updates on Unit 4 projects (Promises Made, Promises Kept)

Last night I attended the 4th “Promises Made, Promises Kept” Committee meeting. This was my first time at this meeting, and my first time meeting some folks like Arlene Blank, Peg O’Donoghue, Roxann Bossenbrock, Mark Ritz, Anita Broeren, Ken Nelson and the other folks from OWP/P. It was two hours of being overwhelmed on a couple different fronts. I will attempt to spell it out here in a somewhat lucid manner. 🙂

Before I dig in, here are some announcements:

  • Ground breaking
    • BTW – June 22nd, 3:30 pm
    • Garden Hills – June 22nd, 1:30 pm
  • Next PMPK meeting – September 9th

First off, the agenda was not made public prior to the meeting. I have not checked to see if it has been posted, yet, but I would not even know where to look – the Unit 4 website does not have a separate location for the PMPK Committee from what I can tell. So I emailed the U4 Board of Education (BOE) and received a couple copies of the agenda and attached financial reports that Gene Logas generated. Looking at the agenda, I knew it was going to be rough; “Review of expenses”, “Update on Projects”, Update on this, update on that. I glanced briefly at the financial reports prior to the meeting and they were pretty much mumbo jumbo as I had no idea what I was looking at, nor the importance of it (no context).

I was early, and Gene Logas showed up early as well. We shook hands (never really talked face-to-face before). Gene is very open and willing to talk about what he does. Almost a little too talkative. *grin* However, I think I prefer someone in his position is more talky than less. I mentioned that I would love to have this information accessible online for public consumption, and he agreed that it would be good to provide taxpayers with a public review and possibly even an updated report. Especially on projects (remodeling at BTW, Garden Hills, new Savoy school) that are going on and have quite an impact on the district. I hope he was serious about that and moves on it. I wrote it down so I can hold him accountable. =) In fact, on that note, here is what I am asking Gene to follow-through on:

  1. A progress meter or check-list to show how promises made by the School Board are being kept. I had in mind one of those colorful fund-raising type poster-sized boards.
  2. Regular updates on projects so that the public knows what is going on
  3. Clear-language qualification about the Board’s promise to reduce the property tax in light of the 1% Sales Tax. It was made clear that the Board is actually extremely limited to what degree they can directly affect the property tax. Gene Logas argued quite passionately that, within those set limits, the Board has indeed kept its promise in the very narrow scope of a specific area of the property tax. However, there is a general misconception exactly what would be affected and how. That needs to be clarified and perhaps corrected.

First up was Gene. In fact, he dominated most of the time. For the first hour (perhaps 70 minutes), Gene covered a review of expenses. He started off and explained, perhaps for my benefit, that there are two major funds that this committee is keeping watch over:

  • Fund 60 – includes all the major projects like the remodeling/reconstruction at BTW and Garden Hills, the new Savoy School, paying off bond-related debts, etc
  • Fund 61 – between $1-$2 million for “extra” projects or “leftovers”

Gene started off by describing that in the context of the Savoy school, the land was supposed to be “free”. Supporting the adage that “nothing is free”, the Board ended up having to pay $7328 for the land that was supposedly “donated”. It turns out that the developers actually wanted more for the land, and this was a compromise. As Gene and others point out, in the big picture of things, 7 grand for that size of a lot is still really low. It is just money that was not expected to be spent.

On the heels of that discussion, Arlene Blank brought up the potential possibility (yes, I realize the double-vagueness) of naming the Savoy school something other than Carrie Busey. Culver and Dick Helton weighed in on various sides, but ultimately the discussion was declared “not appropriate for this group”. Very interesting, though. Apparently Arlene actually met the person Carrie Busey, and is concerned that the building that was dedicated in her name should retain the name in her honor. Interesting though. As a resident of Prairie Fields and future parent of a Carrie Busey kindergartener, I quite attached to the name despite its location. *grin*

Gene continued on, covering Fund 60 and Fund 61 in detail, more detail than I cared for. Various committee members (Arlene, Tom Lockman, Anita, Roxann, Greg Novak) all had some excellent questions about things I had not even considered or thought about, mostly questioning why the expenditure was necessary or what need it was aimed to meet. In retrospect, this is probably a core function of this committee. I am glad I am not on it. 🙂

Some other agenda items were covered in turn (see above for Ground Breaking announcements). Arlene turned it back over to Gene for a update on the “tax abatement”, which took another 15-20 minutes or so. Greg Novak put Gene on the spot about the Board’s promise to reduce the property tax. To be honest, I was lost in the talk about “abatements”, “debt service fund”, “assessed values”, etc. It was very hocus-pocus to me. Gene diligently pointed out, number by number, how the Board is limited by tax caps and “levies” (I do not claim to understand these terms either) and how this affected that. Again, I have the handouts but I would like to see this stuff online. I realize only a very small handful of community residents are ever going to care about these things, but at least they will be public, which is where I believe they belong. Not merely in the “public domain” and just waiting for an FOIA, but actually, literally, publicly available 24/7. In the end, the tax rate is not going down 7% or anything near that. Gene argued that one could say that the Board has striven to prohibit the tax rate from going up 8%, as it well could have. Again, please do not ask me to explain it.

So with about 30 or less minutes left, we finally turned to the developers (OWP/P and BLDD). BLDD presented some pretty pictures showcasing the new Garden Hills, but I could not help but feel like it was smoke and mirrors. Very impressive, though – an international theme with a myriad of international flags, murals of remote landmarks throughout the world adorning huge, well-lit hallways and a monstrous theater. They are aiming for a LEED score of 62 which will grant them a “Gold Certificate” – I do not have any clue what any of that means, but some folks seem to think it is impressive. OWP/P talked about the plans and community events they have had in relation to the schools they are working on (BTW and Carrie Busey). In fact, in terms of CB, I was impressed to learn that they met for 7 hours (!!) on Wednesday with CB staff, parents, community members, a PFHOA Board member and even Dick Helton and Jeff Scott. They covered themes, designs, lots of planning, shaping, modeling – an overwhelming amount of topics and directions. OWP/P showed some draft ideas of how the school would be situated and laid out. Again, I will ask about getting those online somewhere. After that gauntlet, Jeff Scott brought up the idea of getting the students involved, and OWP/P jumped on it. It sounds like incoming first- and second-graders will be asked to give their ideas. I also wrote down these dates from a slide:

  • September 9th: Carrie Busey Design Steering Committee Workshop #1
  • June 2010 – March 2011: Design Phase (Schematic design)
  • April 2011 – July 2012: Building & Construction (how are those two different?)
  • Fall 2012: School opens

There was some discussion about the geothermal going on. Apparently, a group from the University of Illinois is involved (didn’t catch the name or the contacts), and they have a drop-dead date they are trying to meet in order to qualify for grants. Testing is currently happening at Bottenfield, Robeson and Westview to see how the geothermal wells will behave. Kenwood will not get geothermal, but instead the current A/C will be overhauled and improved.

I think that was it. There were some times of hearty laughter over one thing or another, and moments of some really great discussion. But the meeting just totally drained me.

6 Responses to “updates on Unit 4 projects (Promises Made, Promises Kept)”

  1. Papaathome Says:

    Wow! Great reporting. All who were not there appreciate your efforts!
    I have also found that the minutiae of a school district overwhelms the vision in every meeting i have ever been to. Of course, “the devil is in the details” and these matter but draining is a good word for it.

  2. Papaathome Says:

    *edit*

    and these matter should be in parens – tough to read otherwise

  3. Greg Novak Says:

    There is a bank commercial out there which describes how I feel about the change in tax rate in Unit 4 in terms of what was promised and what was delivered.

    This is why I make a lousy politician – I tend to believe in the concept of being honest and frank
    My .02

    Greg Novak

  4. Working Cash Bonds mashup : March 12th « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] And this last one gets to be a bit fun. When Unit 4 put up the referendum for the 1% Sales Tax, what exactly did they promise? The most common answer is probably “they promised not to raise property taxes!!” Which is interesting. Did they? Check out the promises that we the community have been holding the Board accountable to – this is nothing new. Even though we might forget about it from time to time. And especially since the PMPK meetings are sparsely attended. (Please note, I am not assigning blame, just trying state my observations). Greg Novak pointedly questioned Gene Logas about this back in June 2010. […]

  5. The changing face of the school board (but what changes on the inside?) | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] to lower our property taxes and then, Oops, property taxes didn’t go down. Greg Novak made that point in 2010, and so have many many others since that time. What I wish to focus on is the lack of […]

  6. Pros and Cons, part 2 | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] that claims “Champaign County breaks promise on sales-tax hike“. This reminded me of a June 2010 Promised Made, Promises Kept Committee (great question/answer between Greg Novak and Gene Logas). However my point is that the Chamber […]


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