Report on the April 9th Board Meeting – part 1

Video is available – I recommend downloading it first, since the streaming playback is having issues for me:

[I am breaking this post into two parts – folks rarely read really long posts *grin*]


The Board Meeting got a little emotional. So what I am going to try doing in this review is to focus on behavior, not so much on people. I am hoping that this reduces the feather-ruffling. Maybe. Also, I was not present for the entire meeting, and even for those parts that I was present, my mind wandered a bit. And lastly, I don’t really want to repeat what the media has already reported on. With that said, let’s dive in.

I had to cringe when the “backdoor” word was dropped by one of the public speakers during open comment; I personally think that is more of a subjective lose-lose argument – nobody wins in a tug of war between “no I didn’t” and “yes you did”. Which we will see more of that later. In contrast to that, another public denizen couched his speech in terms of “positive energy” and observing how 2300 people want to be involved in the school system. That is such a huge difference in perspective. And I like it! He also mentioned alternative options. Again, we will see more of this a little later, but this, in my opinion, was such a good delivery; focus on the positive, introduce other paths.

The other side of the penny involved Unit 4 employees stating how much the children, the staff and the facilities really need a whole heck of a lot of help. For me, this was just weird. Not so much the content, but the fact that each one of them represented the system at which all the “opposed” comments were targeting. I know of at least two private individuals (ie, not Unit 4 employees) who support the working cash bonds – why are we only hearing “support” from those already in the system? I do have some personal experience inside Edison – I am a mentor and this is my 2nd year at the middle school. I have sweated; but because I was playing basketball and I totally expected to sweat. 🙂 I cannot say I have ever been in the classroom during the really really hot days. But I have been a kid before (believe it or not). I know it can be distracting. Yes, some of the windows are busted and there are signs hanging on them (“Don’t open – will not close”). The Mentor Room is like an oven – don’t know if it is because it sits right over the kitchen area, but gosh! To be honest, the biggest argument I can personally make for wanting to fix up Edison is more of a fairness factor. Especially with all the elementary schools getting some cool fancy upgrades.

What is more odd to me is that both groups share a lot in common. Both think that deferred maintenance is starting to catch up and we need to do something about it. Both think it is very important to be involved and to have a voice. Where they differ, from my perspective, is that one group wants the money now, no matter what; the other group is really questioning the “no matter what” part of it.

For a slight change of pace, a couple representatives from Blaylock Robert Van provided some suggestions for alternative funding. I must confess, when I initially heard them speak in financial jargon, I was quite lost. Some kind folks did explain things a little better to me; but still, the average joe sitting in that room probably had a slightly muddled interpretation as well. But the most significant point is that they presented options! Alternatives. Maybe they were horrible ideas, maybe they are awesome ideas – they are still something different than what we have been hearing (“the one and only tool we can use to fund deferred maintenance is via working cash bonds”). Again, some of the pitch (yes, I’ll call it a sales pitch) was carefully worded to include community involvement. I thought that was quite clever. I am not in a position to say if this is a bad thing or not. I did like the idea. But it causes me to want to know more about it, and to challenge myself to think really hard about the technicalities involved (since things like “retail marketing plan” to resell bonds is not really part of my daily vocabulary).

I was quite surprised when the Board allowed the Administration to, in a way, overrule and, in my humble opinion, spin the message just shared in public comment. I was surprised because it came across (my perception) as an emotional response. It caught me off-guard. The response was aimed at the Board Members; this was not a discussion, not a debate of pros and cons. In one sense, I can see the hierarchy of Board responsibilities coming into play, with the public in the right ear and the Administration in the left ear. But the episode did seem rather odd to me. I question if Board Policies allow this kind of interchange.

After Public comment, the next major thing was comments from the Board. Again, I am trying to focus not on the specific strengths and weaknesses of individuals, but rather on behavior and group dynamics. Having said that, my perception of the response from the Board to the public touched on various levels of being “defensive”. I was so much hoping for and wishing for an acknowledgement of the positive, as done by one of the public speakers. I did hear, a couple times, respect for the petition signers and applauding the guy who led the drive, so I am taking that into consideration. The overall tone was split between 1) doing what they were elected to do, and that is “what is best for the children”, and 2) no funny business, no under-the-table deals, no shenanigans, so stop it with the naming calling already.

I am going to single out Jamar, and I only do this because I have a deep respect when he said “bring me another option”. He has said this on several occasions – and WCIA even got a good clip of him saying that. 🙂 I truly hope that the Board as a whole is sincere in their quest to explore options – two funding options were presented at the Board Meeting. Will they be explored?

I want to focus on that point because for me personally, coming up with out-of-the-box ideas is a collaborative effort that must be exercised by all concerned parties if you wish to build trust and encourage investment in social capital. Yes, “the children”, our future leaders, are a huge piece of the puzzle. But not an ace to be thrown down on the table. They, like everyone else, are resources, players in this game. From my point of view, when I see heavily laden terms like “tyrant” and “backdoor” being tossed around followed by a “no we’re not”, that does not seem to move us towards building the trust that we so much need. To call a spade a spade, it just seems plain immature.

6 Responses to “Report on the April 9th Board Meeting – part 1”

  1. Karen Says:

    I think the guys presenting an alternative without raising taxes (expiring TIF stuff or something? Mr. Logas said, kind of ‘intensely,’ that that idea couldn’t be viable because that money is already going to be relied upon for standard operating costs or something. The guys presenting did mention that their idea had been shared already with senior administration or something like that. Now this is the kind of stuff (other options) that is helpful to know (from a community perspective). But, why are we hearing it from the guys proposing it? Why can’t admin come out and say these things, a,b,c, were considered as options, but, we arrived at WCB as the best possible route for reasons x,y,z. It would help with transparency and trust (to know that other options were considered and the reasons for not selecting them). Why isn’t it our business to know? But, this is where I become cynical. Does Admin pick certain/favored routes without consideration of other options and then package them up as the only option to present to the board (and does the board in turn somewhat blindly accept whatever is presented them)? If I were on the board, it would not be good enough for me not to know what other options were considered before voting one way or the other on a given issue. One board member said that he did not know what other options were considered and how the WCB route were determined to be the best one. He said that people are welcome to come up with better ideas and share them with him. But, I think some in the community are a little miffed at why the board wouldn’t, at any point in this process, be asking the Admin to do just that. Give us some other options to consider and then we’ll vote (given resistance we are ‘hearing’ from the public WRT the WCB route). Maybe it’s true that there are no other viable options, but, to walk us (the community) through the reasons as to why that is, would be quite valuable WRT to trust, transparency, etc. I dunno. JMO.

  2. Karen Says:

    I have no problem asking what others would probably consider dumb questions. I could be the poster girl for that : ) .

    -Has Unit 4 considered refinancing any properties to take advantage of unprecedentedly low interest rates? It’s a cost-saving measure, I guess, and won’t be a source of cash flow, but, would this be useful for the economic health of Unit 4? Maybe there are obvious reasons why this can’t be done or isn’t worthwhile, but, consider me (without scorn and ridicule for my intelligence level) your average layperson in the community wondering these things. Cost-cutting measures, no matter how ‘small’ would be things I would consider in personal finance matters. By extension, when you enter my personal finance space with new taxes, I want to be confident that my money is going to a good steward ot it.

    -A first pass bing search on ‘WCB alternatives’ turns up this guy’s web page:
    (he voted against WCB as far as I can tell, in his district).
    A Better Option:
    When funds are needed, due to late tax collections from the county, we can issue a short term loan called a TAW or Tax Anticipation Warrant. We only pay interest for a short period of time which is much less expensive. We may not even need to take these out for a few years if the county is on time with payments.

    Again, maybe there are obvious reasons why TAWs can’t work here (he’s in IL, too). But, was this ever an option considered? I (avg tax-paying community member) want the reassurance that other options were considered and that the manner in which the WCB issue is going through is with maximal cost savings.

    -Does Unit 4 have a bond consultant working with them on this stuff?

    I am a blank slate when it comes to economics, but, that’s what you’re up against. No matter the number of power point presentations you make of the same information, some people aren’t going to ‘get’ it until you bring the information down to a more tangible level. Doing the presentations does not guarantee understanding. I’ll probably have to start watching my back for tablets being launched at my head, but, in the future it might be useful to run the power point presentation past some diverse focus groups (not the kind you have to hire a consultant for) to assess comprehension of material presented, and then, if necessary, modify things, accordingly. And, I am not implying that there is any sort of ‘intelligence issue’ here. I think the information can be understood by anybody. It’s all in the presentation. Then again, the cynic in me wonders…if things are marketed/being sold there are often inherently manipulative techniques involved in that process and and complete comprehension by the target audience is not necessarily a goal. Getting what you want is.

  3. pattsi Says:

    Here is a resources for alternative means of funding

    Click to access InnovationsInLocalInfrastructureFinance.pdf

    There is also the book, The Great American Jobs Scam, authored by Greg Leroy.

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

    […] after a April 9th, 2012 BOE meeting during which the infamous Working Cash Bonds was a hot topic (part 1, part 2). The Working Cash Bonds was another trust issue; again, it is not so much that people […]

  5. World Languages Curriculum | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] back, April 9th was an interesting day (post 1, post 2). At the time, I did not make any mention about the World Languages curriculum due to all […]

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