By Howard Packowitz
NORMAL – A Unit 5 school board member said Wednesday night the board has a mountain to climb before deciding by year’s end whether to seek voters’ approval for higher taxes to reduce growing budget deficits.
After Wednesday evening’s board meeting, Taunia Leffler said she strongly favors creating a community task force to help gather information about the public’s priorities and expectations for the district.
The education fund deficit rose above $6 million the last fiscal year ending June 30, and is projected to reach about $20 million in five years as Unit 5 raises teachers’ pay and the district contends with only modest gains in taxable land values.
The board decided last fall on a two-year stop-gap measure by selling $16.5 million in bonds, a borrowing plan costing an extra $205 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $177,000 home, according to Unit 5 administrators.
When asked if the deficit means a reduction in staff or an increase in class sizes Leffler said all options are on the table and that’s why community input is important.
She said a task force of community leaders can help determine what the public wants and expects from Unit 5.
“At the end of the day, if our students come out and they’re educated, our businesses are going to hire our students. They’re going to then buy properties, (and) pay taxes,” said Leffler.
“It’s a great thing for our community to make sure that these students are educated and ready to help be part of the community, and build our community,” Leffler also said.
Unit 5 staffers are assessing what the district will receive from the state’s new evidence-based funding formula, which is key to determining the size of the tax referendum should the board decide to take the issue to voters.
Howard Packowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org