Whom do tax rebates truly help?

re: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/politics-and-government/2012-04-30/champaign-council-consider-rebate-proposed-hotel.html

I have been reading “The Great American Jobs Scam” (hat tip to Pattsi Petrie). If what Greg LeRoy says is accurate and precise, red flags and klaxon alarms start going off in my head when I hear about any kind of tax incentive that purports to “bring in new business”. The NUMBER ONE big thing, to me, is the need for transparency and accountability. These two are inseparable. And I want to clarify that I am not opposed to tax incentives in and of themselves – rather it is the need to know exactly where our money is going and why. It is the fundamental rule of being fiscally responsible and having a budget. If one cannot account for the flow of money, one is not mature enough to handle it, IMO.


As such, I have sent the following email to the Board (and I carbon copied Dr. Wiegand and Mr. Gene Logas):

Good morning, Members of the Board,

In regards to a News-Gazette article about a new proposal to bring in a hotel to downtown Champaign, the City is planning to offer substantial tax rebates. I am not certain if school board members typically get involved in such discussions or not, but I urge the Board to get involved if they are not. It is my understanding that such a new tax rebate, if put into effect, will further reduce monies coming into the school system. It is not such much that this is a “big evil plan”, but rather this is just one more example of how public tax dollars are funneled into the hands of corporate interests and away from our children. I know each of you care very much about education and all the students, and I thank you for fighting for them.


Dr. Chris Span at BTW tonight

Apparently a flyer went out to a limited number of schools inviting “All Parents/Guardians” to “a parent involvement discussion led by Dr. Christopher Span“. He is the guy that co-led the Rose & Taylor Education forum a while back. This seems like a really cool opportunity – I am wondering why it was not broadcast via KCN or on any of the school websites and why only some schools heard about it. We at Carrie Busey, who have one of the highest mobility rates and a fair number of low-SES families, did not get wind of this opportunity. Curious. Good luck finding the flyer online. 🙂

I have bugged Dr. Span several times for a report from the Rose & Taylor forum and am still waiting. I am not quite sure what the game is – Dr. Span seems to be collecting some really great community feedback, but what happens to it then? What good is the community input doing? From the community perspective, is it merely to get things off your chest?

April 23rd Board Meeting recording has been posted

Again, right-click and “save as” – streaming is still broken  😦

[note: if you wait for about 5 minutes, streaming seems to be working – your mileage may vary]


The plan for Houlihans today

Aside from planning our future open forums, we are going to start looking at talking points we can consistently put in front of the Board at board meetings and make a part of the public record. I am going to fold in things we have gathered from our first open forum (ie, Discipline, Expectations, money/budget, etc) and subsequent forums.


I started to look at the budget and quickly got overwhelmed. Just looking through the check register raises a lot of eyebrows, but even more questions. I simply do not have the context to evaluate all this information. I am thinking a dedicated, money-wise and well-versed group of folks would be better suited. Ideas? What can the average joe hope to accomplish by looking over the budget and the many financial reports generated by Mr. Logas and his assistants? Perhaps that is the issue right there. 🙂


If you have a bee in your bonnet or a burning question, please bring them to Houlihans today. If you are a shadow reader of this blog and have always wanted to come to a Houlihans Wednesday, maybe today is the lucky day. 🙂

Letter to the Board: "April 23rd Board Meeting"

My letter to the Board follows – I am linking this to my previous post about the board meeting.

[sheesh, this wordpress formatting is HORRID – some kind of div fetish….]

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the Board,

I was unable to attend yesterday’s Board Meeting but I did intend to state a couple of things in Public Comment. So I am resorting to email as a secondary method to communicate.

First, I wish to again congratulate the Board on their choice of Ileana Saveley, and wish Ms. Saveley a satisfying and most successful term(s) of service with the Board.

Next, I wish to again implore the Board and the Administration to further seek out ways to achieve transparency and build trust with the community. There are two areas of immediate relevancy in regards to the direction of the School District and the community. For each, I list the issue and a possible solution – I am open to other possibilities as well.

1. High School Options. 
Issue: During the Feb 27th Board Meeting, Read the rest of this entry »

Putting every FOIA response online: good idea or bad?

Another thought occurred to me; is there a precedent set at any level of government where all FOIA requests and responses are posted online? It seems to me (naive as I am about such things) that this is a true FAQ, not the kool-aid version we so often get from canned questions. This seems to me an easy, low-hanging-fruit way to build transparency into the system.


Am I missing something? I realize there is some administrative overhead involved, but I do not believe that is enough of an obstacle to put the kibosh on the idea. Are there legal ramifications? I mean, the whole point of the Freedom of Information Act is to push public information into the public sphere. Right now, we only do half the job (FOIA requests are sent to an individual – who knows what happens to it after that).


I suggested this to Beth Shepperd in March of 2011. At one point, I also saw a link that had an index of FOIA requests, but I am no longer able to find it. And in June 2010 I offered to Tom Lockman that I could help index all the documents and reports they have on the website. Seems like such a long time ago…..


Posted in Community, research. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Open recruitment: all eyes on deck

I was forwarded an email about http://forthegoodofillinois.org/, which has launched a project to put all government spending records at your fingertips via http://www.openthebooks.com/. This sounds like a very ambitious project. The one example they are highlighting is quite interesting in itself.

So I am recruiting people to help me look through the open checkbook of Unit 4 after May 1st (when it goes live). The goal: make sure we are spending money on teaching kids. For many of us, the tax for public education is the largest percentage of our property tax (I think). I am not even going to go into the joke of how our State’s Constitution says the state needs to bear this responsibility. The rules: if you find something interesting, say something about it; we are not here to castrate or demonize any individual, but to look for deficiencies and suggest helpful alternatives.

I do not yet have a good way to organize our findings. I am open to suggestions. In the meantime, just make a comment on this thread. Or volunteer to become a guest author (here, Smile Politely, Halfway Interesting, etc).


More to follow.


PS – as a fallback plan if the above websites get taken down (politics, *sigh*), we can always file FOIA requests. I know a number of folks have already done this, and it would be oh so handy if we could combine our efforts and consolidate that information. I can help build a database and make it available online.