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More specifics emerge as Unit 5 asks public to rank options in Phase 2 of feedback sessions

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Emily Bollinger
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WGLT file
Members of the public at an earlier feedback session for Unit 5.

Unit 5 administrators detailed the consequences of looming financial shortfalls and shared a community wish list of district improvements Tuesday night. Now, they're asking district residents to prioritize those lists — and say what they might be worth.

Tuesday's online community engagement session was the last of three public-input meetings in Phase 2 of Unit 5's community engagement process — a process that might lead to a referendum in which voters are asked to approve more tax money for schools. The latest feedback sessions aimed to find the most palatable way to plug an expected $11 million-and-growing budget deficit while keeping the district on solid footing for the long term.

Superintendent Kristen Weikle said the district's Education Fund — the fund that pays for personnel, programs and services — is the lowest in McLean County. And the $2.72 rate for that fund is only 10 cents higher than it was in 1983.

Meanwhile, factors such as the housing market crash in 2009 lowered valuation on properties, resulting in a loss of funds for taxing bodies. And the state's budget impasse led to those funds came late — if they came at all.

And the while houses are now "selling like hotcakes, Weikle said it takes about three years for meaningful impact to taxing bodies because their portion is figured on a three-year average. During the meeting, facilitated with consultants EOSullivan of Libertyville, attendees asked questions via chat.

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Jim Stahly Jr.
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WGLT
Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle spoke Thursday night at an online Community Engagement Session. The session was the third aimed at getting community input as the board looks to plug a looming $11 million budget deficit.

Three lists of options

But its primary goal was to have them rank items from three lists. One listed negative impacts, including increased class sizes, reduced program offerings, reduced extracurricular activities, shortened school days, decreased staff, closed school buildings and increased fees. Cost to stop these consequences ranged from $180,000 to stop increased fees to up to $4 million to preserve staff.

"We don't want to do any of these things," Weikle said. "Unfortunately, we're really at the point where we just can't shield our students and families, and even staff, from feeling the negative effects."

Even next year, there will be larger class sizes and some reduced offerings.

Another list detailed potential enhancements from community members, including lowering class sizes, expanding offerings, increasing student resources, implementing accelerated education programs, classroom modernizations, improving student pickup and dropoff, improving school security, increasing space in buildings and installing artificial turf at athletic fields. Costs would range from $250,000 per year for improving pickup and dropoff, to an estimated $12 million to increase building space.

The third list offered a range of funding options. Overcoming the negative list would cost about $13 million a year — approximately $336 more per year for a $180,000 house. Funding all negatives and enhancements is estimated at $21 million a year, or $543 additional per year. Other options included:

  • Minimum - Eliminate some of the negative effects $11 million a year or $284 on a $180,000 house.
  • Medium - Stop the negatives and implement some of the enhancements for $17 million a year or $439 on a $180,000 house.
  • No additional funding.

The meeting structure didn't display the number of participants or their responses. And questions were gathered via chat and answered by Weikle and district CFO Marty Hickman. Questions ranged from discussion of Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) districts to why school districts aren't pursuing the state for money owed to them.
EOSullivan representative Collin Corbett said community response was good.

"We've seen higher participation from this district than any other district in the state," Corbett said.

Community participation

Residents who didn't attend are also able to view the presentation and fill out the survey. Additionally, a phone survey will begin Wednesday, and residents are also welcome to call the district office. Details are available here, and responses will be collected through Saturday, May 28.

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Jim Stahly Jr. is a correspondent with WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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