Urbana school board OKs budget, discusses change in wording in communication policy

Urbana school board OKs budget, discusses change in wording in communication policy

Wording change discussed for new policy regarding what members can tell public

URBANA — The Urbana school board unanimously approved a budget for this school year at its Tuesday meeting, but items in it may change as the district gets more information from Springfield.

"This information is as good as it was the day I finished it," business director Carol Baker said.

The budget includes an almost $1 million increase for employee salaries and benefits, as well as the cost of hiring seven new teachers and setting up seven new classrooms because enrollment is increasing.

Baker is estimating that the district will receive about $60 million in revenues and spend about $77 million.

Those figures do not include property-tax money from Carle Physician Group, which the district keeps in escrow as Carle appeals a decision requiring it to pay those taxes. The district doesn't spend that money because it may need to pay it back, Baker said.

This year's budget also reflects spending on the renovation of Prairie Elementary School and construction of its new early childhood center. The district sold bonds last year for that project, so the money is not reflected as a revenue in this year's budget.

The district expects to have about $7.5 million in available reserves at the end of the fiscal year, Baker said.

The school board also discussed revisions to a policy that outlines expectations for board members before, during and after their meetings.

The board passed the original policy in June, and some residents and a News-Gazette editorial were critical of it.

Urbana resident Esther Patt and former school board member Mark Netter both addressed the board about the policy and urged it to increase communications with the public.

Patt said she likes to hear from elected officials about their positions on issues and she worries that the policy might have a chilling effect when it comes to residents deciding about whether they want to run for the board.

Board member Peggy Patten suggested a change to the revised policy, which the board will vote on Oct. 2. She suggested adding wording that says the district's administration will give information to the public at the meeting specifically relating to the board's agenda.

All the other board members indicated they supported the change, and the board also discussed how to go about having administrators provide information to as many people as possible.

Superintendent Preston Williams said there may be some issue with distributing all the board's materials before its meeting. He and board President John Dimit both mentioned the district may need to consult its attorneys to clarify what can be posted online before meetings.

The board also talked about making sure the administrators are taking a multifaceted approach to getting information to the public.

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