By Steve Robinson | January 22, 2023 - 7:14 pm
Posted in Category: Lexingtonian

BLOOMINGTON – It has been 21 years since any Lexington High School’s boys’ basketball team was last able to be crowned champion of the county’s post-holiday season basketball tournament. But after fighting through the battles against regular season opponents, the Minutemen prepared to do battle against HOIC foes to try to take the HOIC Tournament title.

But before Saturday, Head Coach Doug Yoder’s fifth seeded team first had fallen to fourth seed LeRoy. On Saturday, the Minutemen redeemed themselves claiming 3rd place with a 49-39 win over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley as a crowd of roughly 800 fans for both schools looked on.

Disappointing as the loss to the Falcons was for the Minutemen, Yoder’s team regrouped and prepared for attempting to take, and then managing to claim 3rd place by beating 7th seed Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, 49-39, after a Saturday mid-afternoon contest in front of 750 fans on Dennie Bridges Court at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center.

Three straight unanswered baskets from senior guard Logan Friedmansky, junior guard Ethan Storm, and senior forward Alec Thomas gave the Minutemen a fast 6-0 start to the game until back-to-back unanswered baskets from senior forward Zach Barnes and senior guard Seth Kollross helped push the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley within two, 6-4 with 3:31 left in the opening quarter.

Minutemen junior guard Griffin Hari then scored the next 3-out-of-4 baskets with one from Storm included to help push the Minutemen to a 12-4 lead. GCMS senior Seth Kollross squeezed a basket past Lexington defenders in the middle of the Minutemen’s barrage narrowing the score to 12-6. A free throw Hari would give Lexington a 13-6 lead going into the second quarter.

A jumper by Storm opened the second quarter giving Lexington a 15-6 lead until Kollross was fouled while making a basket and followed with two free throws to complete a 4-point play, cutting Lexington’s lead, 15-10. Kollross and Barnes quickly added a basket each, reducing LHS’ lead to one, 15-14 with 5:32 left in the half, prompting Lexington head coach Doug Yoder to call timeout. Once back on the court, Storm hit a basket and, having been fouled by GCMS’ sophomore guard Braydon Elliot while shooting, hit a free throw giving Lexington an 18-14 lead. an unanswered deuce by Thomas followed extending Lexington’s lead, 20-14 with 3:09 left in the half.

A jumper by Barnes with 2:58 left in the half helped GCMS pull within four, 20-16, before another Thomas basket would give Lexington a 22-16 lead. GCMS would close out the quarter with a deuce from Barnes followed by an unanswered trey from teammate sophomore Brayden Elliott. Those baskets would shave Lexington’s halftime lead to one, 22-21.

The Falcons opened the third quarter on a 5-0 run courtesy of one basket from Kollross and one basket and free throw from Barnes, giving the Falcons a 26-22 lead prompting GCMS head coach Ryan Tompkins to call timeout with 6:36 left in the quarter. Emerging from that break, Lexington went on a 8-0 run highlighted by baskets from Friedmansky, Storm, and Thomas and two free throws from Storm who had been fouled by senior guard Chase Minion. Minutemen defenders kept GCMS players busy while Friedmansky and Hari sank back-to-back baskets prompting GCMS’ Tompkins to call another timeout with 1:51 left in the quarter. The remainder of the quarter was primarily defensive with GCMS’ Minion the only player able to get off a shot, but Lexington owned a 34-30 lead going into the last quarter.

Back-to-back unanswered baskets from Barnes and Kellan Fanson for GCMS opened the fourth quarter allowing the Falcons to tie the game at 34-all. A trey by Lexington junior forward Michael Olson put the Minutemen up by three, 37-34. GCMS’ Kollross’ next shot responded closing Lexington’s leas, 37-36 with six minutes left in the contest. Another basket by Olson and two Fremansky deuces pushed Lexington in front, 43-36, with 2:23 left prompting GCMS’ Tompkins to call another timeout. But after that timeout, LHS defense stymied GCMS’ offense while Minutemen players Thomas, Storm, and Dino Moran scored the last six points of the game with Thomas’ coming from the free throw line after being fouled and Storm’s and Moran’s coming from the court.

Storm led Lexington in double-figures with 15 points followed by 10 points each from Friedmansky and Thomas. Kollross was GCMS’ lone player to get into double-figures with 12 points.

Fieldcrest Win Sends Minutemen To 3rd Place Game Against GCMS: although the Minutemen had hopes of getting to the championship game, a tough Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley defense made for a rough afternoon for Yoder’s troops. The Minutemen jumped out to a quick 8-0 run with buckets from Storm, Olson, Friedmansky, and Coffman leading the charge before a basket from Brady Ruestman stopped Lexington’s drive. Those scores led to a 12-5 Lexington lead. a free throw from sophomore Jordan Heider closed out the opening quarter with Lexington holding a 12-10 lead.

Two treys from Connor Reichman for the Falcons opened the 2nd quarter, putting Fieldcrest up, 16-12, before Hari and Thomas closed the gap on the Knights, 18-16 with 5:11 left in the quarter prompting Knights head coach Jeremy Hahn to call time. Coming out of the timeout, two free throws by Ruestman, who had been fouled by the Minutemen’s Michael Olson, started an 8-0 run highlighted by baskets by Ed Lorton and Ruestman. As a result of the Knights’ scoring rush, they owned a 24-18 lead with 2:23 left until halftime. Jumpers by Thomas and Friedmansky closed the half with Fieldcrest owning a 26-21 lead.

Thomas’ 3rd quarter opening basket cut Fieldcrest’s lead, 28-23 and two baskets each from Olson and Hari, and another deuce from Thomas helped give the Minutemen a brief 31-30 lead until Ruestman was fouled sending him to the free throw line where he sank two shots giving the Falcons a 32-31 lead. A basket by Friedmansky and a trey from Reichman assisted by Jozia Johnson helped slim the Falcons’ lead to 36-34 with 57.7 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. At that point, Lexington’s Coach Yoder called timeout. A backcourt violation called against Lexington hampered the Minutemen from tying the game going into the fourth quarter.

Ruestman’s next basket and a trey from Fieldcrest’s Johnson opened the last quarter before Johnson went on a 5-0 scoring run pushing the Falcons in front, 39-38. A basket by Ruestman followed by one from teammate Landon Modro gave Fieldcrest a 42-39 lead which got reduced to 42-41 thanks to a jumper by Lexington’s Storm.

Ruestman and Thomas each scored reducing Fieldcrest’s lead, 44-43, and prompting Fieldcrest’s Hahn to call time with two minutes left in the game. A bucket by Lexington’s Hari with 1:46 left gave his team a 45-44 lead followed by a Knights bucket from Modro putting the Knights up, 46-45. Modro was also fouled afterward but missed the single free throw. Minutemen sophomore forward Tyler Steffa’s gave Lexington a 47-46 lead with 43.8 seconds left, prompting Flanagan’s to again call timeout.

When play continued, Storm fouled Reichman with 19.5 seconds left but the junior guard went 1-for-2 on the line, tying the game, 47-all. Reichman fouled Lexington’s Thomas who hit just one free throw putting his team up, 48-47 with 18.6 seconds left. A jumper by Lorton put the Knights up, 49-48 with 2.4 seconds left prompting Lexington’s Yoder to call time. But when play continued, an in-bound pass from Hari slipped out of Thomas’ hands as the final horn sounded.

By Steve Robinson | January 21, 2023 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – As any business owner will tell you, when money does not come in at a certain rate or if no revenue comes in at all, the owner must make decisions regarding where to cut costs. Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members, in an attempt to stave off further financial difficulties, discussed where cuts could be made during the Board’s Jan. 18 regularly scheduled meeting in the auditorium of Normal Community West High School.

The district finds itself looking for solutions to dig its way out of an $11 million deficit. A partial solution could come during the upcoming April 4 election when the district will ask voters to consider approving passage of a tax hike. Last November, the district went to voters seeking such a hike which didn’t pass.

Unit 5 will be asking its voters to consider passage of the same measure it did last fall in the upcoming election, hoping, this time, for a positive response. The district is seeking voter approval to raise the district’s tax rate in its education fund by 88 cents. Doing so would increase that tax rate to $3.60 per $100 of equalized assessed value (EAV). Should the measure not pass on the second try, cuts in programs could be a possibility. Voters will again have their say concerning the potential tax rate increase when they go to the polls Apr. 4.

At a special meeting to be held at the end of the month at Normal Community West High School on Jan. 31, such cuts, according to Board President Barry Hitchins after the meeting, would go into effect at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, and could also things such as include an increase in fees; elimination of field trips; eliminating fifth grade bands; a reduction in budgets of activities, which could impact purchasing of things such as uniforms; eliminating activities in which are part of 6th grade, 7th grade, and freshmen-level sports, a reduction in budgets, and eliminating district-funded overnight events.

District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle told audience members, numbering between 40-50 people attending, “It is not uncommon for districts to put a referendum on the ballot more than once,” she said, adding not only have community members who experienced last November’s rejected increase vote are aware of the district’s financial situation, but also voters who may not have been following the situation previously now are aware of the district’s concerns over finances.

“Frankly, we can’t cut our way out of this,” Dr. Weikle told the gathering. “We don’t want to desecrate our educational system to a point where we can’t return, because it’s not we as adults who are suffering – it’s our kids.” She added the impact of the situation would not just affect current Unit 5 students, but future students would be impacted, as well.

Should residents vote against the referendum passing, Dr. Weikle said, “The reality will be – more than likely, whether it will be next year or future years – there will be drastic cuts, and those will be felt by kids.” She added not only will district students feel the impact of any cuts made, but so, too, she said, will local businesses feel the impact. Dr. Weikle explained her statement “is not a threat, that’s just the reality.”

“That reality will be based on what our community chooses,” Dr. Weikle added.

Mark Stephen Adams II, a candidate running for Unit 5 Board in the April election, told Board members the district cutting $12 million from its budget would have an impact on “teachers, students, staff, and families across the Unit 5 community.”

Identifying himself as a husband to a Unit 5 teacher, Adams, who is running as a Unit 5 Board candidate in the April 4 election, he said it was “ridiculous and unrealistic it is to expect our teachers and students to continue to perform at their current levels, much less excel if jobs and programs are being cut.” He said he believes teachers would produce a wish list of things they would like to have in their classrooms in terms of resources “in order to feel as successful as they could be.” Teachers lacking tools to teach “to the best of their ability,” he said, results in students lack tools to do their best, too.

“Cutting the budget means cutting the tools for teaching and learning,” Adams said.

After the nearly 3 ½-hour session, Hitchins said such things which could be discussed for future consideration by the Board at the Jan. 31 meeting for the coming school year are: Fee increases, not holding field trips during the school year; 5th grade band; a reduction in budgets related to Schedule B classes, a measure which could have an impact on items like uniforms and supplies for those classes; and District-funded overnight trips.

PJHS’ “Good News” About 8th Grader Invited To Audition For State Honor Band: Karrah Jensen, Principal, Parkside Junior High School, introduced Board members to Gabriel Pabst, an 8th grader at the school who has been invited to audition to become part of the All Illinois Junior Honor Band. His selection makes Pabst, son of Joel and Rebecca Pabst, one of the Junior high school students statewide are invited to audition this band, and are given a ranking according to how well they play. The All Illinois Junior Honor Band has just 84 members who have been selected from across the State.

As a result of his effort, Gabriel was selected to be the first chair bassoon player for that band. Jensen said as a result of that, Gabriel “was recognized as the best junior high school bassoon player in the State Of Illinois.” Jensen said Gabriel “is a wonderful reflection of the Parkside Junior High School Music Program.”

After auditioning, Gabriel scored high enough to make it to the group of 84 students. He will be representing Unit 5 as the first chair bassoon player for the band. That means he was recognized as the best junior high bassoon player in the State of Illinois. As a result, he participated in a Band Festival event at the University of Illinois at Champaign Jan. 20-21.

Jensen explained junior high students statewide are invited to audition for State Honor Band and placed in rank order based upon how well they play.

Gabriel’s involvement in school bands has included being a member of PJHS’ Honor Band, PJHS Jazz Band, Unit 5 All-Star Jazz Band, Illinois Music Education District 3 Band, and Intercity Honor Band. Presently, Gabriel is also playing in the Bloomington-Normal Youth Symphony.

Initial Look At 2023-24 School Year Calendar Presented: District Assistant Superintendent Michelle Lamboley gave Board members a glimpse at a proposed 2023-24 school year calendar. She explained the district’s calendar committee met monthly in November and December and opted to keep the calendar similar to what it was set for this school year with minor adjustments. Among the adjustments, she said, was deciding to spread out dates when half-day attendance would take place.

“We really weren’t looking at any major changes to the calendar,” Lamboley told Board members. Also, as in past years, a total of seven half-day school starting days are set into the calendar. The dates for half-days are mixed within the calendar, she said in response to a question from Board Member Alan Kalitzky, because to put those half-days at a set time could affect students’ scheduling, potentially causing students to miss the same class or study hall period on a certain day. Lamboley said the calendar committee made an effort to spread out when half-days were set.

Hitchins suggested to Lamboley that dates when attendance will not take place for the district’s Early Learning Program be added to the calendar. Unit 5’s Early Learning Program is the district’s Pre-Kindergarten program for qualifying students ages 3 to 5. The program is available free of charge to eligible students living within District boundaries.

Public Comment Concerning Four School Board Candidates: Identifying herself as a parent to a former Unit 5 student and wife of a district teacher, resident Abby Scott addressed Board members expressing concerns regarding a set of four candidates running for Unit 5 School Board in April who, she said, “are running as a bloc.” The candidates Scott named are Amee’ Jada, Brad Wurth, Dennis Frank, and Molly Emery. Scott said the four “have chosen to use FM 92.9 as a large part of their platform.” Radio Station WRPW FM 92.9, which tags itself as Cities 92.9, airs national hosts such as Sean Hannity and local hosts including Scott Robbins.

Scott said the four “have chosen 92.9 as a large part of their platform,” by going on the station’s shows and promoting its hosts. “This makes me greatly concerned about the values these candidates hold,” she explained. She said the station aired a program hosted by a group she described as a “local militia group.” She described some of what the candidates listed as being “anti-Muslim rhetoric.” She added, referring to the foursome, “If this type of anti-Muslim rhetoric doesn’t bother you, I am not comfortable having you on our school board.”

By Steve Robinson | January 17, 2023 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted unanimously, 6-0, to approve an annexation agreement pertaining to 36 acres of land located at the Northwest Corner of Towanda Ave. and Beech St., known as Carden Springs Planned Unit Development (PUD). Mayor Chris Koos was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, held a day later than usual because of Monday’s Federal holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In approving the proposed annexation agreement concerning the land, Council members approved permitting development of that land for use as a multifamily residential planned unit development on property located adjacent to existing, annexed residential development. Currently, that land is unannexed and being used primarily for agriculture. A detention basin is located on northeast of the proposed development.

Council’s vote paved the way for close to 500 new apartments and townhouses to be built near Interstate 55. Normal Inspections Director Greg Troemel told Council 477 units are planned for Carden Springs, placing them at the northwest corner of Towanda Avenue and Beech Street, making the second largest complex in Normal. The largest complex located in Normal is Ironwood Gardens which has about 460 units on a smaller, 25-acre site.

The property will provide three points of entry from Beech St., and numerous parking availability. Construction is slated to start this spring, according to published reports.

Council members also conditionally approved a final plat for the property to build three homes on Beech Street, property which is part of the Weldon Reserve subdivision. Rezoning being approved by Council members will be necessary for the change in land use. Once built, the land, currently zoned as agriculture, will need to be rezoned as medium density, multifamily units.

No members of the public spoke during a public hearing held prior to the meeting concerning the annexation agreement for Carden PUD.

Former Normal Police Chief Appointed To Town Police Pension Board: Council members also unanimously voted to approve appointing its previous police chief to the Town’s Police Pension Board. Rick Bleichner, who served as NPD’s chief from 2011 until he retired from the department last April, will serve on the Police Pension Board for a two-year term.

Bleichner joined Normal Police Department in 1991. Among the positions he held while with NPD were as a patrol officer, field training officer, detective, and in all phases of operations and support services. In 1999, Bleichner was promoted to sergeant of NPD Patrol Division and also worked as the commander of the Emergency Response Unit. In 2001, Bleichner was promoted to lieutenant and was responsible for overseeing the department’s Criminal Investigations Division. In 2004, he was named assistant police chief, a role he held until being appointed chief.

Bleichner is a member and past co-chair of the Minority and Police Partnership of McLean County. He also twice served as co-chair for that group – from 2007-2009 and again from 2016-2018. He previously served on the Finance and Strategic Planning Committee of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and as chairman of the Emergency Telephone Systems Board (ETSB) for McLean County.

During his tenure as chief, Bleichner held memberships in numerous groups related to his profession including Chiefs of Larger Illinois Cities (CLIC), McLean County Mental Health Advisory Board, McLean County Metro Communications Board, and FBI National Academy. A Western Illinois University graduate, he also of the State’s Police Training Institute, and the Northwestern School of Police Staff and Command.

Public Comment Addresses Street Paving: Normal resident Ron Ulmer addressed Council members explaining he was concerned about maintenance of newer roads throughout town. “It’s obvious that the money for preventative maintenance has been lacking for a long time,” he told Council members. He cited driving by the intersection of College Ave. and Landmark Dr. where, he explained, he saw fist-size pieces of concrete visible. “One area where Normal has lacked through the years is they fail to water-proof, winter-proof, whatever you want to call it, the pavement, the concrete pavement in new areas or roads that have been repaved.

He said looking at the Town’s five-year plan which was released for public review, “We cannot resurface roads, ever, fast enough to catch up on all the need.” Ulmer added he has seen waterproofing being done by the Town on a few roads, but added, “Many years go years and years with no cracks being filled, and pretty soon, little chunks of concrete are coming out, bigger chunks, bigger chunks.

“We don’t have enough money to resurface roads as fast as they deteriorate in Normal,” Ulmer said. He said he has talked to previous Town engineers about the roads, and added those he talked to, but didn’t publicly name, agree with him about road conditions.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved By Council included:

• Approval of minutes from the regular Council meeting of Jan. 3, 2023.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan.11, 2023.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for centralized booking services.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement for the police shooting range facility with the City of Bloomington.

• A resolution to accept a proposal from Consulting Engineering, Inc. for water distribution system for leak detection survey services.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat for Weldon reserve subdivision (Beech St.).

BLOOMINGTON – Two Twin City high school students, one from Normal and one from Bloomington, were honored as Youth Award Winners at the 47th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Luncheon held Saturday. The “I Have A Dream” Awards are given annually by the Human Relations Commissions from both the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington. This year’s event was held at the Best Western Parke Regency Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington.

Each community also recognized an adult honoree with an “I Have A Dream” Award. The Town Of Normal’s honoree named was Jay Tumma. The City of Bloomington’s honoree named was Meta Mickens-Baker.

Amaya Hursey, Normal West High Senior, Presented MLK Youth Award: Amaya Hursey, daughter of Andre and Jade Hursey of Normal, and a senior at Normal Community West High School, was honored as Normal’s winner of the “I Have A Dream” Youth Award at the annual event. The award is named after Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech which the late civil rights champion gave during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Normal and Bloomington each had one high school student presented with the award during the luncheon. She said her professional goal after finishing college is to become either a psychiatrist or psychologist. She said she wants to obtain a major in that field of study at Atlanta, Ga.-based Spellman College.

Hursey said she has been interested in entering that field ever since she was 12-years-old. She explained taking a psychology course at Normal West and “the stigma surrounding the help African Americans not really getting the help that they need” peaked her interest in that certain field to wanting to pursue the career path she wants to consider.

Jay Tumma Presented Normal’s MLK Adult Award: Jay Tumma was honored as Normal’s recipient of the Town’s MLK Adult Award. He dedicated his award to an uncle who recently passed away, explaining the uncle, who he did not name, taught him and other family members ways to make a difference in the lives of other people. He said his uncle “made a difference in many lives” and doing so included being willing to “be rational and ask questions.”

Tumma, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, said, to “be the change you want to be in this world, because no one else is going to solve it for you.” Gandhi was a lawyer and political ethicist in India who applied a nonviolent resistance approach to lead that country’s campaign for independence from British rule.

Karcin Roth, Bloomington High Senior, Presented Bloomington MLK Youth Award: Motivated by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer in 2020, Karcin Roth, a senior at Bloomington High School, is a member of Bloomington-Normal Chapter of NAACP. She has advocated for flood assistance. She has given her time to assist distributing meals at Thanksgiving to shut-ins as a volunteer with a local food bank. She thanked her family for “teaching me the value of serving others in the community.”

Meta Mickens-Baker Presented Bloomington’s MLK Adult Award: Meta Mickens-Baker was honored as Bloomington’s “I Have A Dream” Adult Award winner. Mickens-Baker holds the distinction of the being the first black member of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, holding that post after first being appointed in 2004 followed by being elected to the Board in 2005, exiting after serving five terms on the Board in 2021. She was recognized for a number of initiatives including college prep opportunities and internships for high school students, and participating in “Not In Our School” events.

Elmhurst University Prof. Brown Delivers Event Keynote Address: Now the possessor of a Masters of Business Administration degree from Elmhurst University, Lawrence O. Brown was the keynote speaker for the event, starting his speech to roughly 200 people by admitting transferring from a small university in Indiana to Illinois State University left him “shellshocked.” In beginning his remarks about Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, collectively, the most common memory we all have of the civil rights leader is his “I Have A Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. on Aug. 28, 1963.

Brown said there were key dates in Dr. King’s life that help lead him to the position of prominence he had as he continued to fight for black peoples’ rights until he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 1968. Brown said beginning with being named the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference the previous year and King being able to strengthen ties with President John F. Kennedy. Brown reminded Dr. King was supportive of the Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated Southern United States in 1961 and subsequent years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional.

Brown reminded Dr. King wrote a book called, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community, adding, although the book was written in 1967, “That is a relevant question right now.” He added Dr. King had also said on numerous occasions that his dream he spoke of at the Lincoln Memorial “had turned into a nightmare.”

In personal terms, Brown told the gathering, “My greatest achievement are my sons.” He said during his time at ISU, he had the chance to speak to renowned black poet Gwendolyn Brooks, whose books included Critical Insights. When he mentioned he had spoken to “the Gwendolyn Brooks,” a murmur of recognition and acknowledgement was heard in the room from audience members. He called the encounter with Brooks “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Brown added when Dr. King began turning his attention to the war in Viet Nam, “that’s when his troubles began” began for the one-time preacher of Atlanta, Ga.-based Ebenezer Baptist Church. He added Dr. King’s growing difficulties increased when he said segregation didn’t cost the country anything. Many citizens, Brown explained, believed Dr. King’s concern regarding Viet Nam diverted the civil rights leader’s attention from pressing issues he had been addressing up until that time.

NORMAL – At a special meeting held Jan. 11, Board members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District voted unanimously to ask voters to consider allowing the district to increase the amount of money placed in the district’s education fund. The measure would appear for a second time since voters rejected it in November, appearing on the April 4 ballot. The 25-minute session was held at District’s Hovey Ave. headquarters.

On Election Day Nov. 8, voters in Unit 5 voted down deciding to approve increasing the district’s education fund tax rate by 88 cents, to $3.60 per $100 of a property’s value. Dr. Weikle explained to about 18 people who attended that session Unit 5 has doubled its student enrollment. As a result, she said, the district’s costs to educate all its students has gone up. She explained the district has the lowest educational fund rate which stands at $2.72 per $100 of a property’s value.

Because voters rejected increasing the education fund tax rate last fall “doesn’t mean our deficit has gone away,” explained Board President Barry Hitchins to open a discussion on the matter. He said there were three possibilities for ending the deficit: Holding a referendum; a reduction in services the district currently provides; or the district opting to continue using money from its working cash fund. Hitchins further explained the district needed the special meeting in order to get the referendum to the McLean County Clerk’s Office by Jan. 17 to have it appear on the April ballot.

Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle said it was important for a discussion to take place to make the public aware of what could happen within the district if the referendum doesn’t pass again in terms of impact on the district. She added “the impact on families” the referendum would have was important to share with constituents.

“I think this is a decision our community needs to make,” Board Member Jeremy DeHaai said. “how they want this school district to move forward is critical, and we need to allow the community to make the decision for us.” He said the decision was not one that should be made by the Board. He added he felt it was important to make district residents aware about what could happen if the resolution does not pass this spring.

DeHaai said there was confusion among some voters about what the end result of last fall’s election outcome would mean to the district. Going forward with what voters should be told prior to the April election, DeHaai added, “I think we need to be very clear – we need to be very specific – because we are asking the community ‘do you want to pay more in taxes to help our district stay the way is?,’ or….” He said many residents he spoke to may not have understood exactly what the alternative to voting down the measure would result in for the district.

“I think we need to be very, very specific as we go forward in the next couple months,” DeHaai said.

Board Member Amy Roser said the public needs to have made clear to them what a $12 million deficit would mean to the district. She added she doesn’t support using working cash bonds as a general solution to solving the district financial difficulties because of taxpayer dollars spent already, including interest on the bonds. “We are between rock and hard place,” she said. “Do we look to cut $12 million or do we put this question back on the ballot?”

“I think we have done a very good job on educating our community on a very complicated matter,” Board Member Alan Kalitzky said. He added the time has arrived for Board members to explain to community members what impact a failed referendum would mean to people living in the district. He said the $12 million deficit potentially puts Unit 5 in a position of “not being able to funding as a district.”

What Board Member Stan Gozur categorized as “a broad range of solutions” to the deficit which he listed, including “re-evaluating what our expenses are in accordance with the best use possible.” He said that is something he would not rule out since watching how the district spends its money is the responsibility of the Board of Education, and the superintendent’s responsibility.

“As we confront this reality, we have to ask ourselves the question, ‘what’s in the best interest of our students?’” added Board Member Kentrica Coleman. She added that families often have to consider what expenses are in their best interests, adding, “And Unit 5 is our family. This is why I am supportive of putting this referendum on the ballot.”

Board Candidate Offers Public Comment: Brad Wurth, a candidate seeking a first term on the Board addressed Board members, explaining that as he talked to residents, he said he has been told during his time acquiring signatures for his nominating petition “the referendum is not something the community supports.” He said he felt the community made that clear in November when the measure failed to pass then.

He said he was attending the session to ask the Board to reconsider putting the measure on the ballot because “the community has spoken and they’ve spoken very clearly. He said he and other new candidates running for Board seats “is to represent the community, represent our young students in the community as best as we possibly can. We all recognize that funding is finite. We have to make the most out of all the dollars we get.

“At the end of the day, the community is trusting you with their hard-earned resources,” Wurth added.

Wurth is one of seven candidates seeking a seat on the School Board in April, along with two incumbents. In addition to Wurth, Mark Adams II, Mollie Emery, Dennis Frank, Amee’ Jada, Steve Mackowiak, and Alex Williams will all be on the ballot. Two incumbents, Dr. Pyle and Roser, both of whom were elected in spring 2019 each to a first term, are running for re-election.

Voters Rejected Increasing District Tax Rate Last November: Last fall, in an attempt to impress Unit 5’s financial state upon residents, Dr. Weikle also explained District classrooms were bulging in terms of the number of students, citing the example of grades 3-5, which ideally ought to have at maximum 24 students per section winding up with 30 students per section. At that time, she added classes like English and Science in 7th through 12th grade, which should have roughly 25 students in them see around 35 students in a class. Such an environment, she said then, makes addressing individual student questions difficult in a classroom setting.

Numerous culprits, the superintendent explained, are to blame for Unit 5’s circumstances, including years of a decreasing earned assessed valuation in the community; growing behavioral and social emotional needs of students; significant decreases in dollars the State has been able to provide the district, and increases in mandates placed upon the district by the State.

Also at that time, Dr. Weikle said eliminating classes considered electives or eliminating time for students to use school libraries would result in shortening school day hours. She also said then increasing the district tax rate by 88 cents would be a step toward doing that. To not see the increase approved, Dr. Weikle said, would result in negative effects for students. Those would include reduced program offerings and reduced extracurricular and co-curricular offerings for students, shortened school days, closed school buildings, and increased fees.