As Unit 5 prepares to bring students back to the classroom next week, Superintendent Kristen Weikle sought to assure parents that bilingual learners would continue to be supported.
In comments during Wednesday night’s school board meeting at Normal West, Weikle said she’d been made aware of inaccurate information circulating about Unit 5’s bilingual program.
“Bilingual educational work will remain mostly unchanged for students in both remote and hybrid classes of the bilingual program at Cedar Ridge (Elementary),” Weikle said.
She added the transition to hybrid learning will have an impact for the 11 third- and fourth-grade bilingual students who have opted, through their parents, to remain with remote learning. Those students will be placed in monolingual grade-level sections and offered additional ESL and literacy support.
Addressing the misinformation circulating about bilingual learning, Weikle said, “Classes across the district were combined and rearranged as the district is moving to simultaneous remote and hybrid instruction. Changes in class sizes are not just impacting students in the bilingual program at Cedar Ridge. It’s all students, not just a subgroup.”
Unit 5 faces an ongoing shortage of substitute teachers and staff -- a problem only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district has been in talks with the service firm Kelly Education to take over staffing substitutes. Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman presented Kelly’s proposal to the board Wednesday, telling members that contracting with a third-party vendor would free up valuable time for district staff.
The responsibility for finding substitutes, often a last-minute endeavor, can fall to teachers, principals, and human resources. Weickle reminded the board that when a sub can’t be found, elementary classes double up with one teacher.
“You can’t do that in COVID,” she said.
Board members acknowledged the need to address staffing shortages, but voiced concern over the cost of retaining outside services.
“Are we budgeted for this?” asked board member Mike Trask.
Hickman acknowledged the service would come with a cost, but said he felt “100% comfortable” with the current budget.
Board member Alan Kalitzky said he would like to see more of a “formulation around the value proposition,” essentially asking for evidence that the monetary spending would be justified by freeing up time for Unit 5 staff.
The board also expressed concerns with the proposal’s timeline, as Hickman said he would like to bring it to vote at the Oct. 28 meeting.
Weikle assured the board the contract would be subject to diligent review before being brought up for a vote. “We won’t bring it to the board unless we can do it financially and the benefits outweigh the costs,” she said.
2019-2020 audit report
An audit of the district by the accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen revealed no financial statement findings or federal findings. In the auditing process, findings indicate that corrective actions need to be taken within the financial operations of a business or entity.
Trask congratulated the district for its efforts, saying that “to come away with an absolutely clean audit is phenomenal.”
Kalitzky agreed, noting the audit was an encouraging signal that the district understands “we have to be diligent with our taxpayer money.”
Also Wednesday night, the school board voted unanimously to approve the 2020-2023 contract with the Unit Five Education Association (UFEA).
Trask abstained from the vote, noting his wife is a member of the teachers union.
Unit 5 attorney Curt Richardson presented the contract, lauding its three-year length as an encouraging measure of stability.
Richardson noted some of the contract’s highlights, including that all teachers in the district will make the state minimum of $40,000 per year by 2022 -- one year earlier than the 2023 deadline established by Illinois law.
The contract also allows for creation of new extracurricular positions in bass fishing, lacrosse, and e-sports.
And all teachers who have been employed for 10 consecutive years by Unit 5 will receive two extra sick days per year.
UFEA president Lindsey Dickinson said she was “ecstatic” that the contract passed.
“A lot of this contract does very good for our students and our staff, so we are extremely excited,” she said. “We just hope moving forward that we’re going to push and work on funding for the district so that moving forward, we’ll be in an easier place whenever our contract expires.”
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