CHAMPAIGN — Effective after a unanimous school board vote Monday night, the Champaign school district has official policies in place that govern the usage of district-issued purchasing cards.
It’s the first time the district has implemented any formal policy on the cards, which were first introduced in 2014.
The new policies are aimed at preventing misuse of the cards. In May, a News-Gazette Media analysis of 19 months of district credit-card spending records revealed scores of food purchases, occasional funeral or sympathy gifts, or working or meeting-related lunches.
Among other restrictions, gift-card purchases and travel-related meals are no longer eligible to be paid for via such cards. The controversy surrounding the use of the cards, also known as “P-cards,” began with the district’s chief financial officer, Tom Lockman, publicized his concerns, reporting them to Illinois State Police and serving as a source for the News-Gazette Media investigation.
Lockman was placed on administrative leave by the district in mid-June and has said he did not receive an explanation for the move, but believes it is related to his role in drawing attention to the alleged abuse.
The school board has not yet voted on whether to terminate Lockman, although Superintendent Susan Zola recommended at a previous board meeting that it do so.
In other board news Monday:
— The board approved a revised one-year plan for drills on shooters on campus, with officials pointing specifically to changes implemented as a result of meetings with parents.
“I worked throughout the summer to try to respond to many of their recommendations,” said Orlando Thomas, the district’s director of achievement and student services. “Many of their recommendations were great: They were best practices; they were developmentally appropriate.”
Among those changes, the district incorporated social workers into its districtwide crisis committee to address the mental-health ramifications of the drills. Two social workers also worked this summer on revising presentations about the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) drill to students to be more “developmentally appropriate,” Thomas said, adding that was a direct request from some parents. In addition, Thomas noted that this year’s ALICE drill — which is mandated by state law — will be announced ahead of time and will be the only one. Previous plans accounted for two drills — one announced and one unannounced — but the board vote on a one-year plan eliminated that proposal.
More information on which students may be exempt from the drill is forthcoming, as board members asked for more information before voting on whether to incorporate specific language about that into the policy.
— The board also approved putting $78,000 toward playground equipment for Robeson Elementary School. Principal Jessica Pitcher told board members that drainage issues had long been an issue for the school’s facilities and that its parent-teacher association had been raising money on its own for an update.
When the affected playground area floods, she said, “we end up with a pond beneath our playground equipment. It’s standing water that can be a foot deep. It can become a sheet of ice.” Some equipment was also “around (for) 30-plus years, so there are a couple of pieces that are not functional as well.”
The PTA will combine the funds it has raised with those from the district to cover the costs for equipment and the surface beneath it — whether it’s rubber mulch or a surfacing known as “Pour-N-Play.” District officials clarified they do plan to do site work to resolve the drainage issues, but a dollar amount for the work was not available Monday.