Chrisman schools still looking at solar power

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CHRISMAN – For the second consecutive month, representatives of Novel Energy Solutions attended the Chrisman Unit 6 school board meeting to discuss solar energy options.

The April presentation focused on Unit 6 participating in a solar garden program where solar energy is produced at a remote location but as a participant the district gets a 50 percent cut in its electric rate. Other charges such as taxes, delivery and other incidental fees remain in place. Participation does not require any upfront costs to the district.

Novel’s representatives were back for the Monday, May 13, meeting to discuss an option of placing solar panels on the roofs of school buildings or ground owned by the district. They said the Illinois Power Agency (IPA), which is charged by statute with promoting green and renewable energy, recently approved more money to fund on-site solar systems.

According to the representatives, Novel can build a solar power system on school property, but the district does not own, nor is responsible for maintenance of, the system. Having the panels onsite results in a 40 percent reduction in the electric rate, plus the elimination of the delivery charge.

They added participation in a solar garden is more economically advantageous in the long run, but the catch is the lottery to receive IPA authorization to build solar gardens and at what capacity does not happen until June.

A second presentation was made by Brian Frericks of QFB Energy, which has the current contract for providing electricity to the school district.

“I can’t get that rate of 2.75 cents with my supplier,” Frericks said, regarding the rate promised by Novel for participating in a solar garden.

The Unit 6 contract with QFB expires July 1 and Frericks noted it is unlikely Novel will be in a position to supply the district with electricity at that time. He suggested exploring either a nine-month extension of the current contract or a new contract of nine months to give the district some time to work out an agreement with Novel. He said failure to have a contract for the current rate of 5.25 cents per kilowatt-hour will expose the Chrisman schools to paying Ameren’s open rate for electricity.

Later in the meeting, the board authorized interim superintendent Jim Acklin to sign a nine-month contract with QFB, if a more favorable rate can be obtained. Frericks promised the contract will have a no-fault cancellation clause.

Student Robbie Rollins discussed his evolving role as a state officer with Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). He is the first FCCLA state officer in school history, although his exact office won’t be determined for a few more weeks after his skills, including that of making presentations, is evaluated.

“I’ll be driving back and forth to Springfield over the summer for training,” said Rollins.

As a state officer, he will also attend the national FCCLA conference in California at the end of June and beginning of July.

Grade school principal Kelly Schluter briefed the board about the district’s preschool program, which is funded by a state grant. She said the 20 pre-school students are a blended classroom meaning some are on a normal development track and others are special needs students.

“We have a lot more needs than we ever had,” said Schluter. “As a result, we moved a part-time aid position to full-time.”

The Chrisman pre-school program has a full-time teacher, full-time aid and a part-time aid. The drawback, she said, to this approach is the grant does not cover a full-time aid position, although she believes it is necessary to manage the Chrisman classroom.

Schluter also told the board admission time at the grade school will change with the next school year. Currently, students may not enter the building until 7:45 a.m. The elementary doors will open at 7:30 a.m. starting with 2019-2020 school year as a way to assist working parents who have jobs in other towns.

“Hopefully, this will help some people,” said Schluter. “It is not increasing working hours for staff. We’ll just have to manage it differently.”

The junior high and high school is loosening the technology restrictions on students with the new year by opening access to email accounts. Principal Cole Huber said every student already has a potential email account to access the Google Classroom service for classes.

“We have the email part disabled,” said Huber, from concern the email accounts may be used inappropriately but with moving to One to One education and providing a Chromebook to every student when classes resume after summer break, email access is necessary.

The One to One approach fosters out of classroom communication between students and teachers and also between teachers and parents. Email is necessary to accomplish that end.

“Principals I have talked to said there have been no problems,” Huber reported.

He assured the board Google Classroom has keystroke monitoring capability so if inappropriate emails are sent, that is detected and the person engaged in the activity is identified.

“If a kid types something that is perceived as a threat or maybe suicidal thoughts, I get an email immediately alerting me of the situation,” said Huber. “Initially they (students) can only email other Chrisman accounts or edu accounts if they want to obtain college information. We’ll see where it goes from there.”