Meridian still fighting mold problem

Meridian School District got more bad news last week when the Illinois Department of Labor confirmed that there are dangerous levels of mold in the district’s elementary school.

During a special meeting July 8, Meridian School Board decided to allow the sale of school bonds, a method of borrowing money from local investors. The bonds would be paid back like a loan at a low interest rate. However, because of district policy, the board can only borrow so much. Janet Ulrich, regional superintendant of schools and interim district superintendent, said the district is only able to borrow $1.625 million. This would put the district at the low end of the $1-3 million it has been estimated to cost for the district to fix the mold issue.

Ulrich said no decision has been made as to how the district will move forward with resolving the mold problem but she said it is the board’s goal to keep the school start date of Aug. 12

“They intend to strive for that date,” Ulrich said. She clarified, however, they are not clear yet how they will meet that goal. If the building is safe for students to reenter by the time school starts, she said that is the best option however there was talk of erecting temporary structures to hold class in, in the interim.  She also said the Board discussed doing a split schedule where the high school building would be split between elementary and high school students, with each group getting access for five hours each day. While this would not be ideal, this schedule would still put them one hour above the state require four hours of instruction time. If this is the decided route, Ulrich said teachers would break down their lesson plans to core essentials so students would still be taught necessary skills and would not fall behind.

Ulrich said the process has been a slow one because the district is not sure where the money will come from.

“Decisions are being held because of the funding issue,” she said. The state has not committed to providing the district with any emergency funding. Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) has vowed to help Meridian in any way he can. He could not be reached for comment for this report.

During routine maintenance to the elementary school in June, workers found large areas of mold in the walls of the school. Architect Bob Huff was called in to assess the situation. His tests came back positive for high levels of dangerous mold. He said while the mold had not yet gone airborne, it was only a matter of time and that the district needed to find a solution to the problem before students could return to the building in the fall.

– Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

State rep. fired up to help Meridian mold problem

State representative Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) is standing strong with Meridian School District.

Phelps attended an informational meeting June 25 at Meridian High School regarding the districts mold problem. He said he was incensed at what he heard and immediately took action.

“I got involved. I started making phone calls. I started opening up the lines of communication because I thought it was ridiculous and embarrassing that some of these departments were not getting back to these officials at Meridian School,” Phelps said.

He got results. After a day and a half, the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) was at Meridian Elementary performing tests to see if the building is inhabitable. Phelps said it may take a few days to get results, but the community members he talked to were happy the IDOL had come.

As of July 1, Regional superintendant of schools and interim Meridian School superintendent Janet Ulrich said the results were still not in from IDOL, but she expects the district will not have to wait much longer. She said a special board meeting is being scheduled for July 8 to discuss the results and to try and move forward with a plan.

Should the tests come back with the same bad  results the school received from architect Bob Huff, Phelps said he is determined to help the district in any way he can.

“I am going to do anything and everything I have to do make sure Meridian gets taken care of,” he said.

–Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

Local hoopster hosts charity tournament

More than 60 basketball players from the area converged at Meridian Elementary School June 1 and 2 for the 1st Annual Bobcat Hoopfest.

Eight teams played games all day June 1 and into the night on the 2nd, with the Championship game started at 8:30 p.m.

The final game of the tournament showcased the red team against the blue team. The red team had local players such as Isiah Jones, RJ Williams, DJ Weldon, Jared Staples, and former SIU player Nick Evans.

Darius Brown, formerly of Cairo, also played for the red team. Brown will join Josh “Joddy” Jones at Odessa College in the fall.

The blue team had players from outside the Pulaski County area but had several talented high school athletes.

The Kissing Brothers from Crab Orchard High School were three big players for the blue team. The three brothers each scored over 1,500 points in their high school careers. Youngest brother Ben scored over 2,300 and has the school record for points at Crab Orchard.

After 40 minutes of competitive play, the red team came away with the victory 49-45.

Red teams Ben Kissing led both teams in scoring with 28 in the final but his older brother Ray was the talk of the tournament.

The blue team rallied behind their leading scorer Isaih Jones who had 12. Nick Evans had 11 while DJ Weldon had back to back three point baskets to finish with 6.

A bigger story than the championship was the condition of the playing surface. It was very wet. Players fell countless time and luckily no one came away with any injuries. The location of the tournament and the playing surface could be a concern in the coming years of the Bobcat Hoopfest.

There were many more memorable performances from the weekend; Josh Jones had 33 points and 13 rebounds in a game for his team.

The money raised from the tournament will go to the Meridian Elementary school to purchase new athletic uniforms.

This was a tournament that was run well and will continue to be a success for many years to come. Congratulations to all the teams that participated in this competitive tournament. 

–Tyler Dixon can be reached at (618)-734-4242

Senior bobcats’ last ride

Meridian senior catcher Jammerio Moore, right, attempts to make an out May 18 during the regional championship against the Shawnee Redskins at Shawnee High School. The Bobcats lost  the game in the 5th inning with a score of 10-0. -- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Meridian senior catcher Jammerio Moore, right, attempts to make an out May 18 during the regional championship against the Shawnee Redskins at Shawnee High School. The Bobcats lost the game in the 5th inning with a score of 10-0. — Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen

It was an emotional roller coaster for the senior Meridian Bobcats May 18. The players went from the excitement of graduation at 10 that morning,  to having their season ended by the mercy rule at the hand of perennial power Shawnee High School by four.

The Shawnee Redskins beat the Bobcats in 5 innings by a score of 10-0.

Redskins senior Adam Pennington threw a 1 hit shutout with the assistance of junior Aiden McMahon.

DJ Weldon had the lone Bobcat hit, a 2 out double down the 3rd base line in the second inning.

Connor Schaal picked up the loss for the Bobcats.

The defensive player of the game was Meridian senior center fielder Wyatt Isom. Isom threw out runners attempting to score on 2 different occasions in the 3rd inning. Senior catcher Jammerio Moore was able to catch the ball and have to presence of mind to know where he was in relation to the runner to make the tag.

Next season will be a rebuilding year for the Bobcats with many key starters graduating. Only 5 underclassmen had significant playing time this season.

– Tyler Dixon can be reached at (618)-734-4242

Meridian schools face budget woes

Terry Mooreland presented Meridian School District’s financial outlook for the coming school year to a gymnasium of concerned parents and community members May 13 at Meridian Elementary School. His report was grim.

During a PowerPoint presentation, Mooreland, superintendant of Meridian School District, went line by line through the reductions in funding the school has received in the last three years. He reported general state aid (GSA) was reduced by five percent in 2012, another 6 percent for 2013 and he said based on Governor Pat Quinn’s proposed budget, the school will lose another 7 percent for 2014. This next proposed reduction would be an estimated loss $198,866 Meridian School District would do without.

While this reduction in funding is a tough pill to swallow, Mooreland said the cuts do not stop there. He said Quinn has also proposed cutting funding for school transportation by 71 percent, which would be a loss of $163,831. These decreases when coupled with the possible  $150,538 reduction in Title 1 funding could cripple the district. Mooreland said should these reductions become a reality, some things will have to change.

Mooreland said this is the problem, though. No budget has been passed at the State level, so the numbers he presented are simply projections. He and his staff have been, as he called it, making a budget based on a maybe.

School officials will have to make a decision soon as to how to deal with the possibility of such drastic cuts to their budget, but no one is quite sure what that decision will be. The primary solution Mooreland presented was to change the student structure at both the elementary and high schools. Mooreland said he and his team have considered removing Meridian’s ten students from the Johnson, Alexander Massac and Pulaski Special Education program (JAMP), which would save the district a total of $175,000, some of which would go to paying two full time special education teachers to work with these ten students on Meridian’s campus. However, to make room for these special needs students, seventh and eighth graders would need to be moved from the elementary school building to the high school building, which creates a whole new host of challenges. Terrance Gaddy, principal of Meridian High School is confident he and his staff can handle it.

Gaddy also spoke during the presentation and he assured parents that should this change take place, his office will take all the necessary steps to ensure students make a smooth transition. He said seventh and eighth grade students would be separated from the high school students by keeping each group in separate hallways.

Should this happen, new students at the high school will not be the only big change.  Gaddy and Mooreland also said they have drafted plans to restructure the curriculum for seventh through twelfth grades. Because of eleven layoffs Mooreland had to make for the fall, he and Gaddy said in the new plan, they have been forced to eliminate all electives, which Gaddy said presents a new challenge to teachers.

“The primary challenge is maintaining student interest when you have limited number of electives,” he said. The new curriculum would focus on eight classes: Physical Education, Math, English, Social Science, Science, Health, Drivers Education and Spanish, which are the basic classes students are required by the state to complete before graduating. This change would mean cutting everything from computer classes to even the school’s Ag program.

The thought of losing Ag classes did not sit well with some parents. Johnny Severs, a parent with two children at Meridian High School, said with the area’s agriculturally driven economy, losing the Ag program would negatively affect students graduating from the school who hope to go on to complete a degree in agriculture. He said should the school go without an Ag class for more than a year, it would lose its chapter of the Future Farmers of America. Severs said with Meridian’s preparations to hire a new science teacher, he believes they should seek a candidate who has the tools to teach agricultural as well.

Mooreland, who will be retiring as superintendant in 60 days, said he does not know what is next for his district but he said he does feel defeated.

“I can’t win,” he said. Moreland explained that there is very little a school can do to bounce back from such drastic funding cuts. Mooreland said the restructuring of the schools is a very real possibility but nothing is set in stone. He said he plans to have another informational meeting and he has invited the region’s state representatives to attend, though he said he has not had luck getting their attention in the past.

Until he gets a budget on his desk with concrete numbers, Mooreland said it all just a waiting game.

“I guess we will wait and see what they do to us next,” he said.

Tyler Dixon contributed to this report

–Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

SEC conference announced

The South Egyptian Conference has named their All-Conference teams for the 2013 spring baseball season.

Century, Shawnee, and Meridian controlled the 1st team, grabbing all nine selections between them.

The Centurions led the way with four first team selections. Brandon Jackson, Cordon Hight, Brad Wilson, and Aaron Jones represented Century on the list.

Adam Pennington, Aiden McMahon, and Gavyn Ellet made the 1st team for the Shawnee High School Redskins.

Meridian had two players to round out the 1st team with Jammerio Moore and Wyatt Isom taking their spots on the roster.

Six players made 2nd team SEC All-Conference.

Century’s Adam Jones, Dongola’s Tyler Eddleman, Egyptian’s Cameron Grueninger, Shawnee’s Austin Treece all made 2nd team.

The Meridian Bobcats had two players that made 2nd team, Connor Schaal and Blaine Crow.

Get next week’s paper to catch the All-Citizen Team and MVP. The team will be made up of players from Cairo, Century, Egyptian, and Meridian.

– Tyler Dixon can be reached at (618)-734-4242

Bobcats take revenge

The Meridian Bobcats finally got the revenge they wanted in a 4-3 win over Century April. 29.

Connor Schaal threw his second gem in 2 weeks allowing only 1 hit to the Centurions in the win and striking out 5 in the complete game win. Schaal also walked and scored once at the plate.

Meridian picked up their first run in the 3rd and added 2 in the 5th. They added on a much need insurance run in the 7th.

Century trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the 7th. After a fly out, the next 2 batters for Century reached base. After an error by the Bobcats fielders, both Centurion runners scored. Schaal struck out the last batter for the win.

The lone bright spot for the Centurions was Cordon Hight who had the only hit, a single in the 2nd. All the Centurions runs were unearned.

Brandon Jackson suffered the loss for the Centurions. It was an unusually off game for Jackson who couldn’t get his fastball over the plate. Jackson will return to his dominance for the regionals.

Jammerio Moore had his bat going for the Bobcats. Moore had 3 hits and 2 RBIs on the day. Blaine Crow threw in 2 hits and scored twice.

The Bobcats needed a big win going into the regionals and they got it with this one.

–Tyler Dixon can be reached at (618)-734-4242

The Week in Photos: May 2, 2013

The visual report from the week of May 2, 2013.

Donna Pearman talks on the phone with a relative April 25 in her home in Cairo. Pearman said since her sister’s body was found April 24, she has had a hard time keeping up with all the phone calls she has received from both family and the media. --Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Donna Pearman talks on the phone with a relative April 25 in her home in Cairo. Pearman said since her sister’s body was found April 24, she has had a hard time keeping up with all the phone calls she has received from both family and the media. –Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Gabriel Harris, second from the left, officiates as president pro tempore as, left to right, Mary Coleman, Artie McBride, Brenda Gooden and Sheila Nelson simultaneously swear in April 25 during a special meeting of the Cairo School Board at Cairo High School. Coleman swore in as treasurer, Harris as Vice President, Gooden as secretary, Nelson as a board member and McBride as president. -- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Gabriel Harris, second from the left, officiates as president pro tempore as, left to right, Mary Coleman, Artie McBride, Brenda Gooden and Sheila Nelson simultaneously swear in April 25 during a special meeting of the Cairo School Board at Cairo High School. Coleman swore in as treasurer, Harris as Vice President, Gooden as secretary, Nelson as a board member and McBride as president. — Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Assistant Meridian baseball coach Greg Harris leads his team in cheering for their midnight-hour victory against the Century Centurions April 29 at Shawnee Community College. Meridian gave up a safe 3 run lead in the bottom of the 9th, but prevented Century from taking the win. This victory came after the Centurions defeated the Bobcats April 18, 17-3 in a game at Rent-One Park in Marion. -- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Assistant Meridian baseball coach Greg Harris leads his team in cheering for their midnight-hour victory against the Century Centurions April 29 at Shawnee Community College. Meridian gave up a safe 3 run lead in the bottom of the 9th, but prevented Century from taking the win. This victory came after the Centurions defeated the Bobcats April 18, 17-3 in a game at Rent-One Park in Marion. — Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen

12 arrests made in Cairo, Meridian brawl

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department has arrested and charged 11 adults and 1 juvenile in their involvement in the brawl at Meridian High School Feb. 20.

Those arrested were: Bruce Woodson, of Cairo, Cameron Robinson of Cairo, Cordell Johnson, of Cairo, Darian Engram of Mound City, Darmez Nelson of Ullin, Darryl Jackson, of Cairo, Dejhanane Washington of Cairo, Jemond Pilgram, of Mounds, Kathryn Nesby, of Mounds, Richard Steele, of Mounds and Wilmont Gibson of Cairo. A juvenile was also arrested.

All 12 suspects were charged with reckless conduct. In the state of Illinois, reckless conduct can either be a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 4 felony.

The Illinois Compiled Statutes, defines reckless conduct as: (a) A person commits reckless conduct when he or she, by any means lawful or unlawful, recklessly performs an act or act that: (1) cause bodily harm to or endanger the safety of another person; or (2) cause great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another person.

Pulaski County Sheriff Randy Kern and his officers worked with Meridian High School principal Terrance Gaddy to review video footage and come up with a list of suspects.

Kern said while there have been fights at previous Cairo vs. Meridian basketball games, this even was unique.

“We’ve never had any fights like this before,” Kern said. He added that the number of participants this year was larger than any year he could remember.

“I think there’s probably more that could have been arrested but we didn’t have any information or any I.D.’s on any of them,”he said.

Pulaski County State’s Attorney Grayson Gile could not be reached for comment in this report.

The incident took place after the Cairo vs. Meridian Regional semi-final game at Meridian High School in Mounds. Century and Egyptian were on the court warming up for the final semi-final game when the brawl started and both teams were directed to their locker rooms as county and state police tried to separate the offenders. Police dogs were brought in to help control the crowd. The final game of the night was cancelled and fans were split up based on what side of the gym they were seated and directed to leave from two separate exits.

Isaac Smith contributed to this report.

–Tyler Dixon can be reached at (618)-734-4242

Bobcats bounce back

Assistant Meridian baseball coach Greg Harris leads his team in cheering for their midnight-hour victory against the Century Centurions April 29 at Shawnee Community College. Meridian gave up a safe 3 run lead in the bottom of the 9th, but prevented Century from taking the win. This victory came after the Centurions defeated the Bobcats April 18, 17-3 in a game at Rent-One Park in Marion. -- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Assistant Meridian baseball coach Greg Harris leads his team in cheering for their midnight-hour victory against the Century Centurions April 29 at Shawnee Community College. Meridian gave up a safe 3 run lead in the bottom of the 9th, but prevented Century from taking the win. This victory came after the Centurions defeated the Bobcats April 18, 17-3 in a game at Rent-One Park in Marion. — Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen

After falling to the Century Centurions 17-3 April 18 and to the  Shawnee Redskins 8-2  April. 24, the Meridian Bobcats came back and beat the Agape Knights 11-1 April 25 and got revenge on the Centurions, beating the team 4-3 April 29 at Shawnee Community College.

Blaine Crow started the Shawnee game off with a bang pounding his 2nd home run of the year. That was the only bright spot for the Cats as Khouri Powel scored the only other run in the 5th inning.

Meridian trailed 3-2 going into the top of the 6th until Redskin 3rd baseman Austin Treece hit his first home run of the game, a solo shot.

The gates open for Shawnee as their first 4 runners in the 7th all scored. Treece hit his 2nd shot of the day, this time a 3 run home run.

The Bobcats fell behind 8-2 going into the bottom of the 7th and couldn’t come back. It was their 2nd loss of the season to conference foe Shawnee.

Redskin’s pitcher Aiden McMahan picked up his 3rd win of the season and added 13 strikeouts.

The Bobcats bounced back against the Agape Knights on April. 25 in an 11-1 win.

Meridian senior Blaine Crow continued his hot hitting with his 2nd home run in as many days and scored 3 runs.

The Bobcats have at least 5 games left and will try to gain momentum going in to the Regional Tournament, which starts May. 13 at Shawnee High School.