Unit 5 district budget cut plan
Written by John Rozny on February 1, 2023
Photo provided by McLean County
NORMAL, Ill. – While McLean County Unit 5 students only had a half day at school on Tuesday, January 31, droves of parents, teachers and students crowded into Normal West High School to attend a special board meeting later that evening.
Over 400 individuals tuned in for a livestream of the meeting as 40 speakers from across the community voiced their concerns regarding budget reductions for Unit 5, which would result in the closure of Carlock Elementary School among other educational cuts.
Unit 5 President Barry Hitchens and Superintendent Kristen Weikle fielded concerns and comments if the school district’s tax referendum is rejected once again this April 4. If voters chose “No” once more on the referendum, the budget cuts for the school district would be put into effect to close the current $12 million budget deficit.
Along with the closure of Carlock Elementary in McLean County by the 2024-25 school year schools across the district would see cuts to fifth-grade band and orchestra, junior high sports and clubs, funding for field trips and fewer electives offered for grades 6-12. The budget cuts would however end up increasing class size ranges across all grade levels.
Across the two hour open podium time many spoke of testimonies as parents of the community, teachers of classrooms, students of the school and alumni of the district. Speakers unanimously voiced their opinions of the detrimental effects that would follow if the referendum were voted “No” once more.
Jennifer Burns, a fourth grade teacher at Carlock, spoke on the importance of fostering a stable and safe learning environment for students to provide a high quality education by citing her own firsthand experience. She further noted how the closure and cuts would only lead to displacement of students and a decrease in learning quality.
Third grader Bella Johnson of Carlock Elementary spoke somberly at the podium regarding how if Carlock were to close, she and her fellow classmates would have to separate from her friends and familiar teachers and would have to move to different schools. She expressed her thanks to the many teachers and staff of her school who provide the space necessary to receive her education.
Another teacher from the district, Cory Byrns, spoke on his experience as a fourth grade music teacher and the benefits that music courses provide to the 125 fourth graders he teaches. He also brought up the stigma surrounding teaching staff and the teaching union, urging listeners and spectators to understand that the teachers are not “the enemy,” and work continuously for the betterment of over 12,000 students who attend Unit 5 schools across the district.
Following the public comments the Unit 5 Board of Education met for their regular meeting. The board went in depth on the causes of the deficit which the district faces, along with the potential changes to the district if the referendum is unable to pass. Kristen Weikle showed how low growth in assessed values of properties has led to a shortfall in funds over numerous years. More so she emphasizes how the Unit 5 education fund tax rate tied to property values rose merely 10 cents over a 40 year period referencing how Unit 5 has the lowest educational fund rate in the state.
The board spoke earnestly of the situation, emphasizing the moral dilemma they found themselves in and the solutions and transparency they seek to provide to the community. Board Member Amy Roser asserted how none of these cuts are easy choices in any regard, and how any one of them will impact education and the environment of the community.
Kristen Weikle once more firmly stated how the district cannot grow over 40 years with only a 10 cent growth in the tax rate, and with an already lean staffing situation within the district, would be unable to “budget cut our way” out of the deficit.
Voting on this referendum will be held on April 4, 2023.