By Steve Robinson | March 24, 2019 - 10:39 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – When voters go to the polls to vote to choose their selection for who should sit on the Normal-based Unit 5 School Board on April 2, they will find seven candidates running for six open seats. The only Board member not running this time around is Taunia Leffler, who won election to her seat in 2017 and is in the middle of a four-year term.

Board Members Mike Trask and Meta Mickens-Baker are running for reelection for two-year terms. Board Member Barry Hitchins, the Board’s current president is running to seek a four-year term. Board Members Alan Kalitzky, Amy Roser, and Dr. Kelly Pyle, applied to join the Board to replace three members who left the Board because of job transfers out of the community. Kalitzky, Roser, and Pyle, by law, must run for election to stay in the Board.

There is a seventh candidate running for a Board seat who is very familiar with the workings of the district and the Board because of her prior association with Unit 5. She is LaNell Greenberg, who once served as executive assistant to District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel, as well as clerk to the Board. Now working as a private consultant, Greenberg is seeking to fill a Board seat.

A new funding equation for determining money owed to the district by the State was brought up by some of the candidates, as well. Under the school funding reform plan, schools would continue to get the same state assistance previously due to them. An additional $395 million in K-12 education spending was to be distributed through a new school funding formula, which was proposed and approved last year.

Mike Trask Seeks Reelection To A Two-Year Term: First elected to the Board in 2011 and reelected in 2015, Mike Trask is seeking a third term on the Board which would last for two years. Trask has two daughters, one a senior at Normal Community High School, and one who’s a sophomore at Heartland Community College. Finding stability within the district’s education fund is the priority Trask said he believes needs attention currently. The education fund pays for things such as salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators, and staff. “That fund has been the hardest to maintain since we’ve been prorated by the State over the years,” Trask said. “We’ve tried to make ourselves as competitive with surrounding districts in terms of hiring.”

People understand Unit 5’s budget quandary is part of State issue related to finances, he said.

Meta Mickens-Baker Seeks Reelection To A Two-Year Term: Mickens-Baker, seeking her fifth term on the Board, having first been seated after being appointed to the Board in 2004. Her two sons have both graduated from Normal Community High School in 2012 and 2016, respectfully. To Mickens-Baker’s thinking, “our most pressing problem remains our budget, specifically revenue,” she said, explaining local property taxes “have been pretty flat” recently as opposed to showing a previous increase. She said that, on top of the State of Illinois continuing to send reduced payments to the district for transportation and special education funding, have become concerns for the district. “Some years, the State didn’t send all of what they prorated,” she added.

“We’ve done all we can to reduce budgetary expenses,” Mickens-Baker reminded. “We changed how we do professional development for our staff and handle textbook resources for students.” On that last item, she pointed to the district using less costly online internet book access versus in-hand materials. She said many online materials are available free of charge.

Dr. Kelly Pyle Seeks Election To A Four-Year Term: Audiologist Dr. Kelly Pyle assumed a seat on the Board in August, filling a vacancy left by Joe Cleary, who departed for a new job in California last summer. She has two children, a 3rd grader and a 5th grader in district schools. Pyle said she sees the budget as the most pressing matter for the district.

“Currently, we’ve had to sell bonds to cover our expenses for the next two years,” Dr. Pyle reminded, referring to Board members unanimously approving the sale of $16.5 million in working cash fund bonds which would be put to work in the district’s working cash fund. “But we need to look at a long-term solution to making sure our budget is balanced.”

With the change in the funding model, Pyle explained, Springfield would owe Unit 5 close to $32 million to have complete funding. “We’re not going to get anywhere close to that,” Pyle said. She added she doesn’t believe the State has enough revenue to back up the proposal for putting the new funding model into use.

Amy Roser Seeks Election To A Four-Year Term: Amy Roser assumed a seat on the Board last July filling a seat following the resignation of Jim Hayek, Jr. Hayek, a State Farm employee, left the area due to a job transfer in Phoenix, Ariz. last spring. Roser works in the office of Illinois State University’s University College division. She has two children, one in 3rd grade and one in 5th grade. “Securing funding for the long term,” is the top priority the district must address, she said. Doing that, she said, would help Unit 5 “continue to have the stability and quality of education we can continue to provide.”

She said she doesn’t believe Unit 5 will ever get to receive the $32 million which the State said the district needs to be considered fully funded, but, she added, “We need to provide some stability so that we can continue to fund the quality of things that are a part of our educational experience.”

Roser said the bonding measure helped balance the district’s budget and cover expenses. She said other sources for helping the district to have money incoming must be continued to be sought.

LaNell Greenberg Seeks Election To A Four-Year Term: Prior to establishing a career as a consultant, LaNell Greenberg worked for Unit 5 for 12 years. She is the mother of a son and a daughter who saw her children graduate from Normal Community West High School. Greenberg, too, said she wants to see the district fill in the budget gap in the deficit of at least $6 million. “I think the new Board is going to have to dig through and really look at the budget line by line.” Unit 5 has a budget of over $172 million.

“I would also like to see the district bring someone on who specializes in writing grants,” Greenberg added. She said doing that would bring grant money into classrooms. She said there are already people working in the district who have that skill to help accomplish that.

She said her other main concern is to look for ways for the district to help its staff feel valued. “It’s a priority of mine because I feel we need to do a better job of keeping the great staff we have and not letting them leave the district,” she explained.

Alan Kalitzky Seeks Election To A Four-Year Term: Kalitzky is running for a first full term, coming in after applying for the position after David W. Fortner resigned last spring to take a job in Chicago. Kalitzky and his wife have four children, all of them attend Benjamin Elementary School in kindergarten, 1st grade, 3rd grade, and 5th grade. “Finding alternate revenue sources to offset fiscal deficiencies for the long term” is what Kalitzky said is the Board’s top priority. “I think we can continue to find short-term strategies that doesn’t put the burden back on our local taxpayers. I think it’s our responsibility to find an alternative path, either through State funds or increased grant revenue, or become a little more creative in terms of finding other options that may exist.”

He added using grants can help offset some costs, such as in paying for some of the district’s early childhood education program. He said the district should start looking for funding sources in time to have them ready when the bond money currently in use starts to be totally spent.

“I do feel our expenses within the district are acceptable and I feel they are doing a fantastic job of managing those operational controls, and that our educators are being paid a fair salary with adequate staff in the district,” Kalitzky added. But even with that feeling, Kalitzky said that position should not keep the district from continuing an oversight posture over such expenses. He also said going back to area State legislators to see what opportunities are available through the State would be another way to discover potential revenue streams.

Barry Hitchins Seeks Election To A Four-Year Term: Current Board President Barry Hitchins is seeking his second four-year term on the Board having been elected in 2015. He has a daughter who is a student at George L. Evans Junior High School. Hitchins said his top priority is “the long-term financial stability of the district.” Like Greenberg, he mentioned the district must find a way to proceed financially after using the money from the bonds cashed is spent.

Like Mickens-Baker, Hitchins pegged part of Unit 5’s money problems on what he called “stagnant” property tax income, and increases of earned assessed value of local property. “It’s been just kind of a perfect storm that has hit the district over multiple years.”

All those factors have resulted “in a perfect storm we have to come up with a long-term solution to resolve,” he said.

The new evidence-based funding model Mickens-Baker mentioned has “increased how much money we’re getting from the State,” Hitchins said, but he quickly reminded the model shows Unit 5 being underfunded by over $32 million. “We need to figure out, based on that model, which aspects of it are important to us, and we need to have discussions with the community about what are the important pieces of the funding model.” Once that’s done, he said, determining how the district pays for those pieces is the next step. He said the model said an ideal kindergarten class size is 15-20 kids and Unit 5 exceeds that. He said adding teachers to those classes would help that situation.

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