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Unit 5 Plans for $12.8 Million Deficit

Unit 5's budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year reports a $12.8 million deficit.

The Unit 5 school district is on track to end this fiscal year with a $12.8 million deficit. That's part of the tentative $192 million total budget for 2019-2020. 

Business Manager Marty Hickman said it's a planned deficit.

“We expected that for this year, and we have working cash money that we are going to use to cover those expenses,” he said.

He said with those working cash funds, the budget is balanced. Working cash fund bonds are used as short-term borrowing. 

“It’s probably not the first funding model that you would choose, but outside of any other ways to fund the programs in the district and the needs of the students, it’s one we had available,” he said.

Hickman said a majority of the deficit funds are due to timing issues where bond funds were deposited after the budget was made.

“I don’t believe the (school) board is at that point where they know what that plan may be," Hickman said. "But I do know that they plan to have more discussion and more messaging to the public about really what our finances look like.”

The district’s finance committee previously outlined three options: a referendum, more working cash bonds, or a 1% sales tax.

This is the second year in a row that Unit 5 has used temporary borrowing to cover expenses. It is not uncommon for school districts to do so. District 87 has used working cash fund bonds for a number of years. The borrowing also comes with interest costs borne by the public.

First Student Communication Concerns

Unit 5 board member Mike Trask expressed frustrations with First Student over a lack of communication.

Nine days into the school year, First Student processed 955 route changes. Those are from address changes and adding and dropping students from routes that resulted in late bus drops and pickups, according to a company presentation to the board.

“It frustrates me, I’m not going to lie,” Trask said. “Communication’s got to be essential and it’s got to be on point.”

Fellow board member Meta Mickens-Baker echoed Trask’s comments saying it is on First Student to address the concerns in a way that improvements can be made in the next week. She also said the busing company needs to fix its lack of communication before the same problems occur next year.

Regional First Student General Manager Chris Coyle said most of the delays are due to students being on the wrong bus or trying to find lost students.

“We are there to protect the children. I understand that yes, we need to communicate with the parents, but that’s our number one priority,” Coyle said.

The board meeting began with public comment from Jeremiah Houston, a union representative for bus drivers with local 2607. His comments indicated a need for bus drivers to be made aware of accommodations for students with special needs.

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