This week has been a busy one. Kicking off with the Feb 27th Special Board Meeting, a snowball started its not so gentle way downhill. Since then, I have had an excellent talk with Board Members and community folks at Houlihans, graced with an impromptu chat with Judy Wiegand and Gene Logas at the Mellon Center, received the DVD for the Board Meeting, picked up a small stack of petitions, corresponded with Don Kermath a bit, talked with my local PTA and held a discussion with the PTA Council. Also during that time, a number of articles, letters and news pieces have hit the public news media.
Why I am against the petition
First and foremost, I recognize that the School District is cash-strapped. Anyone living in Illinois can feel its pinch, some much more than others. We have new tax after new tax, the hole in our wallets burning larger and larger. We can’t seem to find trustworthy leadership at the state level (or other levels for that matter), and the state is so far behind on payments and promising to give us the responsibility of recovering that gap. I have recently gained new insight showing just how much our School District is hurt by tax caps. If a petition is successful in forcing a referendum, there are some serious negative side-effects that need to be considered and weighed; if the district is not allowed to issue working cash bonds, they will not have money to pursue what they have deemed as necessary upgrades. Worse, the chance of passing a referendum is extremely slim.
However, I think the most significant factor for me right now is that some vocal folks are villifying the Administration and the Board. This bothers me greatly. I can understand the arguments of the petition (see below for why I am in favor of it), but when fingers are pointed, the barbs are poisoned and stones are hurled, I want no part of it. Loaded words like “tyranny”, “playing dirty” and painting the Administration and the Board as overlords; these have no place in this discussion. Moreover, they are divisive, hence anathema to bringing parties together. I very much dislike that and will not stand for it. There is a huge outcry about what the School District is doing, but hardly a tear is shed over other examples (State taxes, gas tax, sewer run off tax, City of Champaign, etc). I understand that there is so much crap going on that one can only focus on a small number of things, and the School District is one place in which change is most likely. Oh the irony.
Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because I have talked to these individuals. I know them. I have good, solid relationships with them. The Board Members are not paid; they essentially volunteer their time. Yes, I fully realize they are elected, and that part of the job description says they have to deal with the dirt. I get that. And it is expected that people will disagree with their actions. I have a lot of respect for the way Don Kermath spoke to the Board and the Administration during the Board Meeting – he spoke with dignity and treated others with dignity. He knew the score. Which is why I am perplexed why he chose to use “tyranny” as part of his “marketing”.
Why I favor the petition
In an Utopian sense, I see a lot of value in bringing the community together to break down long-standing walls of tradition. I like the idea of going out and asking people what they think of having higher property taxes. I like the idea of explaining what the tax will be used for, and urging folks to give voice to their opinions. Is this not what the newly hired, out-of-town PR firm will be doing? I really like the idea of having a referendum in which people are given a choice, a chance to actually say something.
Along this line, I recognize that the Board and the Administration has had 4 meetings to discuss and talk about these money issues, and that the public has been “invited” (used loosely) to speak during Public Comment during any of these meetings. Based on the response but certain members and the media, it is obviously apparent that the interaction with the community did not happen well. In more psychological talk, we could say it was “ineffective communication”. I think (and I could be wrong) that a referendum could open up those doors. At the very least, I would initiate Open Forums on the topic, to meet at the Champaign Public Library; I see the CPL has large chunks of open time next week on Wednesday and Friday. Anyone interested?
Wrapping it up
As you can see, I wrote a lot more about why I am against the petition. And if you read carefully (including what Don Kermath, aka SPFZero, says), you will see that we are not opposed to geothermal, nor the need to address crumbling buildings and distractingly hot summer rooms. I am actively still pointing people to Don’s website, I still converse with Don and offer to help. I am on the verge of writing a Letter to the NG Editor, expressing a summary of the thoughts here. We need to come together, not tear ourselves apart. As I have stated several times, the “coming together” means that we, the School District and the community, need to meet on a new, neutral ground – both have issues, skeletons in the closet.
The “Promises Made, Promises Kept” angle still is not clear to me. What exactly is the truth? What exactly did the Board promise to us, and how is it really doing? I hear one side that says the promises were kept, and another side saying that raising property taxes via a working cash bond is breaking that promise. In the back of my head, what if, just spitting out numbers here, the tax caps have saved us $100,000,000 over 15 years? I cannot help but think that asking for $14,500,000 in that context is not unreasonable. Perhaps the logic is just barely avoided when there is no “asking” but rather a “telling”. Is that it?
The District and the Community are estranged spouses, like a married couple cohabitating but not really living a married life. We need counseling, my friends. And since I do not believe in offering a critique without a possible solution, my solution is Open Forums. If I can get signoff from Administration, Board Members, activisits and community folks, I’ll set up a meeting. Not sure if we can find a moderator we are all happy with, but I have two names in my back pocket of people who have volunteered to take up the task.
Talk to me.