Voters reject tax referendum for McLean County’s largest school district

Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle (left) and School Board President Barry Hitchins (right)
Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle (left) and School Board President Barry Hitchins (right)(Unit 5 School District and Vimeo)
Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 12:48 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MCLEAN COUNTY (25 News Now) - Unit 5, McLean County’s largest school district, faces the prospect of severe budget cuts after voters on Tuesday rejected a tax referendum to offset growing deficits in the district’s education fund.

The referendum asked for an 88-cent increase in the education fund’s tax rate to $3.60 per $100 of assessed property values. School leaders said that rate has risen only 10 cents in the last 40 years.

No organized groups surfaced to campaign against the referendum, but the issue became political when the McLean County Republican Party urged voters to vote no. McLean County Democrats responded with a statement urging voters to approve the referendum.

Supporters said the higher education fund tax rate would result in a tax reduction because the district would no longer have to sell working cash bonds at high interest rates to overcome budget deficits.

Unit 5 School Board President Barry Hitchins and Superintendent Kristen Weikle each expressed disappointment in statements released Tuesday night.

From President Hitchins:

“Obviously the board is disappointed with the outcome of this vote. While we didn’t get the result we would have liked, we would still like to thank members of the Illinois Education Association, local trades and labor unions, the Yes for Unit 5 committee, and especially Dr. Weikle and her administrative team for their effort in telling Unit 5′s story and getting our message out. The Board will take some time to digest these results, have conversations with some key stakeholders and those involved in the referendum effort; and work to determine our path forward.”

From Superintendent Weikle:

“I first want to thank everyone who worked so hard to try to ensure the future financial stability of Unit 5. I am extremely appreciative of everyone who voted but obviously we are disappointed with the results. We are going to have to take some time to evaluate the outcome and see what this may mean in the future for Unit 5. There are very difficult decisions that will have to be made in the next several months. I know we have a strong school district and supportive parents and we will continue to work together for the students of our district.”

Last March, the school board made $2.1 million in cuts, eliminating 36 teacher and staff positions, two administrative jobs and dropping the eighth-grade foreign language program.

After Tuesday’s vote, school leaders said the board will have to consider larger class sizes, school closings, and shorter school days.

The next Unit 5 School Board meeting is Wednesday, November 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Normal West High School.