Half of our top 12 stories of the decade – we’re calling it our “Decade’s Dozen” since we just couldn’t narrow it to 10 – were related to Piatt County schools.
They range from good (state titles) to bad (layoffs during budget crunches), to somewhere in between, depending on which side of the consolidation fence you reside (Atwood-Hammond annexes into Arthur).
But the title of top story in the 2010s goes to a conviction for a murder that occurred more than two decades earlier.
We debate each year as to the order of our top stories lists, so we expect even more difference of opinion after presenting our Decade’s Dozen.
1. Cold case results in murder conviction
Gregory J. Houser was convicted of murder in the 1990 death of then-wife Sheryl Houser and sentenced to 55 years in prison. The conviction came 27 years after the murder occurred at Sheryl Houser’s home in rural Mansfield (2017).
2. Funding crunch prompts school layoffs
Significant layoffs and funding cuts were approved by area school districts in response to less state funding. Cuts ranged from $385,000 in Monticello and Blue Ridge, the latter of which temporarily laid off all of its coaches; to the dismissal of 14 staff members in Cerro Gordo.
3. School reorganizations
Atwood-Hammond voters decide to annex into the Arthur school district (2013). Bement opted to keep its high school after a joint study was done with neighboring Cerro Gordo (2014).
4. Referendum approved on third try
On its third try, the Monticello school district saw voters approve a referendum to upgrade its facilities, this time to update the high school and adjacent Washington Elementary School (2018).
5. State title for football Sages
On the day after Thanksgiving, the Monticello High School football team made history by capturing the program’s first state title (2018).
6. Middle school girls go back-to-back
Monticello Middle School’s eighth grade girls basketball squad captured the IESA 3A title with a 27-25 win over Eureka.
The same group of athletes had also won state the year before as seventh graders (2013).
7. County budget issues
After seeing fund balances drop by $1 million between January of 2018 and January of 2019, the Piatt County board spent most of the fall whittling down a budget deficit that started at more than $1 million.
The process led to approval of a budget that was still $386,000 in the red, even with staff reductions at the sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s offices (2019).
8. Prominent magistrate passes away
Piatt County Circuit Court Judge John P. Shonkwiler died at the age of 79. He had been on the bench since 1965 and chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit since 1994 (2012).
9. Former superintendent under investigation
Former Bement School Superintendent Daniel Brue is being investigated for “possible improprieties” at both the Bement and Meridian school districts (2019).
10. Drought devastates yields
An extreme drought in 2012 reduced corn yields to about 120 bushels per acre, 60 to 100 bpa lower than typical years (2012).
11. New hospital building opens
The new Kirby Medical Center building opened, and the county purchased the former hospital building (2011).
12. Land purchased for rec complex
The City of Monticello purchased 30 acres of land near the Appletree Subdivision, with plans to develop it into a recreation complex (2010).