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Unit 5 warns of cuts to sports, art, music, language

Unit 5 signage

Unit 5 school superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle warned of drastic budget cuts during a Tuesday night webinar on the district’s upcoming education fund tax rate referendum.

Weikle said if the Nov. 8 referendum fails, physical education, sports, fine art, band, foreign language, hours of the school day, and even entire schools could be on the chopping block.

None of those programs are mandated by law to be offered daily or at every grade level, but what is mandated is a minimum instructor salary of $40,000. Weikle said if Unit 5 keeps operating its education fund at a significant deficit, the school district cannot afford to employ the necessary teachers and staff for those programs.

“We know that we have great teachers, great support staff, great administrators who serve our students day in and day out, but in order to attract and retain them, we need to be competitive so that way they don’t feel the urge or desire to go to a neighboring district that does pay more,” Weikle said.

The education fund comprises 83 percent of Unit 5’s $153 million budget this year, and teacher and support staff salaries and benefits are 88% of the fund.

According to 2020 census data, K-12 public education spending in Illinois averaged $17,200 per student, but Unit 5's per-student expenditure is 31 percent lower at $11,800.

Unit 5 is the fifth largest employer in McLean County and has the lowest tax rate of all neighboring school districts.

If the referendum passes, the tax rate for Unit 5’s education fund will increase from $2.72 to $3.60 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation of all taxable property within the school district by levy year 2025-2026, increasing available funding by $20 million.

However, because this revenue increase would allow Unit 5 to stop relying on cash bonds, the district says the overall tax rate will actually decrease from 5.61 to 4.91 percent. For a home with a market value of $150,000, that’s an estimated tax decrease of $350.

Philip Walker is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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