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NORMAL - Keeping teens off the streets and out of trouble requires collaborative insight, said a Normal councilwoman who asked for help from a joint committee of government and education officials.

During Tuesday's meeting of the Unit 5/Local Government Committee at the Illinois Education Association office in Bloomington, Cheryl Gaines detailed a new local task force developed by the United Way to prevent teen violence.

"A lot of teens out there are starting to get meaner. Some are even girls. And they're scaring some neighborhoods," she said. "What can we do?"

The committee, which formed last year, brings Unit 5 board members and administrators together with government representatives from Normal and Bloomington.

District 87 sends representatives, but only in an observation role.

Gaines outlined the purpose of the new task force: to provide more positive opportunities for Twin City teenagers.

"These kids need jobs" and other productive options besides just hanging out, she said.

The United Way is going to start a pilot project helping a dozen teens this summer, she said. "We need to start teaching them some work ethics," said Gaines.

Bob Nielsen, District 87 superintendent said: "You need to start long before they get to high school, like fifth or sixth grade. It's tough to teach a 17- or 18-year-old work ethics."

Meta Mickens-Baker, a Unit 5 school board member, said providing more opportunities for middle-school students is a need in this community.

Both Twin City school districts have established relationships working with local police to address violence prevention, said Nielsen. But each district should also take part in the new task force, he added.

"We're very willing to take part in those discussions … when something that happens on the weekend on the streets shows up in the schools the next week," he added.

City managers Mark Peterson of Normal and Tom Hamilton of Bloomington also said they'd like to take part.

The committee also discussed proposals in Normal to possibly create three new tax increment financing district properties: the former Holiday Inn site on north Main Street, the former Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School site, and a third near the ISU campus on Main Street.

Peterson said that none has been approved.

TIF districts divert property tax money that normally would go to school districts and other taxing bodies into a fund to pay for redevelopment.

The committee also talked about Unit 5's investigation of possible future school sites, and how it would like to see Bloomington and Normal governments collaborate on funding options, such as for school playgrounds that could also be used by city parks' departments.

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