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Unit 5 school board approves portable classrooms for NCHS and raises for substitute food workers

Exterior of NCHS
The Unit 5 school board has approved a four-year, $256,000 lease with JMO Modular LLC for portable classrooms at Normal Community High School. School officials want the space to be ready for use by the beginning of the next school year.

The Unit 5 school board on Wednesday approved plans to lease four portable classrooms for Normal Community High School and pay raises for substitute food service workers.

The school board met Wednesday night at Normal Community West High School.

The board approved a four-year, $256,000 lease with JMO Modular LLC for portable classrooms at Normal Community High School (NCHS). School officials want the space to be ready for use by the beginning of the next school year.

There will be a total of four new classrooms that will be used for various courses. The classrooms will cost an estimated $256,000.

Superintendent Kristen Weikle said the portable classrooms are only a temporary solution to NCHS’ large incoming class trends. She assured the public the board is also focused on creating long-term solutions to the school’s overpopulation.

Those solutions may emerge as Unit 5 embarks on a series of public engagement sessions later this month focused on big-picture district needs. It’s a process that could lead to a referendum — where voters decide whether to raise property own taxes to send more money to Unit 5. The first session is April 23 at Normal West.

“Portables are not a solution that anybody wants to happen. That’s why they’re temporary, why we can pick them up and move them,” said school board member Alan Kalitzky. “We should be looking at how we fund and find more opportunities for more brick-and-mortar solutions.

"But unfortunately, as we’ve all talked about, that requires dollars. As we continue to have those discussions with our community, that’s something I really do hope everybody’s taking into account ... as they think about, 'What are those services we want to continue to offer, but also provide them in a facility that represents our district?”

The board also approved a one-year lease extension for portable classrooms in Towanda.

Hoose Elementary community pleads with the board on budget cuts

Meanwhile, parents and teachers from Colene Hoose Elementary came to Wednesday’s meeting to share their concerns and how budget cuts will affect them.

One parent said that despite having many veteran teachers at Hoose, if the budget cuts go into effect, classes will be cut and that will mean larger class sizes and less individualized attention to students. The school board in March voted to cut $2.1 million in teaching jobs and educational programs next year, citing the growing structural budget deficit.

School board president Amy Roser shared her connection to the elementary school and said the district’s financial situation has put board members in a tough spot.

“The cuts we’ve had to make ... it’s a difficult path. We’re in a difficult position,” Roser said. “A $13 million deficit is a lot. It’s a $13 million deficit that will grow to $26 million in five years. When you do have the lowest tax rate of anyone in the county, even when it feels like it’s really, really high when you write that check.”

Wage increase for food service workers

The board unanimously voted to approve a wage increase for substitute food service workers.

The wage will increase from $12 to $13 per hour. Weikle told WGLT that to stay competitive in the market and attract workers, the district felt the wage increase was necessary. The district says it’ll have only a minimal impact on the budget.

This wage increase was a follow-up to the board's past decision to increase wages for substitute janitors and other service workers.

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Amina Jinadu is a correspondent at WGLT. Amina joined WGLT in 2022 after previously interning for the station while a student at Illinois State University.
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