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Peoria school board postpones vote on contract to hire outside firm to study teacher retention

Mike Rundle

During their first meeting since school started earlier this month, the Peoria Public Schools Board of Education heard presentations on the district’s operating budget, school safety and a potential contract to study teacher retention.

The board postponed a vote on a contract with Hanover Research Council to get a study done on teacher recruitment and retention after some members questioned if it was worth the cost.

It would have an annual cost of $119,500, renewable every year for three years for a total of $358,500.

During the board’s meeting Monday night, Superintendent Sharon Kherat said this study will be paid for by the Teacher Vacancy Grant the district received from the state in July. She said the study will help the district attract and keep teachers every year.

“We brought in 115 new teachers this year,” Kherat said. “And I said team, we cannot sustain this every year, right? 115 new teachers, we're not going to bring in 115 new teachers to Peoria Public Schools every year. So this will help us also with retention.”

At the July 25 board meeting, Kherat said the primary schools were fully staffed and the teaching positions for core high school classes were all filled. She said that some teachers could be poached before the school year began. The district currently has 38 teaching positions posted on their job board.

Board member Martha Ross said the district has tried using outside sources to retain teachers, and she suggested an internal initiative might be better.

“Why can't we do this from the inside?” Ross asked. “Why do we need someone from the outside, always from the outside? I just think we continue to spin our wheels around and around and get nowhere.”

Board member Gregory Wilson echoed a similar sentiment, saying it would be better to work with teachers and the Peoria Federation of Teachers.

“I do know that we have a teachers' union, and a lot of teachers out there that will be more than happy to tell you how to keep them. Are we listening? I'm not too sure we are,” Wilson said.

The vote on the contract was postponed until the board could hear a presentation from Hanover Research Council.

2023-2024 budget

The board also heard a presentation from Chief Financial Officer Mick Willis on a $317.5 million dollar budget for the school year. The district will spend almost $10 thousand more than they make this year, anticipating $308.1 in revenues.

Willis said this deficit is planned to pay off debts.

“I’ve mentioned that over the past couple of years we’ve had corporate personal property replacement taxes come in higher than normal,” Willis said. “We’ve banked a lot of that. We have planned to use that for one time spend downs.”

The board will hear public comment on the budget during their Sept. 25 meeting. They will vote on whether or not to adopt it during the same meeting.

School safety

Peoria Public Schools Director of School Safety Demario Boone gave an update on new technology implemented by the school.

He said the district’s new tip line, Tip411, has proven to be especially effective.

Boone said the web-based tip line allows him and the Peoria Police Department to easily follow up with the tipster to get additional information.

It’s also been used more by the community.

“With Tip411, since we've implemented it over a couple of months ago, we have over 60 tips that are in there,” Boone said. “With our previous tip line, we would probably average 12 to 15 a year. So we're well over what we would do in a normal year with Tip411.”

The district has also added 872 new door locks and 560 new cameras this last year, with plans to update all old cameras during the school year.

Boone said IntelliSee, a real-time artificial intelligence which flags potential threats seen on camera, has also proven to be effective. The AI sends him screenshots from the schools’ security cameras of people around the schools and anything which could be a weapon.

He said the district is also adding badge readers so teachers can get students inside faster during emergencies, and will be conducting various emergency training sessions with teachers and students throughout the year.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.