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Unit 5 Warns of Possible Return to Remote Learning

Exterior of Unit 5 offices
Emily Bollinger
The Unit 5 school board met Wednesday night.

Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle is advising parents and students to be prepared for a possible return to 100% remote learning due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The announcement was made at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, where Weikle revisited the metrics identified by the district prior to returning to in-person learning in October. As Weikle has previously explained, Unit 5 uses metrics drawn primarily from the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH). 

The plan is broken into four phases, ranging from 100% remote to 100% in-person learning. Moving from one phase to another requires a “preponderance of data” lasting for 10 consecutive days. 

Weikle said another week of similar or worsening COVID metrics would trigger a return to phase 2 of the plan, meaning remote learning for most students. In that case, students would resume learning from home the week of Thanksgiving. 

“This is not what any of us want to do,” Weikle said. “But what this indicates, the metrics, is that there is substantial community spread.” 

Many other area districts, including District 87, already have announced a return to remote learning around the holiday.

Board approves substitute “surge pay”

In an effort to combat a worsening shortage of substitute teachers and staff, the board voted unanimously to approve a pay increase during the pandemic. 

Unit 5 is among many area school districts struggling the meet the need for substitutes. In the past week, 58 district staff were required to quarantine due either to a positive test or a close contact. Weikle said that of those, 44 were classroom positions that could not be filled. 

She warned that if shortages continue, Unit 5 may have to close buildings due to an inability to properly staff facilites .

In approving a pay increase for substitutes, Unit 5 hopes to gain an advantage over neighboring districts that are competing for the same pool of workers. The board voted to increase daily pay for regular substitutes from $85 to $95. Unit 5 retirees who return to the classroom will see an increase from $105 to $115.

The Illinois State Board of Education recently approved an emergency measure allowing classroom supervisors to oversee students in the event of a teacher absence. Unlike regular substitutes, who need a bachelor's degree, supervisors are required only to have a high school education. 

The pandemic also has created a dire need for short-term substitutes, who need 60 hours of college credit to instruct students. All substitutes, including classroom supervisors, must pass a background check. 

Board member Alan Kalitzky urged even those not looking for employment to consider becoming a substitute as a community service. 

“Now more than ever, we need those individuals to step up,” he said. 

Proposed property tax levy

Unit 5 business manager Marty Hickman presented a proposal showing a 3.16% increase in the district's equalized assessed valuation (EAV) -- a factor in determining how much homeowners pay in property tax. 

Under the proposal, a owner of a home worth $175,000 would see an increase of about $160 in annual property tax. 

Hickman explained that “the levy is important because it’s the majority of our revenue.” Local property taxes make up 65.5% of the district’s education fund, from which teachers and staff are paid. 

In 2019, Unit 5's tax rate was lower than the majority of surrounding districts. 

The proposal is set to come before the board for a vote in December.  

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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