from financial to academic opportunities.

Denise Meyer spoke to the board about the cash reserve, also known as cash on deposit, the board currently has — from $2.5 million in 2014, $3 million in 2015, $3.2 million in 2016 and, as of March 2017, $3.5 million.  

“This is a 25.5 percent increase in two years,” Meyer said. “That’s taxpayers’ money.  Where is the limit on the cash deposit?  Is there a goal — a ceiling?  Where are the students benefitting with this amount of money in the reserve?”

Meyer asked the board if at the May meeting, could an explanation be given on the reserve fund.

Prior to the regular called meeting, the board acknowledged receipt of the certified election results from April 4 vying for the four-year team, with Daniel Burnett, 170; Gail Stubblefield, 136; Stacey Reames, 126; Denise Meyer, 110; and Don Miller, 102.  Chris McGinness, who ran unopposed for his unexpired two-year term, received 175 votes.

  Associate Superintendent Bill Rogers gave the oath of office to all the board members, followed by the election of:  Stacey Reames, president; Peggy McNeill, vice president; and Gail Stubblefield, secretary.

  In the absence of Principal Landon Sommer, Rogers gave the principal report.

  Maple Grove Elementary recently conducted their Pre-K screening, with 25 students enrolling.  The program only has 20 spots, with five students to be placed on the waiting list.

  Joppa’s FFA was notified of a $400 grant the organization received that will be used for a community garden.

  Upcoming events include: Teacher Appreciation Week, May 1-5; Science Fair winners trip to St. Louis Science Center, May 5; PTO Color Run/Walk fundraiser, May 6; Southern Illinois Miners School Day Game incentive trip, May 9; Joppa High’s athletic banquet, May 9; American Red Cross spring blood drive, May 10; Joppa High’s award night, May 11; Eighth grade trip to Holiday World, May 12; Pre-K/kindergarten graduation, 9 a.m. on May 19; high school graduation at 7 p.m., May 19; and junior high graduation at 7 p.m., May 23.

  Among the student successes, Rogers informed the board five Joppa students received scholarships at the Massac County Academic Award Ceremony on April 20.  They were: Hunter Johnson and Hannah Mitchell, each receiving $1800; Adam Ragsdale, $1600; Alyssa Castleman, $1400; and Alexis Leonard, $1300.

  Superintendent Bill Biggerstaff welcomed Daniel Burnett to the board during his report, and also thanked the other board members who ran for reelection.  “I have been here since Jan. 7, 2013, and I truly have enjoyed our working relationship,” added Biggerstaff.

  The superintendent and the custodial staff will soon do a walk-around of the district’s properties to determine what work needs to be done during the summer.  “We would like to complete the capping of the large bleachers in the high school gym and to upgrade both of the dressing rooms at the high school.  These are both planned items for this year that we would like to move forward,” Biggerstaff explained.

  In other action, the board:

  • Honorable dismissed all non-certified positions following the 2016-17 school year.

  • Approved the application for use of the school building and grounds for by the Joppa-Maple Grove Alumni Group

  • Approved the date, time and place for regular board meetings for fiscal year 2018, being at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month, with the exception of December and May due to Christmas and Memorial Day, in the high school library.

  • Approved graduation waivers for four teachers

  • And, accepted the resignation of Mary Burnett as custodian.