I submitted a guest commentary to the NG (Dan Corkery), which I will include below. I limited it to 749 words (before editing), but there is more I wish to include. In fact, I will probably remember more and more things to include. 🙂
First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to hurl stones at the Unit 4 administration nor the Board. I believe they have a ton of good intentions, and obviously this whole saga is not an easy one. I must also remind us all that the current board and administration inherited this problem from their predecessors. Having said that, I hope that anyone reading “between the lines” realizes that I disagree with the board and the administration about the current direction of the $150 million referendum, but I by no means want to disparage them. Likewise, there will be those that disagree with me, and I will not take that personally. This is a huge deal we are talking about – not just building a new high school, but what our schools will look like in the next 80 years or so.
I also wish to remind all of us that there is still a ton of work that needs to be done in other schools. Dr. Howard? There is significant attention being poured upon where to site a high school, but for almost a decade now we have heard hints of outstanding, deferred maintenance. We cannot simply ignore that. It is utterly irresponsible for the school district to not maintain the buildings it owns. To this I would also say that there is a huge communication problem in that the school district has not properly educated the pubic; the school district has attempted to raise property taxes to fix buildings, but the public frequently rejects the proposition at vote time. Why?
I also mention building smaller schools, and I suggest starting with Judah. Maybe we keep Judah “as is”, maybe we renovate later. There is still an option at Spalding, maybe in the next few years, to do something. I am certain there are many other options around town. I wish to tie into Greg Novak’s, Marc Changnon and the findings of Dejong-Richter – a small highschool focused on the trades would receive a lot of support. In fact, this was one of the top-voted options in the Dejong-Richter findings, something you will not find in the FAQ. I am not proposing that we reduce the current highschools from 1200 students down to 900 (which is an interesting idea), but rather that we cap each high school at 1150 students or so, and build smaller schools to handle future capacity. I submit that smaller schools are much more versatile and adaptive to future needs. You could even have a single high school at several locations (other Illinois schools are doing this already). Finally, in talking to another resident in town, why do we compare to larger schools – why not compare to Urbana? Just saying.
Lastly, in last sentence of my guest commentary, I broach the topic of allowing park districts to maintain the athletic facilities. I understand this is contentious and I have not devoted any time or space to developing this idea. In my opinion, the school district should be focused on public education. Sports have become a huge portion of secondary and post-secondary education. Why? As much as I am against it, I realize there are a large number of citizens, voters and supporters that love the marriage of athletic programs and education, and I will not be able to change their mind over night. That’s ok, for now. We will just have to disagree. My point is, in the context of Plan B, if we allow for a small school that has very little requirement for practice fields, it is quite easy to find “in-fill” space in town for such a school. I am in total agreement with those that argue our kids need extra-curricular (what does that mean? *grin*) and intra-curricular athletics for our students – it is REALLY good for them to be active in many different ways. I am not saying students should not be in athletics. If you read that somehow, please go back and read again.
Here is the Guest Commentary I have submitted.