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Unit 5 school board approves budget cuts for 2023-24 if referendum fails again

Unit 5 school board meeting 1-31-23
Michele Steinbacher
The crowd at Tuesday's special Unit 5 school board meeting.
Updated: January 31, 2023 at 9:29 PM CST
The Unit 5 school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the full list of proposed budget cuts for the 2023-24 school year. They include:

— Reduce administration
— Reduce budgets by 10% -unit office, building budgets, curriculum budgets, technology, extracurriculars and co-curriculars (mostly supplies, materials, and travel)
— Reduce funding for field trips
— Push band/orchestra to 6th grade
— Remove funding for Schedule B Illuminate (MTSS collaboration, screening, and progress monitoring) coaches
— Remove Schedule B at the junior high levels - 6-8 athletics, clubs, councils, etc.
— Remove freshmen teams
— Limit the number of students who travel for out of town competitions
— Combine Vocational Transition Assistance Program (VTAP) job sites for students with disabilities
— Increase registration, activity, and gate fees (charge for all sporting events)
— Increase facility rental fees for community and parent groups
— Implement the National School Breakfast and Lunch programs at the high schools

As the Unit 5 school board began its meeting Tuesday — to make expected budget cuts — a crowd partially filled the Normal Community West High School auditorium.

By 5:15 p.m., more than 40 people had signed up for 3-minute slots to make public comment before the board's vote.

Video: You can watch the meeting on Unit 5's website

Among the first commenters — each decrying the proposed cuts — were several parents, a Carlock Elementary School teacher and Carlock students, and several community organization representatives.

One proposal calls for axing junior high school sports and activities, others suggest ending field trips, and closing Carlock school in a few years. Student fees also would go up, too. Other changes on the table for the 2023-24 school year include cuts to administrative, building and technology funds.

Leaders of McLean County's largest district say a nearly $12 million shortfall, and a failed November tax referendum to find revenue to create financial stability, leave them no choice but to make major cuts.

However, the tax referendum question is back on the April 4 ballot. If approved, it would add 88 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation to the current $2.72 education fund tax rate.

If voters approve it on the second attempt, the cuts proposed would not be implemented, Unit 5 leaders have said.

However, if voters reject the referendum — as they did in November — the district will have to move ahead with the cost-cutting plan, they contend.

Ahead of Tuesday's 5:30 meeting, the district released a memo outlining the cuts.

This story will be updated, after the board’s vote.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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