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. 🙂