NORMAL — It isn’t any surprise to teachers, administrators and students in Bloomington-Normal schools that Unit 5 school district is educating more and more children who live in Bloomington, and stakeholders are looking at what that means now and may mean in the future.
Many people still think of Bloomington District 87 as the main educator of Bloomington students, but that is no longer is the case, said Vickie Mahrt, president of the Unit Five Education Association.
“There are more Bloomington students in Unit 5 than in District 87 today,” she said.
Unit 5 has 12,130 students and almost half – 5,894 of them – live at Bloomington addresses. The Bloomington-based District 87 has 5,496 students with Bloomington addresses.
“It’s an interesting fact,” said District 87 Superintendent Bob Nielsen. “I don’t know what to make of it.”
If District 87 had continued to grow with the city (the district is landlocked like a doughnut hole, surrounded by Unit 5), it would be the larger school district now, he observed.
Unit 5 serves students not only from Normal and Bloomington, but also from Towanda, Carlock and Hudson.
The district’s top challenge is providing adequate facilities and programs to keep pace with its growth, Marht said.
“Only one municipality (Normal) in our district has implemented impact fees to help provide classroom space for students living in new residential developments,” Mahrt said.
Unit 5 Superintendent Alan Chapman and school board President Scott Lay have encouraged Bloomington to consider similar measures, where developers help contribute to build schools that will be needed as growth continues.
Unit 5 would like to see some form of impact fee or land dedication fee, said John Hanson, a Bloomington alderman and former District 87 school board member.
“There is some hesitation from Bloomington,” he said, because city aldermen want to treat District 87 fairly and most of the growth seems to be in Unit 5.
Hanson acknowledged the two districts are different. District 87 has a more neighborhood-based school system, and the rapidly growing Unit 5 has experienced much growth in new subdivisions where busing is needed.
While the districts are unique, they do work together, he said.
“We are doing more cooperating between the two districts than I’ve seen in a long time,” he said, including technology and shared buying.
But “with a smart growth plan, we could do more,” he said.