QUINCY — After mostly hearing complaints from citizens for the first 75 minutes of Wednesday’s meeting in the Quincy High School cafeteria, the Quincy School Board took about two minutes to unanimously approve an $85.9 million school district budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The budget includes a three percent increase in salary, a one percent increase in Teacher Retirement System benefits, a 0.5 percent increase in Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund benefits and a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs.
The education fund saw a $501,000 increase in local property tax revenue, a $379,000 increase in evidence-based funding and an additional $2.8 million in Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds to help K-12 schools respond to impacts of COVID-19.
The Finance Committee voted Monday to send the budget to the School Board.
Williams: ‘No man should get beat up as much as (Webb)’
Before that vote, School Board members heard from 12 people during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Dennis Williams, program director for Teen Reach, spoke first and applauded Webb for his work for the city’s public schools.
“You have 6,000 students in your school district that you’re accountable for,” he said. “You have all your teachers, principals, teams, all of it. For one man to hear all of that and hear the backlash of what he’s hearing … I promise you. No man should get beat up as much as you do. No man.
“So if anybody comes to you from this point on and tells you what you do wrong, you need to ask what are we, as a community people, are going to do to fix it. Because you can’t fix it alone. You’re not Jesus Christ walking out here. You need to put it on their plate. The thing that bothers me the most is how vicious they are. … I know it can’t be worth all the bashing that you’ve taken.”
McQueen: ‘We’re here because we still (believe in the Board)’
Topics brought to the board by the other 11 speakers included concerns about the state sex education bill, critical race theory and the method for how students are released from the school. Most speakers, however, expressed frustration about the district’s policies about masks, quarantines and testing for COVID-19.
Renee Mitchell and Steve McQueen both asked for an open dialogue with Superintendent Roy Webb and other School Board members.
“I have not heard discussion from any one of you as to why you vote the way you do, whether you’re pro or con,” Mitchell said. “We hear a vote, but we don’t hear any of your thoughts as to how you arrive at that opinion. That’s not teamwork. … I would prefer to work as a team.
“We prefer to stay calm. I’m sure you do as well. We’re not being heard. Honestly, you’re not being heard, because you don’t let us be part of the discussion. You don’t have your discussion in front of the public. That never, never ends well, because then we can only assume.”
McQueen turned to the crowd of approximately 50 people in attended, then said to the School Board, “The reason this group is not as big as it has been past is because the rest of those people have given up. They no longer have any faith in you. We’re here because we still do.
“I have great friends in this room on both sides of this conversation. I don’t want to be in the middle of that, but I don’t have a choice. What you do have is the choice to actually have those conversations. I think we can do that. Well, I know we can do that. We’re going to have to reach out to each other. I’m reaching out right now. I will be glad to pull a group of people together to have a logical adult conversation about what’s going on here.”
No School Board member, nor Webb, responded to any of the speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Number of active positive COVID cases goes from 152 to 42
Webb told the School Board that staff and students at the high school and junior high school have been in “a little bit of a culture shock” now that they’re attending classes in person every day, as opposed to last year’s A Day/B Day schedule combined with remote learning.
“There’s some discipline issues and things that we’re working through,” Webb said. “The administration is doing a good job of improving things.”
Webb also noted the highest number of active positive COVID cases for the school district reached a high of 152 earlier in September, but the current number has dropped to 42.
“I hope that soon we get into an academics routine,” Webb said. “Teachers are tired. I agree with that, and a lot is weighing on them. Once we get into that routine, I think it will help.”
Board member Shelley Arns gave a review of discussion items during the Sept. 16 District Improvement Committee, including reports on summer school, teacher retention and the Five Essentials (which measures school culture based on surveying staff, students and parents).