RANTOUL — Rantoul Township High School administrators are puzzled by the chronic absenteeism rate in the 2019 state school report card that shows the rate doubled in one year.

“We’re a little confused this year on the rate of chronic absenteeism. The metric that was used sounded a lot like the chronic truancy metric,” Principal Todd Wilson told the school board at the December meeting. “We do not believe our chronic absenteeism rate is 48 percent.”

The 2018 school report card showed a rate of 23 percent.

“That was a more realistic number,” Wilson said.

Chronic absenteeism, according to the report card, is missing 10 percent or more school days per year with or without a valid excuse.

Wilson said RTHS administrators have spoken with state officials, but that didn’t shed any more light on the issue.

RTHS attendance data is tracked by Skyward software. Wilson said he had reviewed the district attendance accounting method with Skyward representatives and found that for the most part it was used correctly.

Superintendent Scott Amerio said administrators are exploring the issue and plan to meet with students after the holiday break. The focus will be on what is preventing students from arriving on time for first hour. Amerio said one option could be expanding transportation availability.

Commendable rating

Overall, the district received a “commendable” rating, the second-highest of four ratings. Schools are rated according to 10 indicators, including test scores on the SAT and a state science test taken by juniors.

The report card showed a graduation rate of 87 percent, with 78 percent of freshman on track to graduate. Enrollment is diverse, at 40 percent white, 27.8 percent black, 22.8 percent Hispanic, 8.3 percent of two or more races and less than 1 percent each American Indian and Asian. Seventy-one percent qualify as low-income and 16 percent have individual education plans.

SAT language arts results:

• 14 percent meet/exceed standards

•  40 percent approach standards

• 47 percent partially meet standards

SAT math results:

• 12 percent meet/exceed standards

•  22 percent approach standards

• 66 percent partially meet standards

Illinois Science Assessment results:

• 19 percent proficient

• 78 percent not proficient

Wilson said the number of students meeting or exceeding language arts standards has been about the same for three years, but students are moving out of the “partially meets” category to “approaching.”

“So that’s showing some success there,” he said.

The number of students meeting or exceeding standards in math has declined. The math curriculum has been overhauled to give students a stronger base in algebra and geometry, but it will be another year or two before that is reflected in test scores, Wilson said.

Test preparation has been incorporated into all three curriculum areas. Students are offered free SAT preparation at the beginning of the school year.

ESL student numbers increase

One subgroup garnering attention from administrators is English language learners. It has grown from 5 percent of enrollment in 2015 to 11.6 percent in 2019. The district offers ESL classes on two levels as well as resource classes for students who need extra help with English-language materials from regular classrooms. A bilingual family liaison hired last year has been “a huge asset,” Wilson said.

The report card showed the perennial achievement gap between white and black students remains this year at 18 percent for both language arts and math on the SAT. The report card did not show achievement gap results for the ISA.

Regarding financial matters, the board approved the tax levy, adopted a tax abatement resolution, approved application for a state property tax relief grant and accepted the 2019-2020 audit.

The levy of 2019 property taxes, payable in 2020, was approved at $5.3 million. That’s a 3.8 percent increase from last year, but due to an increase in equalized assessed value the tax rate will decline.

The board voted not to levy — to abate — an additional $532,590 for debt repayment. Instead, the district will make payments on its four outstanding bonds from county 1 percent school facilities sales tax receipts.

This year, the district received $601,390 from the sales tax. Amerio estimated that will increase next year to $607,000 due to a slight increase in the percentage of students in the county who are enrolled at RTHS. This month, the district received $53,589.

Additional tax could be abated if the district receives about $450,000 from the state grant, but Amerio thinks it is unlikely. RTHS is well down the eligibility list, but he still thought it was a good idea to apply.

The financial audit, done for the first year by Russell Leigh and Associates, showed an expected finding.

“As predicted,” Amerio said, “we finished this year in deficit spending because the revenue was not what we expected because the property taxes were late.”

But Amerio added that did not affect district financial recognition status. He expects the issue to be resolved in the next property tax cycle.

Property tax appeals settled

Three property tax appeals have been settled. Outdoor Vista settled for a reduction in assessed value of $2.2 million instead of the $2.7 million requested. Rantoul Foods settled for $626,000 instead of $1.1 million requested.

The third and most significant, Amerio said, was the settlement with Golfview for $682,000 instead of its $1.3 million request. Golfview is coming off a tax increment financing district at the end of the year and onto the tax rolls in January.

“It was really crucial for us to get that value set as high as we could before it comes off the TIF,” Amerio said.

Members attend conference    

Expense vouchers for board members’ expenses at the Triple I Conference were also approved. Board members reported the conference had been informative.

Board member Jeremy Larson said he had attended a session on school safety where participants discussed the use of school resource officers, metal detectors and other strategies.

“It was enlightening to know how many schools don’t have SROs, how many are against using them,” Larson said. “They don’t have the relationships (with the police) that we have.”

Larson said he wondered if RTHS is doing enough to keep students safe.

“If you compare what we have here (to other schools), I think we are being responsible. It is scary, a responsibility I don’t take lightly,” he said.

Amerio responded by describing safety as a fine line between protecting and traumatizing students.

“It’s a topic to keep on the radar,” he said.

Board member Janet Brotherton reported on a session about superintendent stress. She said her take-away was that superintendent evaluations should be focused on recognizing strengths rather than being punitive and on working toward growth.

The board approved posting of a position for a speech/language pathologist for the 2020-2021 school year. The district had been paying about $35,000 a year for services provided on an as-needed basis. Last year, Amerio said, the cost jumped to $80,000 as a result of both a rate increase and higher need. He believes having a pathologist on staff would provide better service and reduce costs.

Personnel action

In other personnel action, the board accepted the resignation of Lourdes Medina, bilingual aide, and approved the hiring of Douglas Montgomery as ISI supervisor.

Appointments made included Nick Cole and Jeremy Dixon as assistant boys track coaches; Drew Sharick and Morgan Reese as assistant girls track coaches; Rich Thomas and Missy Adkins as assistant softball coaches; and Laura Billimack as ACTSO sponsor. The board also approved Eva Butin’s change from full-time to part-time employment.

The teachers union has requested a meeting with the board to begin contract negotiations. The current contract expires in August.

Elle Couch was recognized as student of the month.