Student rates

Springfield District 186 student numbers are slightly lower, class sizes are large

School District 186 reported Tuesday that it had 13,076 students from kindergarten through high school, though officials acknowledged that number could rise as families return from Labor Day weekend.

Superintendent Jennifer Gill said some 477 students were also barred from classes on Tuesday because they lacked state-mandated physical exams or vaccinations.

The district allowed students to stay in class on Tuesday if their families had scheduled appointments to get vaccines or medical checkups.

All students entering kindergarten, sixth, and ninth grade or currently attending school in Illinois are obligatory get a physical exam from a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant before the first day of school. Up-to-date immunization records should be submitted to a school nurse.

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According to state law, students can’t go to school if they don’t have a physical exam or vaccination by Oct. 15.

Total student numbers, Gill said, are down from about 13,400 last year.

“We know we’re getting this influx right after Labor Day, so we’ll be monitoring that as the week progresses,” Gill said. “We had a lot of people calling the office (Tuesday) asking, ‘What school am I going to?'”

Typically, a number of students live with or visit relatives in Chicago during the summer. Chicago public schools resumed classes on Tuesday.

Gill said the district has nine teacher openings and approximately 40 paraprofessional openings.

The district is still hiring and hosting an open house in its council chambers from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday.

Springfield Education Association President Aaron Graves said he will meet with Gina McLaughlin-Schurman, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district, on Wednesday to get an overview of class sizes at all schools in the district.

“Anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of good-sized classes and I’ve also seen some large ones that might seem difficult,” Graves said after Tuesday’s board of education meeting.

Aaron Graves, president of the Springfield Education Association, delivers his remarks as he joins Illinois State Senator Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill and leaders representing education, social services and labor urging everyone to vote early and vote for the progressive income tax during a press conference outside the Sangamon County compound, Tuesday, October 27, 2020, in Springfield, Illinois.

Class size limits, per the SEA contract, are 26 students in kindergarten through second grade; 29 from third to fifth grade and 31 from sixth to high school.

Graves said even teachers approaching class size limits should report those numbers to building officials and the union.

“A class (i.e. even a few students under) contractual limits can still be an extremely difficult class, depending on the composition of the students, the experience of the teacher and their familiarity with the topic,” Graves pointed out. “I would say most people who believe in education understand that smaller class sizes (especially) for young children allow for closer interaction with teachers and teacher assistants or people working with those children.”

Graves said the jury was still missing a number of retirees and permanent substitute teachers the district had hired.

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What concerned Graves more was the number of middle and high school teachers who were giving up “scheduling periods” to teach an extra period.

The district rounds up three to six teachers willing to give up that time to avoid hiring an extra teacher, but “overloading” can be a “double-edged sword,” Graves admitted.

“Our district touts it as a good thing for people because they can make extra money,” Graves said. “You put people in a desperate situation where they need more money, then you offer them money, (they) almost always (will take it).

“They get paid, but that’s a trade-off. That’s the time teachers are supposed to spend time improving their craft or taking a break or checking in with the kids, so if that’s not happening, they do it as another point.”

District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill, left, with School Board Chairman Anthony Mares, center, and School Board Vice Chairman Mike Zimmers, right, listen to Mike Lopez deliver remarks at a special meeting of the School Board of Springfield School District 186 at District 186 Headquarters in Springfield, Ill., Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Gill said she would “always” like to have our full complement of certified teachers on staff.

“We keep these openings posted to ensure we hire these highly qualified teachers,” she added. “I think we’re doing better than other districts our size.”

Friday marks the first time the district and SEA bargaining teams have met face to face since teachers rejected a tentative agreement on Aug. 9.

The official contract expired on August 17, so the teachers are working under the terms of the previous contract.

“It’s our desire,” Graves said, “those things like safer schools, an improved culture, acceptable workloads, basic working conditions, that the district can find a way to make it a enhanced reality for our members.Reality exists on many levels.We hope to find one with a common truth and belief.

“If we can, Friday is going well.”

Vote on letter of intent postponed

A vote on a formal letter of intent between the district and the Scheels Sports Complex developers was taken off the agenda earlier Tuesday.

The two sides were weighing the language of the contract and a final version was reportedly not released to school board members until Tuesday afternoon.

The contract formalized an agreement that the two parties reached on August 15. Under the proposal, the district would reduce property taxes for Legacy Pointe Developers over a 10-year period.

The reduction would only affect the 95-acre site on which the resort would be located on MacArthur Boulevard near Interstate 72.

A rendering of a possible sports complex at the Legacy Pointe development in Springfield.

In return, the district would get a “preferred rate” on facility rentals each year.

The proposed $65 million project would include full-size indoor basketball and volleyball courts and synthetic turf multipurpose courts, which will be under a dome.

The board will then meet on September 19.

This story will be updated.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected],