April 14th BOE meeting agenda has been posted

As I was typing up this post, it occurred to me that perhaps my tone is critical and even negative towards the school district. Know that I very much support Unit 4, and I love many of the things that are going on. Yes, I am critical – but I aim to be constructively critical. The main goal of this post is to raise awareness in the community on various issues and developments, to make people aware and maybe even to generate discussion. I am of the belief that the more we involve ourselves, the more we care and the better we can work together. Yes, we will always have differences of opinion. That is a good thing. 🙂

 

A number of items are on the agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting. One of the first things is a continuation of the future facilities discussion (aka, strategic planning):

We have spent time learning about several potential scenarios regarding our facility strategic plan.  The administrative team would like to recommend that the Board narrow the scenarios for consideration to Scenarios One, Eight, and Nine.    We believe that these three options have many positive elements to consider as we continue to work towards one comprehensive facility strategic plan. 

The three scenarios have been posted as well if anyone wants to compare them:

The meeting minutes from the last few meetings will be “approved” at Monday’s meeting, so we can’t see them, yet. For those that want to get “caught up” in this ongoing discussion, you will have to go back and watch the videos (Vimeo). The News-Gazette also has a bevy of relevant articles and “letters to the editor”. Several of those have a long list of comments from a small group of readers that make for interesting reading in their own right. If I had to summarize, I would say it like this.

The school district feels pressure to get a high school built because 1) previous administrations and boards didn’t do diddly squat to help plan or prepare for growth, and 2) the current projections for growth warn us that within the next eight years, we will be exceeding capacity at all schools. Right now, the school district is concerned that the high schools are already at 103% capacity. There also seems to be a huge amount of pressure to have schools ready for the “21st century”, but it is not clear to me where this comes from. On the other hand, the predominant voice I read/hear from those who are not Unit 4 employees orbit around feelings of frustration, anger and consternation. Especially about plans for land-hungry athletic fields, building out on the edge of town, contributing to sprawl and how much worse the traffic on north Prospect will be.

In the middle of all this, I reflect upon the district’s desire for “community involved planning.” There have been some token efforts in the past to engage and involve the community; much of the current planning and directives come from goals set forth in the 2008 “Great Schools, Together” project. Some of the decisions have been shaped a little by the 2012 DeJong-Richter work. And right now, the Facilities Committee is pretty much carrying the torch (the genesis of the “three scenarios” above). The deadline for the district to submit  a referendum for the November ballot is August, which leaves us with about four months. As expected, the Unit 4 PR machine is in full swing, with a lot of help from the sharp Shatterglass videos (more are in the works). What I long to see is an effort to build unity. How are we addressing some of the deeper issues in our community? What are the deeper issues of our community?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really awesome things going on in Unit 4 – there is a ton of positive energy and excitement all around. Stephanie Stuart has been a “veritable cornucopia” of many of those things; there are also lots of really cool things going on with the Magnet programs, STEM at various schools (not just BTW), cultural understanding and appreciation via efforts of a group out of NYU and also local activist Imani Bazzell. The list goes on.

Back to the agenda.

This next one really concerns me, and I have to get my ducks lined up to make sure I am reading this right.

Agreement for Consulting Services Approval: Tom Lockman

Administration is recommending the approval of the Agreement for Consulting Services with the team of Gorski Reifsteck and DLR Group.

Architectural and professional services would be provided under this Agreement for a fee of $120,000.

 

There is a lot going on here. First off, Gorski Reifsteck was hired to the tune of some $60,000 last year to help the district narrow down the list of 16 different potential high school sites around Champaign down to one. So the fact that they are now being hired to consult on and design the school on a site where they acted as primary consultants in choosing seems a bit controversial to me. Second, this isn’t just about consulting on the architectural designs – this is also about promoting and building support for the November referendum; Gorski Reifsteck is going to be tasked with making sure at least half of the Champaign community votes in favor of a $100+ million referendum.

These raise my eyebrows quite a bit. Like I said, I need to chew on this some more and read up to make sure that I understand this correctly.

 

And to round it off, that previous RFP for 180 second generation iPads was upgraded to fourth generation because nobody wants to sell 180 IPAD 2 units:

Administration recommends the award of the RFP for iPad 4’s to Apple Computer for $68,220.00.

 

I am concerned about the push for “21st century” technology, and all these cool little gadgets (not to mention all the other computer equipment being purchased). I did follow up and talk to a few folks about the World Language program and how these iPads will be used. Again, there is a lot of positive energy and even synergy at various levels. However, there are some downsides as well. One employee I talked to said that they do not even want the iPads because they do not support Flash, and many of their programs require Flash. If the district is pushing these devices, what input from field staff did they take? How are the people who are actually using these things playing a role in the decision and planning of the utilization of technology in the curriculum? Also, in my own experience, using tools like eToys is a bit of a challenge on the netbooks; the trackpads are not that great for general navigation, and some of the finer details are really hard to appreciate. However, in the end what amazes me the most is how kids adapt! You give them a challenge and you watch them figure it out. It is so cool when that happens. Yet we have to figure out how to work with those children for whom these technological approaches are not a good fit.

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14 Responses to “April 14th BOE meeting agenda has been posted”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    I sent an email to the Board (and Dr. Wiegand and Stephanie Stuart) asking some questions

    https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/april-12th-email-to-the-boe-concerning-the-april-14th-boe-meeting/

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Another Dannel McCollum guest commentary:
    http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2014-04-13/unit-4-schools-need-plan-b-place.html

    One point he makes which I also find very interesting:
    “What is surprising is the apparent vacuum in public interest as this gigantic, costly plan constructed by the board moves ahead. The capital costs are staggering without factoring the long-term expenses of implementation. There will be a very large increase in student transportation to a location far removed from the center of student populations. Additionally, there are the costs of operating a huge new facility over of the years of its lifetime.”

    I don’t think there is a lack of public interest, per se; rather, I think there are those that have simply given up after being convinced “nobody is listening”, and there are those who think complaining is their only recourse. But, granted, there does not seem to be a whole lot of engagement at the board meetings. As much as I would love to see more workshops, charrettes, true town hall meetings and opportunities for public deliberation, I don’t see it happening. Give me 10 people committed to attending a charrette and I’ll set it up. Give me 50 and I’ll set up 5. 🙂

    • Cindy Wachter Says:

      I share your observation that few people are expressing interest in this issue. I have yet to meet anyone willing to vote for the referendum and they all say they will be voicing their opinion by voting “no”. I too am dismayed that the district has not really engaged the community in this unsustainable and huge decision. At the State of the District “meeting” Judy Wiegand said, “and we’ve bought the land, so that’s done”, effectively preventing any discussion. I think I can round up 10 folks for a charrette.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Just a few moments ago at the Board Meeting, an elderly woman who self-identified as a Senior Citizen suggested that senior citizens are very unhappy with the process and progress. Board Member Kristine Chalifoux countered that we have been talking about this for 8 years, and when she was at the Gold Card breakfast (mostly for senior citizen’s I believe), everyone there supported the school districts current direction.

        Two different worlds. Who is right?

        Our community is made up by people who encompass a myriad of different and differing viewpoints. As a community we have to learn how to talk things out. Else we will forever be pointing fingers and forcing a group (or multiple groups) to be severly unhappy. Not is not the community I want to live in.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Oh, also, this respectable lady held up a printed copy of Dannel McCollum’s guest commentary to make sure everyone knew what she was talking about.

        She also asked, like Mr. McCollum, “What’s Plan B?” Board President Laurie Bonnett said they are going to talk about that later tonight.

        Stay tuned. 🙂

  3. Karen Says:

    So Ms. Chalifoux has the numbers all figured out and she presented them to seniors at a Gold Card breakfast? And, the seniors in attendance were in support of this current direction (price tag disclosed) even if it meant potentially going without some basics (given fixed incomes)? What did Ms. Chalifoux do in the first 3 or 5 or 6 years (of being a board member) to move conversation to action, through, among other things, appropriate financial planning initiatives? Somewhere in that article portable classrooms are ‘knocked.’ Maybe the concept shouldn’t be dismissed so readily given how much ‘new’ is apparently valued by board members (as one example: Jamar Brown: new Edison, new Dr. Howard–by all means, go forth and raise funds, but, failing that, be considerate of financial reality when it comes to tax-payers being tapped out). Modular schools/classrooms can be switched out as fads of a 21st Century learning environment come and go. Cheaper to do that than to do the ‘Carrie Busey’ thing (add-on just after construction was completed?). Big on the microsociety concept? Seems like Unit 4 bought enough farm acreage up there on the edge of town to house a modular compound of learning structures. The resulting society can work the land to raise funds for eventual permanent building/s on the site. And it the funds aren’t realized, modular can be continued. http://www.archiexpo.com/prod/clever-homes/contemporary-modular-prefab-buildings-schools-70400-522351.html

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Karen, I am dying to know how the board responds when you submit these observations and questions to them. 🙂

    • Cindy Wachter Says:

      According to Wikipedia, “In 2011, the Champaign school board began looking into replacing Champaign Central High School, citing concerns over the school’s current facilities.” Yes, what we find on the internet is always accurate (tongue in cheek), but how does this factoid jive with the reference to the 6 years the district has been working on finding a replacement for Central. It is not my perception that serious community engagement about the location of a new Central has been happening for so long, and I’ve been paying close attention.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        According to Kristine Chalifoux at the board meeting on the 14th, it has actually been 8 years. 6 years ago was the landmark “Great Schools, Together” work, which I admit did involve a spurt of serious community engagement. Unfortunately, I was not involved at all, but what I have heard is that business folks had the loudest voices. Maybe that says something about whom I talk to. However, the GST gave us some guidelines which the district administration still invokes like Holy Writ.

        Another (the last) spurt of engagement was with DeJong-Richter; in my opinion, this engaged the community even less than GST, but it did generate some token amount of discussion and feedback.

        My understanding is that Unit 4 has been talking about replacing Central, especially internally, for decades (yes, multiple tens of years). This is something the district administration, as a body, has foreseen from a long way off. Yet what land did previous administrations buy in order to prepare? What steps were laid to prepare a financial backing to support the capital construction costs?

        The way I see it, the current administration and BOE are fixated on building a high school north of I-74, for better or worse. I can understand the perspective that building on such “open” land does indeed open the door for a lot of possibilities. For instance, putting a middle school (or elementary school) somewhere else on the 80 acres; it also leaves the door open for numerous athletic fields and other amenities. I can also see it being very attractive for city planners and business advocates that want to increase residential and commercial building out in that direction.

        But here is the other side of the coin. I am not convinced we need 47 acres. At the April 14th BOE meeting, we are told nothing was found in the core of the city. They forgot to qualify that statement; they never looked for anything smaller. There was no consideration to go with, say, a 10-acre plot, or 20 for that matter. Within the past two years, a number of smaller-than-47-acre lands became available and were eventually purchased by other entities. It is my understanding that Unit 4 didn’t even think about them (although, I would love to find proof of this, to know whether this is fact or not).

  4. pattsi Says:

    This morning at the Chmpaign County Farm Bureau legislative committee meeting, Chapin Rose and Chad Hayes laid ou rather strongly the precarious situated related to K-12 funding and the skewing of the amount of this funding going to Chicago where property tax funding for schools, let alone the other taxing bodies, has not been raised in 60 years. In addition, it was pointed out what the Mahomet school district is doing related to giving back to the taxpayers a portion of the 1% tax increase, as promised when this was passed. In the next sentence, it was pointed out what Unit 4 is doing related to the full spending of all the monies from the 1% and then moving fast toward a November referendum for no one knows how much money for more building. This is just to point out what other community contingents are saying about the decision making being done.

    Further, very strong comments were made against the common core and how this approach is dumbing down education.


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