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Unit 5's budget cuts plan includes sports, music, larger class sizes and the closure of Carlock Elementary School

 Parkside Junior High School
Parkside Junior High School in west Normal. The proposed budget cuts for the 2023-24 school year include funding for junior high sports, clubs, councils, etc.

Budget cuts at Unit 5 would touch almost every part of the student experience – from sports to music to class sizes, plus the closure of an entire school – if voters reject the school district’s tax referendum again April 4, according to a cost-cutting plan being considered this week.

Unit 5 has released Superintendent Kristen Weikle’s proposal for two years of budget cuts, which will be discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Unit 5 says that if voters reject the referendum again, it’s hand will be forced, and the cuts would begin to go into effect.

“Like the Board of Education, myself and other administrators wish that we didn’t have to do this, but our Education Fund revenue is not enough to cover the expenses of all the opportunities we provide to students,” Weikle said in a memo to the school board.

The memo provides new levels of specificity as to what would be cut, and when. The school board is expected to vote only on the 2023-24 cuts at Tuesday’s meeting.

Starting with the 2023-24 school year, the cuts would include:

  • Fifth-grade band and orchestra
  • Junior high sports, clubs, councils, etc.
  • Sports teams for high school freshmen
  • Reduced funding for field trips
  • Reduced budgets by 10% for schools, extracurriculars, district office, etc.

The cuts would then expand for the 2024-25 school, including:

  • Close Carlock Elementary School (106 students)
  • Increase class-size ranges at every level: K-1 - 27 students/class; 2-5 - 30 students/class; and 6-12 - 35+ students/class
  • Shortened school days, by reducing days/times of classes with limited or no mandates, such as music, art physical education, and Instructional Media Center (IMC)
  • Fewer junior varsity (JV) sports teams
  • Fewer electives in grades 6-12, such as art, music, technology, business, family and consumer science, AP/Dual Credit, etc.

Unit 5 says it would also reduce administration in both years of cuts.
Weikle said the proposed cuts are based on “feedback gathered during community engagement last winter, as well as suggestions from board members at (the Jan. 18) meeting.”

“Many of the cuts affect me and my family personally and will have a profound impact on my children’s experience going forward,” school board member Alan Kalitzky said on Facebook.

Unit 5 faces a nearly $12 million budget deficit. The tax referendum is aimed at addressing that gap, though voters rejected it during the Nov. 8 election. Unit 5 leaders put it back on the ballot April 4, pledging to offer more specifics about what would be cut if it were to fail.

The district says its total tax rate will actually drop if voters approve the referendum. Opponents of the referendum claim tax relief provided by the end of building bond payments would be even larger if voters reject the ballot question.

The special school board meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Normal West high school. Signup for public comment will be open from 4:15-5:15 p.m.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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