Frequently Asked Questions
(These questions are updated regularly)
Q: How does Unit 5's tax rate compare to other districts?
A: Unit 5 has the lowest Education Fund Rate and Operating Fund Rates in all of McLean County.
Q: Will the referendum increase my taxes?
A: The tax rate will decrease from the current rate of $5.51 to $5.47 in 2024 and $4.92 in 2026. If your property value remains flat your taxes will not increase. If your property value goes up you may pay more in taxes, it will depend on how your property grows in value.
Q: If you had to shorten the school day, what time would students get out?
A: Students would likely get out 1 hour earlier. Elementary schools would dismiss at 1:30, Junior Highs at 2:45, and High Schools at 2:30.
Q: What is happening with Carlock?
A: The Board of Education has not voted or taken any action towards Carlock.
Q: Can Freshman play JV and Varsity sports?
A: Yes, a freshman can play up to JV or Varsity, however for the 2023-24 school year we will limit the number of students who can travel for out of town competition, so athletes who don’t play as much may not be traveling out of town with the team.
Q: Will the school board reinstate the items cut if the referendum passes?
A: District administration believes that the school board would reinstate the cuts if the referendum passes.
Q: Won't Unit 5 get more money from all the new developments being built?
A: Yes, once the developments are complete we will see an increase in revenue from those properties. It’s also likely that Unit 5 will have more students enroll in our schools as a result of these developments.
Q: How much will my property taxes for Unit 5 be increased next year?
A: The tax rate for levy year 2023 will be $5.51 per $100 of a property’s Equalized Assessed Value (EAV), just like it is now. Your taxes go up or down based on your property’s value, which is determined by the assessor’s office not Unit 5.
Q: I heard Unit 5 has $80 million in reserves, why do you need an Education Fund increase?
A: Approximately $50 million are the proceeds from working cash bonds. This money is earmarked for the 22-23 and 23-24 school years. The remaining $30 million is money that is spread out among all of the district funds. The “$80 million” in reserves was based on our audit at the end of last fiscal year. This is significant because we received our first of two installments of property taxes prior to the fiscal year ending. While the money may appear in our account it is spent down throughout the school year to run the district.
Q: Won't the district receive more money from the Rivian abatement and Uptown Normal TIF?
A: Yes, this year Unit 5 will receive approximately $750,000 in property taxes from Rivian. However, Unit 5 does not get to earmark all of that money for the Education Fund, instead it is shared among all district funds based on the levy rate. Unit 5 will begin receiving funds from the Uptown Normal TIF in levy year 2027. We are expecting to receive $1.5 million to be shared among all district funds based on the levy rate.
Q: I heard Unit 5 has over 100 administrators being paid over $100K - Why don't you cut there?
A: Unit 5 has a little over 80 administrators that include school principals, Human Resources, Finance, Operations and Maintenance, Food Service, Curriculum and Instruction, Communications, Technology, etc. The administrators that make over $100K have either spent their career in this field, are on the retirement track, work 12 months, and/or supervise a large number of staff. The average administrator salary is well below the state average.
Q: The ballot question was very confusing last time - can it be changed?
A: Unfortunately no, even though we are wanting to take the money we are paying as taxpayers in the building bonds and working cash and move it permanently to the Education Fund, there are legal requirements to how the question must appear on the ballot. Here is a link to more information.
Q: How many administrators does Unit 5 have compared to the state average?
A: According to the 2021-22 Illinois School Report Card, the administration to student ratio in Unit 5 is 207:1 (207 students to every 1 administrator), whereas the state average is 147:1 (147 students to every 1 administrator).
Q: How long is the projected proposal going to last before we will need another increase?
A: The new rate was determined by looking at the cost of the feedback from the community engagement process and then forecasting those costs into the future. Based on current assumptions the increase should last the district at least 10 years.
Q: Since the Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) went up this year, will that take care of the deficit?
A: No, an increase in EAV will not eliminate the deficit if nothing else changes. While an increase in EAV does help bring in additional revenue it does not make up for the last decade, where EAV has been at or below 3%.
Q: Home sales have been high the last two years. Is that accounted for in the Education Fund projections?
A: Yes, we assumed a 6% increase in the EAV for the next two years (levy years 23 and 24) our Education Fund projections. We assumed a 3% increase for the next three years (levy years 25, 26, and 27). Even with our assumptions, it doesn't eliminate the deficit.
Q: What are examples of the unfunded mandates?
A: The minimum teacher starting salary of $40,000 and the minimum wage increases are two examples that have a significant financial impact on the district.
Q: What services/costs are paid from the Education Fund?
A: Salaries and benefits for teachers, school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, speech/language therapists, teaching assistants, administrative assistants, administrators, technology specialists, technology, books, online resources, etc.
Q: Is the district able to recoup the lost money from the State when funds were prorated?
A: Unfortunately no. Although the State can mandate that Unit 5 provide certain services, it is not required to appropriate funds to fully fund those mandated services. If it chooses to fund mandated services less than 100%, it is not required to eventually make up the unfunded portion of those services. Unit 5 has lost approximately $19 million dollars from proration since 2010.
Q: How were ESSER dollars spent and can’t they be used towards the deficit?
A: ESSER dollars were meant to be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus. Funds could also be spent on addressing the academic and social-emotional needs of students as a result of the pandemic, technology for online learning, professional development of staff, etc. Unit 5 used money to purchase chromebooks and tablets for online learning, additional personnel who served as academic and behavioral interventionists, summer school staff and summer school transportation for the past two summers, online learning resources, professional development, clearing supplies, sub custodians for extra cleaning of classrooms and cafeterias, and improved ventilation throughout the district.
Q: How long is the projected proposal going to be effective before we will need another increase?
A: The new rate was determined by looking at the cost of the feedback from the community engagement process and then forecasting those costs into the future. Based on current assumptions, the increase should last the district at least 10 years.
Q: Will the increase really not happen until levy year 2024?
A: Yes, the district will not apply the $0.88 increase in the education fund until after the building bonds are paid off. This is structured intentionally so that the tax rate does not increase.
Q: The Bonds and Interest rate goes down and the Ed Fund goes up. Doesn’t that mean it levels out and is a flat rate more or less?
A: If approved by the voters, the tax rate will actually decrease. Rather than paying $1.00 towards bonds and interest payments taxpayers would pay $0.88 towards the education fund thus resulting in a lower tax rate.
Q: Why is the education fund lower than neighboring districts?
A: At some point in time, other districts’ communities have approved a higher tax rate in the education fund.
Q: What is the operating budget of similar school districts in Illinois, other Midwest states?
A: Each state has different funding structures, rules, and regulations regarding school finance so Unit 5 has compared our operating funds to other districts in Illinois. Last year we compared ourselves to other large unit districts, districts serving students in grades PreK-12 that have at least 3,500 students enrolled. This comparison showed that Unit 5 spent the second lowest operating dollars spent per student compared to six large unit districts in the surrounding area. The comparison also showed Unit 5 spends a higher percentage of dollars in the instructional fund compared to the other districts.
Q: Is Unit 5 larger than other districts?
A: Yes, Unit 5 is the 15th largest district out of 800+ public school districts in Illinois.
Q: Do you feel it is an ethics violation for employees to advocate for this referendum using school district resources?
A: School district employees can provide factual information regarding the referendum during work hours and using district resources. Employees can advocate for or against the referendum on their own time and using their own resources.
Q: Explain why you are anticipating increased deficits. Are you just spending beyond your means or what?
A: No, the district is not spending beyond our means. In the last 7 years, Unit 5 has cut over $5 million in expenses in the education fund. If nothing changes in the education fund, the deficit is projected to increase due to increases in salaries and benefits, increased costs of supplies, materials and purchased services. If we want the best instruction for our students, we need to pay competitive wages in order to attract and retain employees.