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Deficit reduction still takes a back seat to pandemic in Unit 5

Amy and Barry
Unit 5 school board president Amy Roser, right, with school board member Barry Hitchins.

The Unit 5 school district was supposed to consider deficit reduction measures this fall, but has pushed that off until the spring. Two superintendents and at least three board presidents have avoided dealing with a structural imbalance that now stands at $13 million.

School board president Amy Roser said the length of time it has taken to develop options is understandable.

"We have been consumed with a global pandemic that has taken priority over managing the day-to-day operations of our school. That timing certainly did play a factor," Roser told WGLT's Sound Ideas.

Roser said Superintendent Kristen Weikle will come up with a list of recommendations for cost reductions and revenue increases for board consideration next spring.

And Rivian's tax abatement is due to end in a couple years, adding a lot to district's property tax total. The company has invested $1.5 billion into the previously moribund Mitsubishi auto plant.

For months, school board meetings for both District 87 and Unit 5 have attracted crowds of people to speak to the board or to demonstrate. Roser said she would not be surprised if there is a lot more activity in the next school board election cycle, adding there is a movement designed to get in the way of regular business.

"I think it's important to recognize these are national movements. It is intentional. And it is designed sometimes to obstruct the business of our governing bodies," she said.

Nationally, such efforts often have often come under the framework of "flip the board," or "take back the schools" campaigns.

Roser said it's not necessary for school board members to call out inaccurate information from members of the public during school board meetings. She said the meeting structure doesn't allow it. One-on-one conversations and emails are the place to correct the record, she said.

Roser said she relies on voters to make choices and on candidates to educate the voters.

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