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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Unit 5 Dismisses Teacher In Abuse Case; Passes Tax Levy

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The Unit 5 school voted Wednesday night to formally dismiss a teacher charged with sexually abusing his students. Those charges were later dropped.

Jonathan Hovey was charged in 2019 with sexually abusing two of his students while employed as a first-grade teacher at Glenn Elementary School.

Hovey hasn’t been in the classroom since April 14, 2019. He was placed on administrative leave one day after Unit 5 received information from a mother whose child reported being abused “almost every day” during the 2017-18 school year.

During the ensuing investigation, Normal police learned of a second, similar allegation against Hovey during the 2004-05 school year. But no charges were filed in that case, and Hovey continued teaching in the district.

Dismissing a tenured teacher is a complicated procedure under the Illinois School Code. The burden of proof for teacher dismissal is a ‘”preponderance of evidence,” meaning the allegation in question is more likely to have occurred than not.

But legislation passed in 2019 made it possible for the State Board of Education (ISBE) to suspend an educator’s professional license immediately if they are charged with certain offenses, including sex crimes. Hovey’s license was suspended in October 2019, pending the outcome of his case.

In September 2020, the criminal charges against Hovey were dropped. At the time, McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney Erica Reynolds said charges, which included predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim under 13, were dropped due to witnesses being unavailable. Reynolds said that charges against Hovey could be refiled at any time.

Hovey taught in the district for 18 years.

Tax levy

Also at Wednesday’s school board meeting, held at Normal West high school, the board voted to approve a tax levy of $130,429,535. That’s a 7.85% increase over last year’s levy of $120,931,300.

Business manager Marty Hickman said that under the 2020 levy, the owner of a home worth $175,000 would see a property tax increase of about $160.

Hickman said there are two variables that impact the amount a property owner pays in real estate tax.

The first is an increase or decrease in property value. This year, the total taxable value of property in the district -- known as the equalized value assessment, or EAV -- increased by 3.16%. The second variable is an increase or decrease in the tax rate. The district’s tax rate is projected to increase from $5.35 per $100 of EAV in 2019 to $5.64 in 2020.

Prior to the vote, board member Barry Hitchens asked Hickman for clarification on the rules governing the budget, specifically whether money can be transferred from one fund to shore up another. Hitchens said he hears from members of the public wondering if money from the transportation fund could be applied toward other expenses given that busses aren’t running a full schedule during remote learning.

Hickman said the board is “very limited” in its ability to transfer money between funds. “But even if we could, we really don’t have the extra funding in any one of the line items that we could transfer that money to a different fund,” he said.

Hickman noted that though the district may currently be seeing decreased spending in areas like transportation and building operations, costs have increased in other areas due to COVID.

Board member Mike Trask asked Hickman to speculate as to what would happen if the board did not  approve the tax levy.

“March or April timeframe, we would be out of cash,” Hickman said.

The levy passed unanimously. 

Weikle pleads for COVID compliance  

Superintendent Kristen Weikle said she’s confident the district can implement the mitigation measures necessary to resume hybrid instruction after the holidays.

“Principals and staff have been working really hard. Our kids have done an amazing job of wearing masks, following protocols," she said.

But she acknowledged the emotional and psychological toll of the pandemic -- especially as the holidays approach and people miss festivities and an overall sense of normalcy.

“I know right now a lot of us are probably feeling that COVID fatigue. But I ask -- and even plead -- for everyone to take extra precautions over winter break. Not only to protect yourself and your loved ones, but so that we can get our students back in the buildings. Because we really do need our community’s help and support to reduce the spread now and over the holidays so everyone can return safely.”

Weikle said the district is considering beginning the second semester with a short period of remote learning -- what she called a “quarantine” -- as students are likely to have increased contact with others over the holidays.

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