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Unit 5 Deficit Reduction Plan Coming In Autumn

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The $12.5 million structural budget deficit for Unit 5 schools has been growing slowly for years. It's currently about 6% of the total $203 million budget. Superintendent Kristen Weikle said she hopes to bring a plan to deal with the imbalance to the school board in the fall.

"I wish I could say it will be zero in a matter of a year or two. But I can't say that with certainty yet," said Weikle, adding the structural deficit is growing by $1.5 to $2 million per year.

"If we were to do nothing, you would obviously see some sort of increase from last fiscal year to this fiscal year just because you have inflation, insurance rate increases, and that sort of thing," she said.

Weikle said Unit 5 expenses are mostly in people, so addressing the problem will require a combination of measures.

"You know my first year here, I would have hoped to have been able to tackle a little bit more. But we had that funny thing called COVID," said Weikle.

She said the district is evaluating needs versus wants, additional savings, and potential new revenue.

"We have to look at what are our needs based on enrollment and then what are the desires and priorities for the community," said Weikle.

Civil discourse

It was a loud week for Unit 5 as conservative activists used Wednesday's school board meeting to advance their national agenda against certain kinds of Black history education that are not actually taught in Bloomington-Normal. It was part of a coordinated effort in the nation's culture wars that was before the District 87 school board the previous week.

Opposition to that position also was evident at the Unit 5 meeting. Weikle said a public school system must hear a variety of groups with sometimes differing opinions.

"Our job is to listen, take that into consideration, while also considering rules or guidance from the State Board of Education (ISBE) when making decisions," she said.

Weikle said the furor over what the district is teaching does not necessarily make their jobs more difficult, noting if parents have questions about what is taught, she encourages them to reach out and engage in a conversation.

She said there were passionate people on the Black history and sexual education curricula issues, but on the whole people were appropriate in expressing their viewpoints.

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