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NORMAL — The McLean County Unit 5 board of education voted unanimously in favor of changing school times at Wednesday’s meeting.

Families with students in Unit 5 schools have five months to rearrange schedules before new start and dismissal times take effect district-wide in August.

“I consider every student in the district my child,” said board member Gail Ann Briggs. “This is the most difficult decision that has come to me in the 40 years I’ve been on the board.”

Elementary schools will start at 7:45 a.m. and go to 2:30 p.m., junior high schools will be 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and high schools will change to 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Since October, a transportation committee has been researching and discussing the time changes, with superintendent Mark Daniel bringing results to the board.

The priority discussion for the committee was how to solve the $1.3 million budget deficit in the district’s transportation fund due to a lack of funding from the state.

By eliminating buses, changing routes and moving start times, the district expects to save $1.5 million.

“I am happy this solution would protect the district’s education fund. There is no guarantee the state of Illinois will reach a budget any time soon,” said board member Denise Schuster.

Board member John Puzauskas is on the transportation committee and while he agreed to the motion, he voiced concerns.

“The amount of work that needs to be done is immense and I’m worried issues will arise. It will need to be done with absolute focus in working through the nitty-gritty details,” said Puzauskas.

Knowing the vote would be Wednesday, a large number of parents and teachers attended the meeting in an attempt to sway the board’s decision.

“I’m here to say I want the earlier start times,” said nine-year-old Kale Hunt at the meeting. “We’ll be focused and won’t be messing around as much in school.”

The students in Kale’s fourth grade class at Benjamin Elementary discussed the changes and took a vote in class. Twenty-six students were in favor of the change and six were against it.

In other news, Denise Schuster announced that Thursday will be her last day serving on the board as vice president.

Her decision to leave the McLean County Unit 5 school board comes after her husband accepted a job in Dallas, Texas, she said.

Schuster was appointed to the board in 2014 and was elected vice president in 2015. She also serves on the McLean County Regional Planning Committee.

Individuals interested in filling the vacancy are invited to an informational meeting at 5 p.m. April 4, at the Unit 5 District Office, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., Normal. Attendance is not required for a candidate to be considered for appointment. The Board’s policies regarding Board service, elections, and filling vacancies are available on the District’s website, www.unit5.org.

Official appointment of the new board member is expected to occur by April 27.

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Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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