Unit 5 board OKs annual budget; asks community to join strategic planning sessions
The Unit 5 school board OK’d the district’s annual budget Wednesday, and invited the public to join its strategic planning initiative that's kicking off this fall.
The tentative FY2023-2024 budget is about 10% higher than last year, and includes a $173 million operating plan.
Wednesday’s vote followed a public hearing on the document. No one signed up to speak at the hearing. The proposed budget has been available for public viewing since Aug. 16, when district finance leaders detailed the plan for the school board.
Also at the meeting, the board OK’d spending about $350,000 on several building projects, most covering mechanical repairs, and one focused on energy efficiency.
Although a tax referendum successfully passed in April, the higher tax rate for the education fund won’t be collected until fiscal 2025, so the district’s structural deficit remains.
So, about $16 million in working cash funds was transferred. Most of it, $11.1 million, went to the key education fund; and about $5 million went into the transportation fund.
The district continues to work under the seven-year plan using borrowed money to keep the district afloat. So this transfer was expected, chief financial officer Marty Hickman said after the meeting.
The district’s $135.2 million education fund, which covers salary and benefits, takes up the bulk of the $173 million operating budget.
The ed fund, along with operations and maintenance, transportation and tort funds together make up what's considered to be a school district’s working budget.
Unit 5’s overall budget registers at $232.9 million. But that figure also includes specialized funds covering debt service, municipal retirement and Social Security funds, working cash funds, and fire, prevention and safety funds.
On the revenue side, the district's finance staff says the budget reflects an estimated 8% increase in property tax revenue. That's attributed to the equalized assessed value of many area properties going up.
The district relies heavily on local property taxes — nearly 60% of its operating budget revenue is from that source. About 30% comes from state and federal funding.
Among state funding sources, Unit 5 will see about $4 million in corporate personal property replacement (CPPRT) money, and among significant federal money is about $6.2 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
This is the last major distribution of those pandemic-recovery ESSER funds. But while it won’t be in future budgets, Hickman said after the meeting that much of the federal COVID-relief dollars went to technology purchases for students, and HVAC-improvements in buildings.
As for some of the other ESSER-funded projects, such as expanded summer school and positions created to address the post-pandemic needs of Unit 5 students, he said the district will look at those this year and determine if they might be included in future budgets.
On the expenditures side, about 75% of the operating budget goes to cover district salaries and benefits. The remainder is split between purchased services and supplies. This year's budget factors in adjusted salaries negotiated with the teachers' union, and others.
Across district departments spending remains flat over last year, but individual building budgets will see a 9% increase.
About $12.7 million will go to transportation costs with First Student busing. About $2.6 million is toward the purchase of 20 new school buses.
Unit 5 leaders want input on district's future
Superintendent Kristen Weikle said Wednesday a major strategic planning initiative begins this fall, with community engagement sessions starting next week.
These first two in-person events, which include a presentation and focus groups breakouts, will meet:
- 6 to 8 p.m., Sept. 26 at Normal Community High School.
- 6 to 8 p.m., Oct. 2 at Parkside Junior High School.
In October, a recording of the program also will be available on the district website, with instructions on how to provide feedback.
"So, if someone is working, or busy with their child's activities, and they can't attend one of the in-person events, they'll still have the opportunity to hear the information presented," said Weikle.
The head of McLean County's largest school district said the strategic planning is a group effort — among Unit 5 staff, students, families and the community.
"What are you wanting for our schools in the next 5 to 10 years? Change sometimes doesn't happen quickly, so we're excited to get that feedback now, so that we can start to plan for next school year and beyond," said Weikle.
Several board members echoed her call to engage.
"We do invite, and encourage, and want, feedback from our community about what we want our district to look like, as we plan," said school board president Kelly Pyle, adding, "That may include lots of different kind of things, like class sizes, things that we value, what we want our schools to look like."
"We do invite, and encourage, and want, feedback from our community about what we want our district to look like, as we plan."Kelly Pyle, Unit 5 school board president
Board member Stan Gozur emphasized the district's efforts to seek feedback is in earnest. “That's for the entire community. Any stakeholder, any taxpayer, etc. We want your voice. We wouldn't be holding these just for the sake of holding them," he said.
Weikle said the district already has launched an online family/community survey that also is open to secondary students. It's available until Sept. 29 on the district website.
Kingsley project targets energy savings
Kingsley Junior High School should see an improvement in energy efficiency, once a modernized optimizer is added.
The board OK’d spending about $112,500 on the campus optimizer software, with an additional $50,000 state grant supporting the project.
Alpha Controls and Services will install the software that, once it is functioning, should bring utility costs down about $28,000 per year.
In other business, the board:
- OK’d spending a total of $108,000, to replace water heaters at NCHS and Chiddix Junior High School.
- Approved spending $95,000 in the Normal West High mechanical room, replacing a water heater; and in its pool room, replacing compressors and the control panel.
- Heard from board member Jeremy DeHaai about a fundraiser for the Unit 5 Education Foundation. The outdoor movie night featuring “Hotel Transylvania” will be Oct. 8 on the grounds of NCHS. Tickets are available in advance, or at the door.
- Heard from Weikle about NCHS homecoming being celebrated this week, with the Ironmen football team facing Bloomington High School on Friday.