Rose seeking to eliminate CPS block grant school funding

–‘Make them compete for dollars like Tuscola and every other school district does’
By Colleen Lehmann
In the race for much-needed and increasingly dwindling funding from state and federal resources, school districts are having to rely more and more on their local taxpayers to provide for education essentials. Cuts continue to be made, and promised payments are often lagging months behind schedule.

With education dollars at a premium, State Senator Chapin Rose says he and other lawmakers were particularly outraged by findings uncovered by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the FY 2013 report on Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Systemic fraud, waste, and abuse to the tune of millions of dollars has prompted lawmakers to call for eliminating CPS block grant funding and instead make CPS compete for dollars under the same school-aid formula by which the rest of the state abides.

“Schools in my area—and every other area of the state—are owed $500 million in backlogged payments, but Chicago schools get at least $230 million in ‘extra’ funding from the state,” Sen. Rose said at a recent stop at Tuscola’s East Prairie Middle School on March 11, 2014. “Couple that with the most recent report from the Chicago Board of Education inspector general that came to light in the appropriations process–which shows a rampant pattern of waste, fraud and abuse. It’s unconscionable. I’m a former prosecutor, and even I was shocked by what was uncovered.”

Sen. Rose said the OIG report detailed “cases of school administrators faking data, creating ‘ghost students’ to pad enrollment and allow for hiring even more administrators. That’s taking money right out of the pockets of schools in my district.”

Tuscola Superintendent Michael Smith noted, “The bigger crime is that the less we’re given, the more we have to do locally; its put on the backs of local taxpayers and businesses. He verified that Tuscola School District #301 is currently owed approximately $149,000 in state reimbursements.

•Call for funding changes
In response to the report, Rose said the bipartisan Education Funding Advisory Committee “has recommended eliminating the CPS block grant, which provides additional funding to the city, and instead recommends the school district needs to qualify for funding like all other districts.”

Rose said he is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 2617, introduced by Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) that would accomplish that goal. He is asking local residents to take a look at the OIG report, then contact legislators and the governor “to say we don’t coddle this practice of waste, fraud, and abuse.” And, added Rose, “In addition, we are calling for a criminal investigation. I would like the inspector general to come before us to report the findings.”
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal March 19, 2014 edition

Trooper at fault in fatal accident

Dear Editor,
After reading Craig Hastings my Personal Side, I couldn’t help but think if I was the parent of the two girls that were killed in this accident, how I would feel after reading his article. So I felt compelled to write a letter on my Personal Side. The article was about the tragic death of two teenage sisters that was caused by a State Trooper, Matt Mitchell in 2007. Mitchell was driving 120 mph while sending an email on his computer, and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. He was in route to an accident. But instead of making it to the call, Mitchell instead created his own fatal accident, killing two young girls. What bothered me the most about the article was when Craig stated “It seems clear to me the underlying cause of the accident wasn’t so much the speed the officer was traveling, but more what surrounded him inside his patrol car.”

I would like to wholeheartedly disagree! It would seem very clear to me that the underlying cause of the accident wasn’t the gadgets that were in the car but the ignorance, arrogance, poor judgment and lack of self restraint that State Trooper Matt Mitchell showed. Ignorance to the fact that Trooper Mitchell didn’t think that maybe driving at such a high rate of speed while sending an email and talking on his cell phone could be dangerous and or fatal to himself or anyone else on the road. Arrogance, in the sense that Trooper Mitchell believed that he was in fact above the law and had an authority and the right to do whatever he wanted to do because he was the law. And of course poor judgment and lack of self restraint which I think needs no explanation as any moral or sane person knows that his actions could only spell disaster.

Matt Mitchell made a choice to drive fast while talking on his cell phone and sending an email. The result was him losing control of his police car, crossing the median and killing someone’s daughters. As the only surviving daughter of this family has said, “We are taught and told that driving is a privilege not a right.” So when Mr. Mitchell recently tried, for a third time, to have his license reinstated since the accident he was again denied that privilege. I would think that this is the least the state could do seeing how Mr. Mitchell only received probation and his license was revoked. Mr. Mitchell had also previously been involved in seven other accidents before this tragic and fatal accident. Two of which were work related in which one resulted in a $1 million state settlement to that victim. And now Mr. Mitchell has the audacity to petition for workman’s compensation from injuries sustained from this accident. So now, by quoting Paul Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

I believe that Craig didn’t mean to offend or lessen the seriousness of this tragedy by referring to this case in his opening statements of his story. I understand the premise and the point that Craig was trying to convey. But as the reader of his article, I felt that Craig was making excuses and defending Mitchell’s actions. There are no excuses or defense for this former State Trooper except stupidity and terrible judgment. I agree about the basis of Craig’s story that there are a lot of distractions in a police car. I would just hope and plead that all officers use good judgment, restraint, and common sense when dealing with these distractions.

If Craig would have just left out the first four paragraphs in his story, he could have gotten across his point and opinion to the reader. I’m sure that if Craig would have known he would have offended or ruffled some feathers with his opening statements that he would have found another way to tell his story.

I appreciate the service that Craig has provided to the community as well as all officers that uphold our laws with respect, compassion, and integrity to the citizens.

Sam Tolley

Lady Warriors hit ground running for 2014 track season

By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola High School’s girls track team has been logging laps in the hallways of good old TCHS this winter, but it’s time for them to make the move outside. Second-year head Coach Drew Sterkel welcomes back a young but experienced group of runners and adds a lot of new faces, boasting 25 athletes this spring, up eight from a year ago. Three of those are some of his top point scorers from last season, led by three seniors.

Clarisa Phillps, Felicia Tucker, and Nicole Mannen will lead the way for the black and gold. Tucker will be a big part of the sprints and short relays, while Phillips will tackle middle distance and Mannen the long distance and relays.

“I am so proud of the seniors we have on this team,” the coach said. “I wouldn’t trade them for anyone; they are always consistently trying to get better. They created a foundation for a successful program last year and they are going to continue it this year.”

Joining them as some of the top performers will be junior Ali Moss and sophomore Lexi Sluder. Sluder was a solid in the hurdle events in 2013, and will be expected to collect some hardware in her second year. Look for another sophomore to do some damage. Mariah Lemay just may end up being the top performer in the mile and two mile for Coach Sterkel this year. Lemay was solid last fall in cross country, and the extra training will pay dividends this spring.

The sophomore class is a loaded one for the Warriors. Two others the coach will count scoring points in big meets are Mikhala Sumption-Brown and Brooke Hennis. Sumption-Brown could run any event between the 200 and 800 meters. Her best event might be the 400 meters, and she will be called on to fill a spot in at least two relays.

Hennis was a dual-sport athlete last season as a freshman, but chose to concentrate on just track-and-field this spring. She will lead the way in the throwing events, and looks to learn from throws coach Stan Wienke.

Three other second-year runners are hoping to jump into the limelight. Madeline Clabaugh, Courtney Brewer, and Megan Quick all could be called on to run numerous races as the season wears on.

“I am really excited for this year,” commented Coach Sterkel. “The girls have great attitudes and know that in order to compete they have to help each other out when things get tough.”
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal March 19, 2014 edition





TCHS boys track combine seasoned veterans, new faces

By Missy Chappell
The 2014 Tuscola Warrior boys outdoor track season opens Tuesday, April 1 at Sullivan. As in years past, they will enter the season with three team goals that are based in tradition. The number-one goal of the team every year is to win the Tuscola Open meet, which this year will be held on Friday, April 25. Since the Tuscola Open began in the mid-‘80s, Tuscola has rarely suffered a team loss in the meet.

The team’s second goal is to finish top three in the conference. With elite programs like Monticello, Unity, and Shelbyville, this is always a tough goal; however, in years past Tuscola has been right on the heels of the top three and Coach Ryan Hornaday has hopes of surpassing at least one of them this season.

The final team goal is to qualify as many individuals as possible for the state meet held in Charleston, at EIU, May 29-31. The Warriors have three returning state qualifiers from last season–Broc Smith and John Evans in the 4×200 relay as well as Eric Ponder, who medaled in the state meet last year with a ninth-place finish in the two-mile event.

Hornaday, who is entering his sixth season as head coach for boys track, is looking forward to a positive season for the Warriors. “We have a couple of four-year returning seniors, Nick Kemp and Chas Campbell. In addition, we have seven or eight first-time guys out for the team this year, not including freshmen. We’re going to have a different look than last year, that is for certain. The relays are really up for grabs with all of the new faces. Relay teams are a huge source of pride for Tuscola track because of the rich history.”

In fact, the 2012 4×200 relay team–which includes current senior Broc Smith–still holds the state record with a time of 1:27.93.

New additions to this year’s team include seniors Kyle Pugh and Chandler Kerns in mid-distance events and Austin Beniach in throwing events, junior Mike Rotramel in throwing events, and sophomores: James Ross in throwing events and Keagan Kibler in sprints.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal March 19, 2014 edition

TCHS indoor track finishes armory meets

By Missy Chappell
In the final Wednesday night meet of the indoor track season, the Warriors saw positive contributions from everyone involved, including those who were participating for the first time this season.

Clayton Turner came out in his first meet since finishing basketball and won the shot put event with a throw of 47-10. Stephen Gibson placed second with a throw of 47-5. Ty Stanfield threw his career best and placed sixth overall at 39-3. Gibson and Turner are currently sitting in third and fourth place in Class A.

Austin Rexroad attempted triple jump for the first time this season on Wed., March 12 and placed sixth, with a jump of 35-10. Coach Ryan Hornaday was quite pleased with that finish for Rexroad’s first meet.

Long-distance runner Eric Ponder once again won the two-mile event, with a time of 10:09.78. At that time he is currently ranked fourth in state. John Evans with a fourth overall finish in the 800 at a time of 2:06.97 is ranked ninth in the state thus far.

Even though there are no team scores at the U of I Armory indoor events, the number of guys that turned out for the meet last week is a positive heading into the outdoor track season. With the EIU Invitational indoor meet coming up this Sat., March 22, followed by Indoor State at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington next Fri., March 28, the team will be looking to finish the indoor season strong.

7th grade Hornets lose to state champ contender in round one

By Colleen Lehmann
If you have to lose to somebody in post-season play, takes a little of the sting out to do so to the eventual champion of a tournament. After this Tuesday night, the seventh-grade Hornets volleyball team will know if that’s who knocked them out of the first round of state tourney play.

The Lady Hornets traveled to Assumption Saturday, March 15, 2014 for an appearance in the opening round of IESA 7-3A volleyball tournament action. They were pitted against Eureka, which came into the tourney with an unblemished record—24 wins and no losses. While the Hornets didn’t manage the upset, they did give Eureka a run for its money—with a two-game 25-17, 25-16 set. Eureka went on to play another match that day against St. Joseph—and St. Joe lost 25-8, 25-14.

With the state tourney loss, East Prairie seventh-grade Hornets finish the 2014 season with a 15-6-0 record. Eureka is playing for the state championship title March 18 at 6:45 p.m. against Pleasant Plains.

•8th grade bows out in regional tourney
The eighth-grade Lady Hornets, seeded number two in the Sullivan Regional, faced three-seed Shelbyville Moulton on March 11, 2014. While it was a close contest, Shelbyville pulled off the win in two games, 25-21, 25-19. Shelbyville went on to win the regional with a 25-20, 25-18 victory over Teutopolis.

Team Kika day has community ‘banding’ together for family


Erica Kremitzki with organizer and “bracelet queen” Donna Dietrich during the Team Kika fundraiser at Tuscola United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 16, 2014.

By Colleen Lehmann
She got a standing ovation when she came in Sunday afternoon, and another one when she left … entirely befitting a “princess,” as some of her support system friends and family have taken to calling Erica Kremitzki.

The guest of honor walked with family members down the hallway of Tuscola United Methodist Church and into a room filled with blue balloons, various fundraising activities, a distribution table for over 3,000 Team Kika rubber bracelets, and perhaps most importantly, a crowd of people united in their love for and support of the 39-year-old Tuscola resident as she faces a battle with colon cancer.

The March 16, 2014 event was the culmination of what began as a simple idea by fellow Tuscolian Donna Dietrich to order some Team Kika bracelets to give away as a visible show of solidarity while Kremitzki undergoes her medical odyssey. An afternoon to distribute the bracelets soon morphed into a full-on fundraising event—with silent auction of donated Coach purses and accessories, and Team Kika t-shirts and window decals for sale.

For Kremitzki, who started her first round of chemotherapy treatments last week, the gathering was a most welcome respite. She has been on leave from her job as a second-grade teacher at Riddle Elementary School in Mattoon after receiving her diagnosis last month, the days since then spent at innumerable medical appointments.

“It was a beautiful day, and although I couldn’t stay for the entire Team Kika event, I was there in spirit! To those I got the opportunity to see, it was a privilege. To those I missed, I apologize. The range of emotions I felt was similar to a wedding–tears of joy, overwhelming love, and pure support. For all involved, thank you doesn’t seem enough. So I will borrow a line from The Help …’You is special, you is kind, you is important!’”

Kremitzki referenced another quote “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world,” and added, “Thank you for being my world during this difficult time.”

And bracelet queen Dietrich said that, while she had no hard-and-fast figures yet on what the event raised, “I felt it went well, and was one of the most memorable days of my life,” noting the date happened to correspond with the 20th anniversary of her father’s (Denny Dietrich) death.

“Dad passed 20 years ago today, and that gave me great comfort. And then I saw Erica walk down the long hallway—with her family around her—the pain of the last few days on her face but yet here she was … I would do it all again in a heartbeat. This is what Tuscola is—a town that helps each other. I have never been prouder to call Tuscola home than I was today; the number of people who offered to help was unbelievable. Some of the ‘angels’ have never met Erica; they are just good, caring people. It just a day I will never, ever forget,” Dietrich said.

If you were unable to make it to the Sunday afternoon event but would like to help out, Paylee Ochs is keeping the Team Kika t-shirt order form open until Friday, March 21. To place your order, message her through Facebook, as she will be placing the order on Monday, March 24.

East Prairie roof project moving forward

By Colleen Lehmann
This summer, after students and staff have emptied out of East Prairie Middle School, the interior of the building will be relatively quiet … but up top will be quite another story. A new roofing system on 27,000 square feet of the 45,000-square foot span will be replaced, with the remainder done during the 2015 summer break.

At a special school board meeting called Wed., March 12, 2014 at 7 p.m., school board members and Supt. Michael Smith had the opportunity to talk with Randy Etnire, a lead draftsman/project manager with The Upchurch Group of Mattoon. Etnire—who has been with Upchurch for 29 years and involved with over 1,000 roofing projects equating to 7 million square feet—is helping the school district manage the approximately $830,000 project.

Smith noted the district currently has $700,000 banked for the roof project—all monies from the city “education” sales tax. Now that the education sales tax is a countywide one, Smith said he isn’t sure what the monthly returns will be for the district, though he anticipates it to be at or even slightly above what was usually received from city sales taxes.

Etnire reiterated the old roof will be replaced in two phases—over two summer breaks—starting at the east end and working west. The old roof will be torn off down to the metal decking. Five inches of tapered insulation will be applied, topped by a single-layer membrane. Etnire said the roof will come with a 20-year warranty, mainly covering leaks, and will have an R-value of 30 to 32.

Other components of the project will include replacing or reinforcing flashing, and possibly adding some extensions to some of the drains that come down the side of the building so that water runoff shoots further away from the structure. A bank of upper windows in the library will also have to be replaced with shorter windows, as the tapered insulation will cover up part of those now in place. The tapering is a necessary component to help combat water pooling on the flat roof.

“The water will now run toward the drains, instead of just sitting on the roof,” said Supt. Smith.

This appears to be the first time the East Prairie roof has been completely replaced. When asked about it, former superintendent Jim Voyles noted, “Technically, East Prairie has not had a new roof, beyond the original. I guess it was state-of-the-art in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. The first was a foam and urethane roof that was recoated every ten years to keep it in warranty. The last warranty ran out about 2008 and, for some reason, was allowed to expire.”

Pre-bid meeting for the new roof project will be held on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 10 a.m., and bid opening will take place Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 2 p.m.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal March 19, 2014 edition

‘Charlie Brown’ not only good man, good theatre production

By Colleen Lehmann
Charlie Brown might arguably be one of the most recognized and beloved blockheads of American folklore. Charles Schulz’ creation has transcended the comics page–Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, Schroeder and the rest of the gang becoming a cottage industry that can be found in books, TV specials, and even the theatrical stage … as “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

The musical comedy was created in 1967 by Clark Gesner, based on Schulz’ characters in his comic strip Peanuts. And last week, you could enjoy the musical on the stage at Tuscola High School, where six performances were held, featuring a talented ensemble cast that brought to life the falls and foibles of day-to-day life with the Peanuts gang.

TCHS senior Philip Spillman took on the title role, and did so with the right blend of enthusiasm and dejectedness for which Charlie Brown is so well known. Spillman has managed to go from theater novice to easily handling lead roles in a very short time, and will be a loss to the drama department upon his graduation.

Likewise, classmate Allison Hemmer’s portrayal of Lucy was spot on—bossy, overbearing, and altogether quite funny. She has a wicked sense of comedic timing and a voice made for the stage. She, too, will be another casualty of commencement, more’s the pity. I didn’t have the opportunity to see Olivia Christy take on the dual-cast role, but have no doubt she handled herself well.

The last time Andrew Sullender was onstage for TCHS, it was as The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and for this production he returned to the animal kingdom. Cast as Snoopy, Sullender was a big hit with the many youngsters in the audience, who delighted in his canine cutups. Sullender is a master of diction, and possesses one of the strongest, clearest singing voices in the troupe.

My attendance at the Friday night performance meant seeing Cast A, and on this night Chandler Kerns adeptly handled the part of Linus—the likable, blanket-toting younger brother of Lucy; while Jacob Rominger took on the role of Beethoven-loving budding pianist Schroeder. Both Kerns and Rominger were a treat to watch in their respective roles. Kerns always seems to enjoy his time onstage, and Rominger hit the mark as the long-suffering object of Lucy’s unwanted affections. Their Cast B counterparts were Kalvin Miller as Linus and Marcus McCollom as Schroeder.

Taylor Mattingly was charming as Cast A’s gruff but lovable Peppermint Patty, as was her sister Ashley Mattingly’s portrayal of Sally, Charlie Brown’s sweet little sister. Those roles were also double-cast, with Alexis Nau and Mariah Lemay taking them on alternately.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal March 19, 2014 edition

Walker Rotary SOM for March

1-Walker March SOMwebTuscola High School senior Erin Walker, daughter of Brian and Darla Walker, has been named the Tuscola Rotary Student of the Month for March. Erin has a 3.76 GPA and is ranked seventh in her graduating class of 79.

Erin is a four-year softball player, earning numerous awards and accolades during her high-school career. During her freshman and sophomore years she also played basketball and was a volunteer for Student Council concessions.

As a junior, Erin joined Key Club, Clickers, and was inducted into National Honor Society. In her senior year, Erin has remained involved in Key Club, Clickers, and National Honor Society.

Following graduation, Erin plans to continue her education at Kankakee Community College, where she will be playing softball.