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NORMAL — McLean County Unit 5 is preparing to issue $16.5 million in bonds to help fund operating expenses, including additional staff and programs, over the next two years.

The bonds would add about $205 per year for two years to the property tax bill of a house currently valued at $177,100, the median home price in the district, financial adviser Robert Lewis of PMA Securities Inc. told the school board Wednesday.

In another matter, the board heard preparations for school busing are going smoothly and an update on plans to have students swipe school IDs when they board and exit school buses.

The board also approved a 3 percent raise for Superintendent Mark Daniel, bringing his salary to $203,606 for 2018-19.

Much of the money from the bond issue would help pay for additional counselors, safety monitors, speech language pathologists, special education teachers and interventionists needed to achieve the best practices spelled out as part of the the evidence-based school funding formula approved last year in Springfield.

District officials also said this spring that Unit 5 hoped to boost the number of school psychologists and counselors to assess student mental health following the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

"A big piece of this is for the safety and social/emotional health of students," said the district's business manager, Marty Hickman, before the board meeting.

The current tax rate for Unit 5's bonds and interest is 99 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation. While that would increase to $1.35 per $100 EAV for taxes payable in 2019, the rate could fall to 46 cents per $100 EAV — half the current rate — for taxes payable in 2024 when construction bonds issued in 2008 are paid off, Lewis said.  

The borrowing also would allow the district to cover operating costs without resorting to tax anticipation warrants — borrowing to keep cash flow up until property tax payments come in — which cost the district $96,500 in interest and fees last year, Lewis said.

In 2017-18, Cincinnati-based bus contractor First Student saw an on-time rate of 99.38 percent on 99,760 runs for the year, the board was told Wednesday. 

"It will be a good school year again, no doubt of it in my mind," Mark Bohl, First Student location manager for Unit 5, told the board.

First Student has 154 drivers in place and more in training, which exceeded the estimated 150 needed to staff the expected 132 routes, he said. 

Much of the discussion centered on the use of on-board swipe scanners for student IDs. High school students already have the IDs and will start using them the first day, and middle school students will follow when they get their IDs at school.

The program will roll out gradually for Unit 5's 17 elementary schools, starting with three in a pilot program in mid-September.

Contact Roger Miller at (309) 820-3233. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_rmiller

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Public Safety Reporter

Public safety reporter for The Pantagraph.

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