Questions posed to the school board about the April 13th board meeting

Here is a small list of questions I emailed to the board in regards to the April 13th board meeting. I also included newly elected board members, who will be sworn in next month.

I was looking over the April 13th BOE meeting agenda, and wished to find more information when you have an opportunity.

  1. Under “Recognitions”, there is a fascinating mention of how 24 HS students participated in a Khan Academy course, and how Mr. Jim Linnenburger will receive $100 per student. Were all 24 students participating in the Google/DonorsChoose program (ie, “traditionally underrepresented”)? Did students participate while at school, or was this done outside school hours? Please note, I personally think this is a very good thing, as rudiementary skills in javascript are extremely helpful in the current software development job market, and outlets like Codeacademy and Khan Academy have made these skills very accessible. I can easily see hundreds of additional students taking advantage of these resources.
  2. Under “Reports: New Business”, line item A (“DLR innovation challenge”) briefly mentions the outstanding success of four HS students and a teacher mentor. Will the team’s innovative solution (sustainable vertical farming) be shared in detail at Monday’s meeting? Will there be materials online that others can read about? And more importantly, can any of those ideas be implemented here in Champaign? I would love to see more students tackling broad problems and applying solutions at a local level. :)
  3. Line item B (“Juvenile Delinquency prevention” with IL State AG Julia Rietz) mentions a report; can that report be shared online? I am sincerely hoping that Ms. Rietz will focus her report on the work of restorative justice, as highlighted in the News-Gazette a couple weeks ago.
  4. Action Agenda line item B (Administration Compensation): the summary says “A list of eligible administrators is attached”, yet there is no document attached in boarddocs available to the public. Please attach said list to the agenda and/or make available online. Personally, I fail to see why administrative salary percentage increases need to mirror teacher percentage increases; the justification about remaining “regionally competitive” is not enough for me.
  5. Consent Agenda line item J (HLS Implementations): I know Consent Agenda items are typically discussed under “New Business” at earlier board meetings, but I was unable to find where this one was discussed when I looked at all board meetings in 2015. I see the bid on the Unit 4 website, but I do not see where the details are. What is being done for $424,000? Furthermore, I know the HLS reports in the past have detailed many millions of dollars worth of needed work (prioritized into three categories of urgency). I assume the $424k takes care of the most important items. Does it address all the Category A items?
  6. Lastly, Consent Agenda line item M (Renewal of Superintendent’s contract): May we please see the current contract, and for how long the renewal will be for (starting when, ending when)? The summary on boarddocs is completely and utterly blank.

5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum

First off, hats off to the candidates that won a seat on the school board:

  • Amy Armstrong
  • Chris Kloeppel
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon
  • Jonathan Westfield (2-year seat)

UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

With a 10:4 ratio voting against the referendum, I was actually surprised with such a huge margin; I expected it to be much closer. Obviously, the Keep Central Central’s strong campaign efforts (and lack of a corresponding thrust by the “Yes” crowd) made an impression, which is also reflected in the choice of board members; every candidate that took a strong stand for the referendum failed to claim a seat.

So this is what democracy looks like at the ballot. Now the harder part – how do you get all those “No” votes to actually agree on a solution, and then sell that to the everyone else? This will be a challenge for the new board. Another challenge will be if they desire to choose a new president, and building bridges with the North End Breakfast Club (which I think is very important and healthy).

For the referendum, I would love to see a multi-staged effort take place. First, break the referendum up into pieces that actually address individual goals. One for Dr. Howard, one for the current Central (ie, the dreaded lack of AC we keep hearing about in the summer months), one for Centennial and one for a new Central. All of that needs to be put under the umbrella of a comprehensive and community-vetted long-term strategic plan than can be summarized in a one-page infographic. I would love to see an effort towards participatory budgeting whereby the guts of how finances work are simplified and made accessible to the average Joe, and give stakeholders a sense of ownership by giving them the power to vote on more granular items (as opposed to a carte blanche $144 million).

Here are a few short-term goals I am going to push the new school board to jump on.

  1. Figure out a way to have informal get-togethers that do not violate OMA but yet do not require an agenda, much less Robert’s Rules. Most of the candidates have already been practicing this; now to make it official. Happy Hours at Jupiters/Sun Singer/Blind Pig? :)
  2. Even though KCC won tonight, don’t let the referendum dominate your role as a board member. Keep things in perspective. Focus first (please!) on governance and serving the people that elected you.
  3. Connect with the North End. Make it a priority to adopt some of their issues, like inequities in discipline and the achievement gap. Jamar’s voice will be missed, so find a way to fill the gap.

There are very exciting times ahead. The public has voted in some good people, even if they are not the ones you wanted. Each of them has promised to bring a listening ear, so it is up to you to make sure they do exactly that.

Exam Cram: 2015 school board candidates

I know many of you are suffering withdrawal because Early voting is closed today; have no fear, you can get your fix here and learn all about the school board candidates. Recently I added Nicole Lafond’s News-Gazette interviews of each school board candidate:

There are eight folks vying for four 4-year seats, and Jonathan Westfield is the sole runner for the 2-year seat. How to decide? Who are you going to vote for? With the two current board members in the middle of their own 4-year terms (Laurie Bonnett and Lynn Stuckey), plus Jonathan, there are 70 total unique combinations:

potential_school_board_combinations (excel spreadsheet)

Will you vote based on a single (big) issue like the $144 million referendum? Will you vote based on how well you know each candidate? How many yard signs you have seen?

I suggest you to think about what kind of board you want as a whole; what qualities and characteristics of a school board do you value the most? For myself, I am pushing for a board that adheres strongly and visibly to the Illinois Association of School Board’s “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance“.

After talking to many candidates and reflecting on the marathon of forums and other encounters with the public, I am very encouraged to hear that most candidates have already formed a strong rapport with each other; that even though they definitely do not agree on everything, they have already started to exercise respectful deliberation. One of the “Big Ideas” I am hoping shakes out of the new board are more informal “gatherings” where folks can simply hang out with board members and have agenda-less conversations, maybe even to the point of doing so with more than two board members. We shall see.

April 7th quickly approaches. While I encourage you to vote, I think it may be more important to be an informed voter. If you have questions, please ask.

The April 7th vote: why I am voting YES for the $144 million

As Jim Dye of the News-Gazette said this morning, it is a very tough choice to vote “NO” or “YES” on the April 7th $144 million referendum item; there are major deficiencies on both sides of the fence, as well as really good points in favor of each side. As a voter, it is easy to have doubts one way or the other.

But the clincher for me happened yesterday at noon while I was driving near Prospect and Bradley. There is a very large billboard with the KCC (Keep Central Central) “Vote NO” ad. When I saw that, my mind was made up. That sign alone is responsible for catapulting me solidly over in to the YES camp. Why? Aside from my distaste for billboards in general, I personally view this particular ad as a colossal waste of money; if you care so much about public education, put your money where your mouth is.

If anyone spots a YES billboard around town, let me know before April 7th. :)

I encourage you to go read Jim Dye’s editorial this morning:

I would disagree with Mr. Dye on at least one point:

“the school district has put together a plan that’s about as good as it can under the circumstances.”

First I would give credit to many (many) people who have put in a ton of effort to this very end; a lot of folks have spent hours upon hours going over different alternatives, not just for a high school location, but also what to fix up, remodel, and renovate. I also give credit to some of the efforts in engaging the community in so-called “dialogues” or “discussions”, which opened the door to greater community involvement. But the current plan is as good as it gets “under the circumstances”? No, I don’t think so; no charrettes, no truly open public deliberation, no phased planning (all one lump sum, with everything else being deferred until 1% sales tax money is freed up). Instead, we have had a number of very vocal people come to the table again and again. I am also told that when the architects went to deliver the bad news to Centennial staff about the abrupt change in referendum dollars, they (the HS staff) were none too happy. Obviously the Dr. Howard folks are happy, the Centennial folks not so much. The changes for Centennial still do not make a lot of sense to me. But this is as good as it gets (“under the circumstances”)? I cannot swallow that.

We could go down the list of sins committed by either camp, and then match that up with the very valid and good points made by each side as well. In my mind, it turns into a zero-sum game, which I believe will be evidenced by the results on April 7th with a fairly close vote again. As I have said in the past, my hope is for a super-majority vote to agree one way or the other. Otherwise I would contend that we have failed to build consensus.

But what pisses me off the most are the political shenanigans and the underhanded tricks in both camps; the billboard was the last straw. That really needs to end on April 7th. And I truly believe that many of the school board candidates will help do that.

I like how Mr. Dye concludes his article (next to last paragraph):

“All that aside, however, it’s important the public meets its responsibility to fund a school system that provides all students an opportunity to learn and be successful.”

Or as Dr. Edna Olive of Rocket, Inc says:

“(t)he education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”

Ultimately, voters have to decide for themselves if a $144 million bond referendum fulfils the goal of funding such a school system. I already know several of you readers fall on one side of that question or the other.

Another school board candidate forum: CFT/CESP

cft_forum_flyerThe teacher’s union (CFT/CESP) is hosting a forum just one week before the elections. The following was copied from an email:

“We’re set for Tuesday March 31st at the IBEW 601 Hall in Champaign. The forum will begin in earnest at 5:30, but we’ve scheduled a brief reception at5:00 p.m. so that you’ll have the opportunity to get to know some of our members.

With respect to the forum itself, Greg Stock, who is a veteran teacher, steward and former CFT Vice President, will moderate. We’ll have quite a few candidates in attendance and would like to get our members home to their families starting right at 7, so Greg will keep things moving. Towards the end of the forum, we’ll have a quick Q&A session. For your part, please come prepared to be concise.
I’m attaching a promotional flier that we’re currently circulating with our members and the public. Feel free to share as you see fit. We’ll also be circulating a press release this week, so we expect some local media coverage leading up to, and at the event itself.
In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions. We’re looking forward to seeing you on the 31st.”

Board candidate index page:

IBEW 601 Hall in Champaign is at 3301 N Boardwalk Drive

Press Conference on Unit 4 Referendum: March 12, 8:30 am, Local Union 149 building in Savoy

[ NOTE: The below was copied from an email sent from Mr. Bambenek to me  ]

Contact: John Bambenek / / 217-493-0760


Bambenek and Union Leaders to Discuss Educational Programming Changes to Help Children be More Competitive in Today’s Job Market

Champaign, Il – Champaign Unit 4 school board member John Bambenek will hold a press conference with trade union leaders on March 12 at 8:30am to discuss to upcoming Unit 4 referendum and what it will mean for educational programming to help high school graduates be ready for the 21st century job market.

“This referendum is not just about 4 walls and a building.  It’s about changing the direction of public education in Champaign and making sure our graduates have access to 21st century educational programs like career technology so they can graduate our schools and go on to good paying jobs that we can’t fill today.  What a yes vote on the referendum means is new educational programs that end with good paying jobs going to our children raised her in Champaign instead of having to look to other communities to fill our skills gap,” said Bambenek.

John recently met with the local Building Trades council to share thoughts on better preparing Champaign students for adult lift.  The event will be held at the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 149 building at 1005 N Dunlap in Savoy in their shop training area.  The press conference will begin at 8:30 am.

Note: John Bambenek will be speaking in his political/non-governmental capacity and his views are his own and do not represent those of the Board of Education as a whole or of the Unit 4 administration.

Let the forums begin

Chambanamoms posted an article about the school board candidate forum marathon that starts this Wednesday, 7:00 – 9:00 pm at the Mellon Center:

This first one is put on by the PTA Council and moderated by Brian Minsker. Better yet, it will be televised on CGTV 5 for those who still have cable – not sure if it will go up on Vimeo for the rest of us, but I will ask.


Champaign School Board Forum Flyer 3-9-2015The marathon continues Thursday morning (March 12) at the Hilton Garden Inn ($10 if you want breakfast) from 7:30 – 9:00 am, put on by the Chamber of Commerce. That evening, the LWV, NG and NAACP will host a forum at the City Building from 7:30 – 9:00 pm. There is a bit of a breather until the last one I know of, March 19th from 7:30 – 9:30 at Mount Olive Baptist Church (meet & greet starts at 7:00 pm).


If you know of others, I am happy to post them. However I am thinking the candidates are already hard pressed just with these four events. In fact, some candidates have already mentioned they will be missing at certain forums (pre-existing conflicts).


What I have found from my own interactions with candidates is that we have a very strong pool of good people. I am hard pressed just to choose four of the eight 4-year candidates. Take your civic responsibilities seriously and take the time to at least read about each candidate; you can start on the candidate page I have been putting together:


UPDATE: The time for the forum at the Mount Olive Baptist Church was changed (from 6:30 to 7:30), and I also received a flyer which I attached to this post.


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