Pros and Cons, part 2

This weekend I received several items that reminded me of how dysfunctional our current method of “voting” has become. This post is going to focus on a couple positive examples of looking at issues from both angles, plus also exhibit some cases where healthy community deliberation is clearly lacking.

 

On September 1st I published a post about the pros and cons of the upcoming referendum. Even though a couple minor things have been added or changed, overall that pretty much sums up the pros and cons of the proposed Unit 4 $149 million referendum. Since then, I have been rather impressed with how the Chamber of Commerce has approached the referendum, providing its members with an opportunity to chew not only on the well-publicized and widely distributed facts that Unit 4 and the “Friends of Champaign Schools” are propagating, but also the somewhat-harder-to-find “other side”, by allowing dissenting voices of other prominent community leaders (as showcased in the thread of emails after the September 30 Chamber meeting). But more impressive is that someone obviously did their homework and sent a rather comprehensive and detailed email to Chamber members on October 17th, including a link to a recent Oct 13 Illinois Policy Institute blog post that claims “Champaign County breaks promise on sales-tax hike“. This reminded me of a June 2010 Promised Made, Promises Kept Committee (great question/answer between Greg Novak and Gene Logas). However my point is that the Chamber is doing a decent job at presenting different angles of the referendum for its members to chew on, and I applaud that.

 

Another example of covering both sides of an issue arrived in my mailbox in the form of a pamphlet from Jesse White, Secretary of State, covering the “proposed amendments and addition to the Illinois Constitution”, as required by Illinois Constitutional Amendment Act (5 ILCS 20). What I appreciated about this pamphlet is that it intentionally and explicitly presents a short-form argument (and explanation) both for and against the relevant proposed changes that you and I will be voting on. In my opinion, this is a great start at educating the public. I wonder why we don’t do that for all ballot questions.

 

From there we turn to two new NG Letters to the Editor (also added to my ever-growing index of Letters to the Editor). The first one talks about how the school district plans to defer much needed maintenance on elementary and middle schools, and questions the viability of a single high school. The second talks about several brochures that have been sent home with students (and if you are a Unit 4 parent, I am sure you have seen them – I counted three so far), and even goes so far as to question the legal ramifications with the State’s Attorney’s office. As you can tell from my index, there have been many letter writers who take issue with the location, the plans (or lack thereof), and various other aspects of the referendum. What bothers me is that some of the same topics come up over and over; why have we had no public forum, no open deliberation, no healthy out-and-out argument on these issues?

 

And here is what also bites me. I have talked to many representatives of the “Friends of Champaign Schools” campaign group (still working on that blog post), and I have been very impressed. They have great hearts, great passion and great intentions. I absolutely love the support that is being pulled together for Unit 4. This stuff is awesome! And such support is not very common for Unit 4, so I don’t want to stand in the way of it. Yet people on both sides of the fence have doubts right along side their convictions. How do we, as a voting public, give voice to our thoughts in such a way as to collectively build on our understanding of the root issues? Most people I talk to are basing their vote on a single, passionate aspect; I wonder what that does to elections? I am not saying that is wrong, for we all have to start somewhere. But here we are 16 days out from November 4th and that is all we have.

 

One final thought. We in Illinois have three “Statewide Advisory Questions”; clearly, these are not referenda items and thus are not actionable, and likewise it is unclear how the results of these binary questions will be used, but at the very least it is interesting that the questions are even being asked in the first place. I wonder, what if all Unit 4 residents had an opportunity to answer similar “school district wide advisory questions” in an official ballot? Not just approving a $149 million bond issue, but other questions. What would that look like? Would it even be helpful?

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25 Responses to “Pros and Cons, part 2”

  1. pattsi Says:

    I still have virtually heard no discussion or news article about the externality costs to the community via other taxing bodies, such as MTD, park district, city of Champaign to cover infrastructure that does not now exist out there, snow plowing, new street construction, more street maintenance, and another FIRE HOUSE plus additional staff for this facility, removal of farm land to contribute economically to the tax base, additional transportation costs, additional time to get to an fro, to name just a few. The conversation is siloed to the amount stated in the referendum, but that is just the beginning of costs not mentioned.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Pattsi, does not the RPC report (mentioned in the Chamber of Commerce email) start to crack open that door of externalities and associated costs?

      For me, the issue with the expansion to the north is more of a City issue. The City of Champaign has already made plans (and in fact already implemented) for growth north of I-74, without a reasonable plan or idea as to where that growth will stop (eg, “We’re going to live inside this ring“). To me, the school district is not the one, per se, responsible for initiating a thrust of “urban sprawl” to the north, but rather that is the City’s responsibility and as such, I have an issue with the lack of constraint or any kind of bounds, including the lack of figuring out all the ramifications thereof. Looking at my personal crystal ball, I see Champaign expanding north and eventually (inevitably) we will have schools north of I-74.

      Even if the referendum passes and we do start building a high school up on Interstate Drive, the resulting increase in traffic, especially in and around Prospect, is not a school issue but rather a City issue. One might ask why Prospect is already so horrible and there isn’t even a school in the area, yet.

      But you do have a good point, related to my blog post. Where is that discussion?

      • pattsi Says:

        Your response intrigues me from the perspective that you argue it is not the responsibility of a taxing body to be concerned as to the ramifications of decisions made that urban planning research fairly well show cause sprawl, aka where mega churches are located–not a taxing body–and schools–a taxing body decision. To post that whatever the fall out might be from the placement of a school falls on the shoulders of the city, in essence, be only concerned with what individually is done, but do not be concerned as to the gestalt ramifications, aka cost to other taxing bodies that will have to raise property taxes to pay for these new costs. Taking your argument to a micro level, it would be all right if I cover all of my permeable surface on my site so it is impermeable without regard as to what flooding this action will cause my immediate neighbors and down stream. Now if everyone in my neighborhood took the same action, we add to the already existing flooding problems. But that is O.K., based on your argument, because that is a city of Champaign problem to solve. And I do not have to worry about the extra cost to the city to do so.

        Further if the city planning department continues to state that we have sufficient land to infill for the next two decades, why would it be logical to take action that will certainly result in sprawl either north or west both of which that have major physical barriers, aka freeways?

      • Rebecca Patterson Says:

        I think the county, Champaign, and Urbana were all involved back when Olympia Dr was being planned. It seemed to me like Olympia was the northern limit. They’ve talked about N. Prospect as being too much sprawl and have been trying to use the side streets like Interstate Dr more. People drive by there pretty fast past Walmart to the mall. So you could speed past the school and avoid Prospect.

  2. pattsi Says:

    Forgot that there will be a need to increase policing north of the freeway, another tax cost.

  3. John Bambenek Says:

    My understanding is that the school board can put any non-binding question they want on the ballot. If you have particular ones you would like to see, feel free to present them and we will consider it.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      John, that is my understanding as well, but I have never seen it done. 🙂 Curious, do non-binding questions have to be binary, or can you have multiple choice? Just brainstorming some ideas:
      – to address capacity issues, should Unit 4 build more but smaller high schools, or fewer but larger high schools?
      – to fund Operations and Maintenance and Capital Projects, should Unit 4 continue asking tax payers for property tax increases, or budget according to the existing revenue streams (including the 1% Sales Tax)?
      – should Unit 4 publicly publish and maintain a list of all deferred maintenance items over 2 years old and over $100,000?

      Some of the questions were similar to what Dejong-Richter were asking, and I realize that Stephanie quotes the Dejong-Richter reports as “the community says….”, but obviously a November ballot is going to have many more respondents. 🙂

      Just some thoughts. I would be curious to hear what others think would make for good non-binding questions.

      • John Bambenek Says:

        As far as the form of questions, I am not sure the latitude given. I have never seen anything but binary. As far as the questions, we will see how our current question fares in November.

      • pattsi Says:

        There is a limit as to how many referenda can be on each ballot whether advisory or mandatory. For the upcoming April 2015 ballot, the drop dead date for submission is mid January 2015.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        I edited my comment by adding “Capital Projects” after “Operations and Maintenance”

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        John, according to an election specialist at the Illinois State Board of Elections, the maximum number of non-binding questions that can appear on a ballot is three, and the responses are limited to yes/no or agree/disagree.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    Just remembered, Rose & Taylor will have a Community Education Forum next Sunday evening – I am sure they will have perspectives from “both sides” represented, and I bet there will be some good discussions. However, I also have a gut feeling that the referendum is not high on the priority list of those that live in the “north end”; based on talks with Jamar and listening to what folks like Minnie Pearson, Pat Avery and others have said, discipline and educational inequities are more important. This was reflected at the last community Education forum I attended at Rose & Taylor as well.

  5. Rebecca Patterson Says:

    I have so many thoughts I can’t keep them straight. I remember reading on the school board site that they would lower taxes if the 1% passed, and then they also said after they did a bunch of things they would have to come back for more money, but not before 2015 to prove they had integrity. They put a date on it. Another thing. They hired PKD-GDH to be its Construction Manager on all projects back then, no bid. Why? School board is a government body, why would it spend millions of dollars no bid and is it planning to do it again? With so many people in poverty in this community how do they think they can afford to pay for this? Do they really think a new building will educate kids, when they graduate unprepared for work or to go on to college? When our kids need to attend community college to be able to go on college that’s sad. That’s not about buildings, it’s about what’s inside the buildings.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Rebecca, you would be hard pressed to find exact quotes on Unit 4’s website to support your arguments. 🙂 I do not think Unit 4 ever put into writing that they would promise to lower taxes if the 1% passed, nor do I recall the 2015 date promise. That is not to say that such things were or were not said. After a bit of prodding, the district has finally posted a vast majority of meeting agendas and minutes on the PMPK website:
      http://www.champaignschools.org/pages/pmpk/meetings/documents

      According to the Sept 16, 2009 meeting minutes, the committee did in fact know it would need more money for building in the future, but I am not finding a date in any meeting minutes that they agreed to “wait until”. Additionally, in the March 2010 meeting minutes, Mr. Logas said that property taxes were in fact abated in 2010 and 2011.

      Please note that many people feel as you do; clearly the 1% was “sold” with certain expectations. The quoted blog from the Illinois Policiy Institute only serves to reinforce those expectations. We can try doing a little “he said/she said” legal dance, but I think that is a side-show to the main issue that whatever master plan Unit 4 may or may not have, the community for the most part is clearly not aware and not on board.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Rebecca, I found something for you (and anyone else interested). The school district did specifically state:
        “WHEREAS, the Board has initiated its due diligence and recognizes that the legislation
        provides a unique opportunity for Illinois schools, and in particular Unit 4, to address multiple
        capital facilities needs, energy efficiency improvements and fire prevention, safety and related
        building purposes without requiring an increase in the property tax from the voters of the
        Champaign Community Unit School District;”

        http://www.co.champaign.il.us/countybd/PPA/090603AGENDAFULL.pdf, page 100
        [Warning – it takes a long time to load this document]

        Other school districts went further. Hertiage, which is named in the IPI blog, actually gave a dollar amount per year. Oops.

      • Rebecca Patterson Says:

        The drop in property taxes was only related to paying off the outstanding bonds we had at that time, so we had an increase because of those bonds, because the paid them off with the 1% school board said we would get a tax cut. That’s all people heard, most of what was said the loudest but they also said at some point the would need more money. I don’t remember where I saw the 2015 date but it really surprised me. I don’t remember it as being in any minutes. I was looking earlier but went to have fish. 🙂 I keep looking for it.

  6. pattsi Says:

    Rebecca Patterson, for what it is worth, as I campaign door-to-door a number of topics get discussed, some pertaining to the county, some not. A take away from several such conversation is that there is a general distrust of Unit 4 and the BOE, mostly based on the confusion of understanding by the community related to the 1% increase and reducing property taxes. There is an additional layer that has to do with the back door method of getting the cash bonds. Just a reminder also, people look at what Mahomet has accomplished with the 1% increase, decrease in property taxes, and a commitment not to do any more construction until the present construction bonds are paid off via the 1%. All of this information floats through the community.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Urbana made a similar pledge, “Renovation without taxation”. The obvious diffeence is that Champaign has a bit of a time crunch going on with capacity issues. Yet that alone does not justify where we are at with the referendum, in my opinion.

      • Rebecca Patterson Says:

        Mahomet had the advantage of having a much smaller school system and people who knew each other more. One high school, elementary school, etc. It makes it easy when everyone sees the same things. And Urbana has planned ahead. We didn’t. If the overcrowding was so bad why was the new high school not a priority? Crowding is not an excuse for rushing. They are talking about two trades programs. They say the community rejected three high schools but they look down when they say it. Why not a third trade school? Wouldn’t that cut the overcrowding? And create a better program? Instead we get programmed questions and told what we think. This town is full of creative people, creative students. It took a long time to get where we are, we can take time to do it right.

  7. kshannon617 Says:

    I’ve had two questions come up in my own mind since your September post. First, will the bump in capacity affect the middle schools? Aren’t they all pretty close to capacity as well? And second, I have heard the board say that they will be redistricting after they build the new school up north. But if they redistrict generally along north-south lines, won’t they re-segregate the schools? If they don’t, I would think that the transportation costs will remain a huge problem. (Either or both of these questions may have been addressed somewhere, but I haven’t seen it.)

    • kshannon617 Says:

      Dang it, I meant the bump in enrollment, of course.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Kshannon,

      Yes, when Dejong-Richter put forth their projections in 2012, they forecasted increased enrollments at the middle school level as well. It is my understanding that the K-8 idea is going to help relieve congestion in the middle schools; obviously, with all the $198 million focusing on two high schools, it is hard to realize when K-8 will get some attention, but I do know the folks at the Mellon Center are talking about it.

      As to redistricting, Stephanie Stuart has mentioned that will be done with community input, as well as that of staff (not sure about students). From my talks with various board members and district administration, I know they are very aware of the potential segregation issues not to mention transportation costs. It seems to me that MTD is still a big unknown variable in this mix, since a lot seems to depend on what the bus routes will look like.

  8. Adam Says:

    Does anyone know of a way to get electronic copies of the brochures that people have received in the mail? I heard there was a nice tri-fold one that some friends of mine received in South Campaign but apparently I missed it.


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