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State replacement tax revenue helps Unit 5 shave millions off working cash transfer

The Unit 5 school board meets Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at Normal Community West High School.
Michele Steinbacher
The Unit 5 school board meets Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at Normal Community West High School.

Unit 5 is reaping the benefits of the state’s replacement tax revenue coming in higher than projected.

The district originally intended to transfer more than $11 million from its working cash fund to cover key fund deficits. But on Wednesday, the school board voted to move only $8.4 million.

That significant reduction came in part because of a more than $2 million boost to the district's Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax revenue (CPPRT), said Unit 5 finances director Tommy Hoerr.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted to increase fees for school meals, discussed the end of the school year, and heard Colene Hoose parents who raised safety concerns.

Amended budget presentation

The working cast transfer OK'd Wednesday included $8.2 million to the education fund, and $270,000 to operations and maintenance.

Before the board approved the transfer, members heard a report on the fiscal 2023 budget and how it’s changed since being adopted in last fall.

Hoerr joined Marty Hickman, Unit 5 chief financial officer, to detail the changes.

The revenue boost from CPPRT helped. That tax was created years ago, after a change in the Illinois Constitution shifted some taxes from local bodies to the state level.

Hoerr said the CPPRT revenue is expected to decrease next year.

A local property tax rate increase, which voters approved in an April referendum should help stabilize the district’s budget woes in the long run. But that increase doesn’t take effect until December 2024, noted Superintendent Kristen Weikle.

By delaying its effective date, taxpayers avoid an increase in the overall district tax rate, she said. First, some bond issues will drop off.

School fees mostly flat, but cost of meals increases

The school board voted Wednesday to increase school lunch and breakfast prices. The increase is 20 cents, starting next fall. Meals range between $1.75 and $3.80 per meal. Reduced school meal prices won’t change from the current rate.

The district also is increasing rental rates for its high school pools, due to a significant increase in the cost of chlorine, said Hickman. For the 2023-24 school year, pool rental will be $120; or $60 for reduced-rate.

Summer nears, Class of 2023 celebrates

Weikle reminded the community that next week is the end of the school year.

Both high schools will have commencement on May 27, at Grossinger Motors Arena, in Bloomington. Normal Community’s ceremony is at 2 p.m.; Normal West's is at 6 p.m.

May 24 is the last day for early learners, while K-12 students also attend a half-day on May 25.

Colene Hoose safety concerns

During public comments, several Colene Hoose Elementary parents said Unit 5 is downplaying incidents involving a student with behavioral issues. They described an email sent home to families Tuesday, explaining an outburst had led to recess being cut short.

Hoose parent Laura Dietsch told the board she worried the district wasn’t providing enough services to the child. But she said she also wanted equal weight given to other students.

“At what point does the safety of all the students and staff become the priority?” Dietsch asked.

Earlier in the meeting, during the superintendent’s scheduled comments, Weikle alluded to the issue — but didn’t name the school.

“As a school district, and as school employees, we have a legal obligation to protect student privacy and student records,” she said, acknowledging parents' frustration.

In other business, the board approved:

  • About $280,000 in various contracts for next year’s custodial supplies. 
  • Spending $120,000 with Bishop Brothers for the second phase of the Oakdale Elementary School restroom renovation. 
  • A three-year, $60,000 contract for a teacher evaluation software platform.
  • An annual tax abatement for Brandt Properties.
  • A $14,500 donation from the Towanda Parent Teacher Organization for the school playground to get an accessibility-focused merry-go-round.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.