Working Cash Bonds mashup : March 12th

Bonus Meeting with Dr. Judy Wiegand, Gene Logas, Sue Grey, Tom Lockman and Don Kermath

I gave my own sort of “notice” that I was going to be doing this meeting and nobody gave me any questions, so I was content to be a fly on the wall. I don’t remember how I found out about the meeting, but I promptly invited myself for the sole purpose of learning more about working cash bonds. It was a rather informative session; I’ll try to boil down all the finance jargon, and in doing so I hope I do not misstate anything. At the very least, you are getting my perspective on what happened. I am sure there are other perspectives. 🙂

For starters, there is a ton of historical context that I know I often forget about, and I am sure others do as well. Where to start, where to start….

  • Over the past 50 some years, the School District had become negligent in maintaining its facilities. Instead of occasionally raising money to make minor updates/fixes/modifications, the District stalled and deferred what one might call “regular maintenance”. If I have my numbers right, back in about 2002 an out-of-town architecture firm was hired and gave an estimate of $200 million just to bring all the buildings up to modern standards. A few years later, BLDD confirmed the estimate (for free – no charge to the District). In the words of Sue Grey, this was the elephant. “And how does on eat an elephant?”
  • On top of that, the one and only voter-approved bond referendum (aka, property tax increase) was for $26 million in 1998, after which Stratton and Barkstall were built. Keep in mind that old facilities were not touched – only new facilities were built.
  • Another aspect; the amount of money coming in from property taxes consistently went down every single year since 1996 with exception of 2008 (documents from the COO). Pattsi argues (as have others by now) that this only tells part of the story. Yet this is the only story I currently have that has numbers.
  • When Gene was hired, he looked at the budget and nearly passed out (author’s artistic rewrite of what was said *grin*) – he quickly filed a true emergency working cash bonds to get the District back on sound financial ground.
  • 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.

There was probably more said. Don Kermath had some really excellent questions and I saw him taking great notes. I hope he shares his own perspective at some point. Both Don and I feel that, if we could, we would happily divert money from our other taxes (for which we have absolutely no say in, by the way) into Unit 4. Everyone at the table very much acknowledges the value of providing rich educational settings in which our children can thrive. We might disagree about how we get there, and we all know that throwing money in to the kitty does not directly equate to improvements.

In the end we agreed that Unit 4 has a perception issue with the community. Funny (or sad?) how Laura Bleill said the exact same thing (“image problem”) last year in regards to School Assignment. My one question was why doesn’t the media work more for the School District? Instead of hiring PR firms, could not the TV station play the same role?  It is my personal perspective that the public news media more often than not makes the School District look bad. How does that help Champaign as a whole? And the Editorial Staff at the NG…. sheesh. Ok, sure, yes there is dirt to be found, but is that the only thing they can find?

On that note, I have contacted each of the TV stations (and copied Meg at the NG) about doing stories that tell a more fuller picture of why the School District needs money. I hear that the Transportation Building is by far the worse in the county (the state?). Why don’t we hear a story about that? I hear how hot it gets on the 3rd level at the high schools and middle schools. Did that ever get floated across your TV screen? In my opinion, this is about finding truth. If the buildings are really in such bad disrepair, we need to do something about it! However, if on the other hand they are not too bad off and can probably last another 20 years or so, let us agree to set aside money for that time.

Me and my big mouth; now Amanda from WCIA wants to interview me. *sigh* If I knew something good would come out of it, I would be thrilled. As it is, I am merely worried I will sound like an idiot.

And lastly, on a personal note, I am very impressed by Gene’s stalwart handling of the finances, by Dr. Wiegand’s many-faceted efforts to reach out to the community, Sue’s deep passion to provide awesome education for our children (not that nobody else shared that passion), and Don’s very respectable and very sensitive handling of his questions and the replies he received. It was an awesome conversation. You should have been there. 🙂


9 Responses to “Working Cash Bonds mashup : March 12th”

  1. pattsi Says:

    My biggest take away from the complete report your have posted is the importance of an elected body to remember that the actions take will have ramifications to future elected boards. I have been saying and arguing this for years. The example of delayed maintenance pertains to the county also. There is no comprehensive maintenance plan nor for the county campus. Eventually, these delays catch up with a board then the community reacts.
    As to the long term memory about the 1% tax–Alan Nudo worked very hard to get agreement from each district in the county to promise to reduce the district part of the property taxes. This was key in getting the referendum passed the second time along with the hard ball PR the district used. Thus the underlying cause of the issues connected with the cash bonds.
    In 1998 when the referendum for the district was passed, there was also one for the quarter cent public safety tax. The public eventually reacts to the excessive asking for more monies.
    What I find interesting in all of the useful posts on this blog is that these are all through the lens of Unit 4. It might be very useful to use other lens to view what is happening, especially for analysis.
    There is constant talk about the loss of monies due to the PTELL, but I still have not seen any figures as to the lost monies because of TIF districts and Enterprise Zones. There are many causes for the stretched funds, but only a one-sided analysis.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Sit me down in front of a TIFF or Enterprise Zone expert and I’ll take notes. I have no experience in these finance fields, so I can only report on what I hear/see/read.

    Don Kermath dropped Al Nudo’s name quite a few times. Perhaps I should call him up and see what he has to say. But if Don has already talked to him….

    Scratch that. Give me a report I can browse and we will see what we can do about this lens thing. 🙂

  3. charlesdschultz Says:


    So you have me thinking about lenses and how maybe I am starting to sound like a mouthpiece. I want to be careful about that.

    In the area of finances, and specifically the working cash bonds, you mentioned that I (or rather, the COO) have focused on PTELL but nothing else (like TIFF). TIFF is your specialty. I am just dying for your own analysis. 🙂

    Furthermore, as I have thought about this issue a bit more, it seems to me that whether it be PTELL, TIFF, tax caps that hurt and everything else thrown in the mix, they are not the big fish we are frying. One bigger issue is that we have 50 friggin’ years of catch-up maintenance to do. Another big issue, in my opinion, is that the community and the District don’t see eye to eye on the priorities. Better than a three-legged stool, the District has many different structures in place that they claim guides them; Great Schools, Together which is also the long-term strategic plan, a 10-year Capital Project plan, Promises Made Promises Kept, Common Core, the Demographic Study and the Climate Survey are all examples. I don’t think all of these things are in the public mind – and some of them that are in the public mind are perceived as negative. I point this out not because I think the community needs to walk in the District’s shoes, per se, but rather that I think the District is going to be a bit …. stubborn, for lack of a better word, about pursuing any other goals or priorities. They have their guiding light. And of course, GST was all about community input, wasn’t it? =)

    For right now, I think the goals the District has (GST/long-term goals, Capital program, etc) are probably “good enough” in lieu of anything else. Because right now they don’t have anything else. And I finally get to wrapping this up. What would be an ideal Champaign Unit 4 School District? What would be an ideal community that supports them? How do we answer that question? Is it even feasible to answer it? If not, what question do we attempt to answer?

  4. pattsi Says:

    A quick response is what I say when any city keeps building new roads and infrastructure because of sprawl–where are the monies to pay for all the new “stuff” and maintain what already exists, let alone maintain the new “stuff” as this ages. Sprawl not matter what type costs and does not pay. 🙂
    Actually it is not my job as a citizen to calculate the cost to the district due to TIF, etc. This is a district job so the district can improve the “need” argument to the public.

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    Agreed, as citizens that is not our responsibility. So our job is to…. blow the whistle? Keep public officials accountable?

    Is sprawl ever a good thing? Villages almost always seem to grow into small cities, and small cities almost always seem to grow into medium cities, and… so on so forth. I briefly looked at two articles about sprawl (1, 2). I don’t want to focus too much on sprawl, but I do think it is yet another example of “planning gone wrong”; when the plan fails to account for as many variables as possible (whether the “plan” be working cash bonds, suburban development, building a castle, applying for a Board vacancy, etc), the plan is likely to be a bad one.

    Ironically, I have a lot of experience with bad plans in my professional life (sql query plans). One expert in our field by the name of Jonathan Lewis is often spot on when he says bad plans become evident when we stop being lucky. There is amazing wisdom in that.

  6. pattsi Says:

    Sorry, folks concerned with Unit 4 finances MUST focus on sprawl because this costs the district large amounts of money. 🙂

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    Just being hypothetical, but if I were a Board Member which City Planning meetings would I go to? Which individuals would I start talking to alot?

  8. pattsi Says:

    As to meetings to attend, I would keep track of the agendas. Suggested members to start the conversations–Marci Dodds, Deb Frank-Feinen, Paul Faraci, Tom Bruno. Then talk with the rest of the council.

  9. Brief review of the March 26th Special Board Meeting « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] their vote, I think. Anyway, Dave went on to paint the Big Picture (ie, like what I heard on March 12th) and how none of this stuff is new and how the Board has kept their promise made to the community […]

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