Catlin exploring options for uniting with other districts

Catlin exploring options for uniting with other districts

CATLIN — More than 50 local residents attended the Catlin School Board meeting on Thursday to get information and voice their opinions on various reorganization options for the district.

School board members voted last month to have Superintendent Gary Lewis study all three reorganization options — consolidation, cooperatives and deactivation — in regard to the five southern Vermilion County districts — Catlin, Oakwood, Jamaica, Westville and Georgetown-Ridge Farm.

Board President Jeff Fauver said the board is still open to all options, but that the top three that Catlin school officials were considering were consolidating with the neighboring Jamaica district, forming a cooperative high school with Jamaica, and deactivating Catlin High School and paying tuition for its students to attend nearby Westville High School.

Fauver said he and Lewis planned to meet with the superintendents and board presidents of the Oakwood and the Jamaica districts soon.

Lewis said the financial hardships that smaller districts are facing may cause them to merge.

"A two-district cooperative high school is not the long-term solution," Lewis said, "But it would be an answer until the next step needs to happen."

Fauver said he preferred to see the district look at ways to create a high school with between 575 and 700 students.

"I believe that a three-district high school would be best," Fauver said.

Local resident Tom Baird asked the board to consider approaching Danville school officials about sending Catlin High students to Danville High School. He predicted that Danville families would move to Catlin if they could live in Catlin but still have their children attend school in Danville.

One woman asked about options that would allow Catlin schools to continue to operate on their own, such as issuing bonds to cover deficit spending.

Fauver said he was in favor of issuing bonds to borrow the funds to make building improvements, for example, but not for routine expenses like payroll.

"Borrowing money in order to keep operating is not a smart way to run a business," Fauver said.

Monica Meharry said Catlin residents pay a lot of money to the school district in property taxes, and she would be disappointed to see Catlin students sent to another high school, such as Westville High, if Catlin residents were not represented on that high school's school board.

Lewis said Westville High has better technology than Catlin High has, and that Westville High offers art and industrial education courses that Catlin High does not. He also said that due to some expected retirements, the Catlin and Jamaica high schools could combine with almost no job cuts to staff, due to attrition.

Any reorganizational proposal would have to be approved by the Vermilion County Regional Office of Education, the Illinois State Board of Education, and the voters in the affected districts.

Fauver said he expects the reorganization subject to be a topic of discussion at upcoming school board meetings.

In other business, the board unveiled a tentative $4.78 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that includes about a $400,000 deficit.

Lewis said much of the deficit comes from reduced payments from the state. The board is expected to vote on the proposed budget on Sept. 12.

The board accepted the resignations of two of its members — Tricia Keith and Tom O'Shaughnessy.

Those interested in seeking to be nominated to fill one of the seats should submit resumes or letters of interest with their contact information to the district office by Aug. 23. Board members will review the resumes and letters of interest in late August and arrange for interviews with the candidates. Lewis said he hopes to appoint two new members on Sept. 12.

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