QUINCY — The coronavirus pandemic took center stage at Wednesday night's Quincy School Board meeting where the discussion had been expected to focus on next steps following last week's defeat of the education fund tax increase.
Board President Sayeed Ali said the district's response to COVID-19, which has closed schools statewide through April 7, has been nothing short of remarkable.
"To think about on Tuesday having the referendum fail and by the next morning it seemed like every one of our staff's sole focus was on our students, on their families and how they could help," he said. "The leadership that we have not only from (Superintendent) Roy (Webb), but everyone in the district is on full display. I think the board couldn't be more proud."
When schools closed, Gov. J.B. Pritzker directed districts to continue feeding students and helping them learn.
Quincy Public Schools served 2,800 meals to the community on Wednesday. "We will continue to do that as long as we're out of school, continue to serve a breakfast meal and a lunch meal," Webb said.
Continued learning packets also went out Wednesday to help students through April 7, and "we're working on phase two and what that looks like if the closure is extended," Webb said. "There may be a good possibility. Chicago Public Schools are already out until April 20."
The state has canceled the SAT test this year for high school juniors and is seeking a federal waiver to eliminate testing and school designations as part of the Illinois Assessment of Readiness.
"We are thinking those will be canceled as well, so if we do get back to school, we can concentrate on instruction," Webb said.
"We need some more definitive guidance from the state when we would come back, if we would come back this year, and how we would do that," he said. "Understand we are going to do what's best for kids, best for teachers."
Webb highlighted work done by Food Service Director Jean Kinder on the sack breakfast and lunch program and Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Kim Dinkheller on the learning packets.
"They put in a lot of hours to develop their plans, and they're executing their plans flawlessly," Webb said. "I appreciate all they're doing and their teams. They have been amazing, and they're doing a lot for our community."
Board member Shelley Arns added a thank you to Webb for the work he and his team have done during the pandemic.
"Leadership across the board in the district has been nice peace of mind for a lot of our parents, students and community members," Ali said.
But moving forward past the pandemic, Ali said that leadership team needs more financial resources.
"Our main focus is assisting Roy with whatever we can immediately, but when we fast forward, when we look at some of the problems that aren't going to go away, the deficit spending, we have to figure out a way to get Roy and his team some additional funds," Ali said after the meeting. "We're going to pick up that conversation. I'd be shocked if we didn't revisit this with the community here in the future."
The increase from $1.84 to $2.37 per 4100 in assessed value in the education fund was expected to generate an estimated $5.3 million each year to cover costs of unfunded state mandates for a $40,000 minimum teacher salary by 2023 and $15 per hour minimum wage by 2025 and address staff turnover and behavior and disruptions in the classroom.
When a tax increase might be on the ballot again, possibly November or spring 2021, hasn't been determined, but "with how critical the need is, I don't think any of the board members feel like we can take our time to try to figure out how to create additional funding," Ali said.
"We're going to continue the conversation because it is important, but we'll have a better grasp on it in the weeks to come," Ali said.
A lot of community members listened to proponents of the tax increase and realized there was a need, Ali said, but the referendum vote came during the uncertainty of a global pandemic.
"The board always looked at what's best for the community as a whole. They have to look at the economic impact of all of this at some point, too, and say is it the right time for a tax increase," Webb said. "They're going to look at all the factors."