Mary SchellALTON - When Mary Schell joined the Alton Community Unit School District #11 as the Director of Financial Services, there was a challenge ahead of her.

Like many school districts in Illinois, ACUSD11 was on the “Financial Watch” list due to a lack of mandated payments in the state of Illinois. With a few legislative changes and under Schell’s leadership, the district now has the “Financial Recognition” status on the Illinois School Finance Profile Status. Schell said it’s been “gratifying” to watch the district’s finances improve. As she prepares to retire later this summer, she is excited to finish her tenure at the school district on a positive note.

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“We’re able to support students, teachers and programs in the way that we should be able to and not be handcuffed by legislation that doesn’t fully fund education. I think that has been one of the biggest roadblocks in my career,” she said. “For years it was really, really tight with the state not making payments on time. And when that happens, the district is forced to look at other avenues for revenue, such as selling bonds. I feel so blessed to be leaving at a time where there’s been a turnaround in school finance, and to be in a district where the board and the administration have put so much trust in me and my knowledge in the area of school finance and overall education administration.”

Schell came to the Alton school district in 2017 after a long tenure at the Jersey Community School District as a teacher and administrator. While she started her job at ACUSD11 as the Director of Financial Services, she also oversees transportation and food service.

Though Schell considers herself a “short-timer” at Alton, she has been a part of the district for quite awhile. She was born and raised in Alton and always looked forward to the chance to return to the district. When the opportunity arose, she jumped on it.

“It’s been fabulous,” Schell said. “To have the opportunity to come back home — once a Redbird, always a Redbird. I'm so thankful to serve Alton Community School District and to be able to end my career here.”

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Her colleagues also recognize Schell’s success in her position, and they’ll be sad to see her go. Superintendent Dr. Kristie Baumgartner noted that Schell is “just absolutely brilliant” with her expertise on school finance, and she has held an important position in the district since she started.

“When she arrived in Alton back in 2017, districts across Illinois were financially struggling and so was the State, leading to their inability to properly fund schools,” Baumgartner explained. “Mary helped the district not only weather that entire storm, she now has the district sitting in the strongest financial position in our history. She has managed to dramatically improve finances, reduced our debt load, ushered in construction and renovation projects for improved student facilities and all while also steadily reducing the tax rate for our residents. It is just an incredible feat to be able to complete these efforts simultaneously and in just seven years here.”

While Schell has had a great tenure at ACUSD11, she said it’s time to retire and spend her days with her family, including her several young grandchildren. She looks forward to watching her grandkids grow and supporting their teachers just as she was supported throughout her career in education.

“My goal now is just to be the best classroom volunteer that I can be,” Schell said. “I just hope that I can help their teachers as much as I can and help them as they go through the education process. I’m really looking forward to spending time in a volunteer capacity.”

While Schell said she feels “a lump in [her] throat” at the thought of leaving, she is looking forward to retirement and all the joys it will bring her. But she’ll always think fondly of ACUSD11 and her time there. She is proud of the work she has done, and there’s no doubt that the district is proud of her.

“Devoting your entire career to something you're so passionate about is hard to walk away from. So thinking about leaving is hard, but at the same time, it is time,” Schell said. “It’s been so gratifying to be in such a wonderful district, but also to see the financial conditions of the district turn around.”

Congratulations, Mary Schell, on your retirement!

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