Watching how democracy works

For those that watch/read the News-Gazette online, you will have seen that the Nov 4th Unit 4 referendum item is getting a lot of comments (1st, 2nd). It is interesting to witness how passionate some people are about their thoughts. Given all that energy, it is somewhat frustrating that these voices are not truly put to the test in a deliberative, public forum.


A little over an hour ago, Angelica Sanchez of Channel 15 emailed me; unfortunately, I had to decline an interview offer but was made aware of a petition that is making the rounds on facebook:

Find a more central site for a new Champaign Central High School


UPDATE: Those that wish to contact Angelica:

Angelica Sanchez

Multimedia reporter

WICD Newschannel 15



UPDATE 2: Kathy Richards, who initiated the petition and one of many interviewed, will be on Channel 15 for tonight’s 10:00 pm news.


I believe this is a significant step up from the anonymous (or pseudo-anonymous) online comments for a newpaper website. Based on a number of those online comments, however, it is obvious that the stated new Central HS location is in fact a big deal to a number of people. Will we then have a petition for including Dr. Howard on the next referendum? What about reducing the size of the referendum? (all reasons stated in recent NG articles and online comments) Note, I think we should, and am tempted to start them myself.


This is but the start of a democratic process taking birth. Next, I would love to see a full-blown panel between those who strongly support the referendum and those who strongly oppose it. I would love to see open radio debates. (Eric Bussell, you reading this? *grin*) What I think we would find fascinating about such dialogs is that 1) a whole freaking ton of people agree that we need to do something about the buildings and we need to address capacity in some form, and 2) those who oppose are going to find it difficult to unite on an alternative resolution. If nothing else, I think the latter is one of the biggest challenges behind organizing the “opposition” group.


As I told Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield (co-chairs of the Friends of Champaign Schools), rather than a mere 1700 “no” votes that the district administration and board wants to convert, what about a minimum goal of 5000? Why can’t we have a goal of finding a solution that a super-majority of our voters can agree upon?


To help us towards that goal, I am ready to get my hands dirty. I am willing to help organize open public forums, panels, discussions (or whatever you want to call them). I am willing to go looking for people who are willing to debate on radio and TV. Let us set up opportunities in various neighborhood community centers where people can hash out their ideas. But I ask for your help; I cannot do this alone. What good will it do? People, we need to work together A LOT more than we do now. We are too divided. I love how grass-root movements like the Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice unite people around a specific cause and organize their efforts with positive results. There are other small groups like that around town that “get things done”, and it is so exciting when I hear about them.


The school district and board has said that we have been talking about this problem for (at least) 8 years now. It has probably been a lot longer. To that end, I believe the consultants we have hired have failed us on that count. We had an excellent start of a democratic effort in 2008 called “Great Schools Together” that totally lacked follow-through and accountability. I think we may have lost the art of healthy disagreement and public deliberation; we voted on November 4th, but yet it is unknown what we said.

19 Responses to “Watching how democracy works”

  1. Rebecca Patterson Says:

    I don’t think “we” have been working on this for a long time, not even the 8 years. That’s a big part of the problem is it’s agenda-driven. Someone decided there was a problem and they were the ones to fix it. They knew how, we just need to get out of the way and give them the money. Their story keeps changing like they are selling it to us instead if engaging us. We were never participants in this. Even now with it not passing, all they have said is trying to change enough votes to yes, nothing about bringing people together. So much tunnel vision.

    • kshannon617 Says:

      I remember people asking a board member about the Urbana option years ago (buying properties near the high school as they become available, to prepare for expansion). He was very dismissive of the idea, saying it would have been nice if we’d started 20 years ago but clearly was no longer possible. Just imagine if we had had 8 years of doing that already! Sigh.

  2. Kathy R. Says:

    Shucks. I started the petition. (Last night!) I was hoping that many voices would make more of an impact on the board than just the same yammering few. Im curious how far this will go… it did get me interviewed by Angelica Suarez on Day 1. So we’ll see…

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    If anyone wants to contact Angelica, here is her public contact information:

    Angelica Sanchez
    Multimedia reporter
    WICD Newschannel 15

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    WICD 15 10:00 pm news segment on the petition

    Looks like Angelica did a decent job with your stories (both Kathy’s *grin*). In some ways, I am surprised that only 113 people have signed the petition at this time. I am sure that number will grow.

    So, a question for both of you, and anyone else that wants to tackle this: What about all those people that voted “no” but think that Interstate Drive is a perfectly good site? Whether that be 10 people or 1000 people. How do we come to some form of consensus or amicable compromise so that we can move forward?

    Please note, I am not taking a strong position on the location. In part because I personally favor more high schools, and thus it makes sense to me to retain the ones we have and build others. I think this aligns with your priority of placing schools near their communities. I maintain that the City is pushing ahead with plans to develop the area north of I-74, so eventually we will most likely have a larger population that lives further to the north. I do not mind that we purchased the land, per se, even though Pattsi’s argument about us overpaying for it has merit. I like the idea of “land banking”, and to me, it seems that eventually we will have multiple schools up near Interstate Drive one way or another. I do not know when, though.

    This is going to be hard to talk through because we all have different ideas of how to address the problems we have, yet we need to come together on at least one solution and vote in favor of something. I am not saying we need a $150 million tax package, but we do need something to make up for decades of negligence – ultimately, we are paying the price now in lieue of not having paid that price more incrementally over the years. My big concern is that we do not perpetuate bad practices and take a much healthier approach to community-owned fiscal responsibility. It is just plain hard to do that.

    • kshannon617 Says:

      I think it’s important to find out why people voted ‘no’. We don’t have any details about John Bambenek’s survey, and it only had 3 options to choose as the reason for a ‘no’ vote, so we need better data than that. But I assume that those location, cost, and Dr Howard’s exclusion are probably the main 3 reasons.

      I think we can find a way to address all three questions, and we have to. If we can find a new location (or remodel the current one) and scale back our expectations, and cut back on the work at Centennial, we can free up funds for Dr. Howard. If Unit 4 put as much effort into soliciting feedback as they did into their “informational” mailings and handouts, we could get a much better idea of what people want and what they are willing to settle for.

  5. pattsi Says:

    How is the Unit 4 population learning about the survey? I would not have heard about it but for this blog. No mention in the N-G. Are people using social media? And of course this survey is not scientific so are we slipping back into old habits that do not give useable information, unlike Holly Nelson’s research which has been ignored.

    I continue to be appalled about the price paid for the land. I also learned last evening more about the lack of willingness to land bank for future growth by Unit 4 as compared to Unit 116. Meadowbrook Park originally was owned by 116, but then 116 preferred to build and expand where the HS was so the land got sold to the Urbana Park District. There was another example that is not coming back to mind right now.

    I am not certain why Charles continues to write about the plans of the city to expand north when the city has stated on many occasions the focus has shifted to infill, which makes much more sense related to the value of the agriculture land that would be covered with anything going north.

    As to Charles desired and preference to the smaller HS model, building on the 4 corners at Bradley and Neil with ped connections accomplishes this perfectly, aka the Evanston HS model, and moduates a posted concern about that idea in the need for more HVCA with more buildings. This would definitely be the case with smaller HS building scattered throughout the community because those HVAC systems could not be connected, aka the UIUC steam tunnels.

    • charlesdschultz Says:


      “I am not certain why Charles continues to write about the plans of the city to expand north when the city has stated on many occasions the focus has shifted to infill, which makes much more sense related to the value of the agriculture land that would be covered with anything going north.”

      I understand the city has shifted to infill at the moment, and I am really glad they have. However, it is an obvious fact that we have stores, apartments galore, houses, roads, infrastructure north of I-74. Maybe the city has shifted its focus for the meantime, but there is still “stuff” up there, and inevtiably, developers will continue to expand. I don’t see anyone just leaving things (north of I-74) as they are for the next 50 years. Do you?

      • kshannon617 Says:

        It worries me what would happen if the buildings and infrastructure did stay the same for 50 years. If a new high school is built in the center of the city, property values there would go up, and they would go down up north. If we build a new elementary school up north (which I think we’ll probably have to do at some point), that would mitigate the damage. But if we don’t, then I fear that the edge of town will become the poor area, while the inner areas become gentrified. (I believe I have seen an article within the last year that talked about this, but I’m having trouble finding it right now. I’ll come back & post it if it turns up. Of course, Pattsi would probably know much more about this than I would, so I’d love to hear her input.)

        It would help if we made it easier for people to get across the interstate. My ideal situation is for Prospect and Neil to have dedicated express bus lines with service every 10 minutes during peak times…okay, maybe that’s just a nice daydream. 🙂

    • Kathy R. Says:

      Hi Pattsi, I’m Kathy R., the person who started the petition being discussed. It is most certainly *not* a survey, and as you point out, not at all scientific. I started it on as an experiment to see how far it could spread on social media.

      My primary reason for voting against the referendum was the Interstate location of the proposed new Central. I knew many other people who felt the same way. When I heard from Unit 4 that they did *not* plan to reconsider this location, I wanted to come up with a way to give people like me a louder voice.

      So I wondered how many signatures I could get on a petition which simply asked them to reconsider? I did not expect to be contacted for a TV news interview on the first day the petition was live… Nor did I expect so many people to leave comments on the petition talking about their reasons for disliking the location.

      As Charles said in his post, the main challenge for opponents of the referendum (those of us who *do* support new construction) is organizing around a viable alternative. My petition gets us no closer to this goal. What I do hope it accomplishes, however, is demonstrating to the Board that there are many of us out here who WANT TO SPEND MONEY TO IMPROVE OUR SCHOOLS. We just want to be heard.

      • pattsi Says:

        Kathy, as I was running errands this AM after posting, I realized I had referred to your reaching out as a survey rather than a petition. My apologies–I guess I am still tired from the election.

        As the petition mechanism–good way to get attention all the way around, but easy to ignore by the decision makers. I have encouraged Charles via private emails that people ought to start drawing out various scenarios to put these thoughts into visuals. Use these visuals as the conversation generators anywhere–the grocery story, barbership, etc. you get the idea–not scientific to begin with but will result in a much more flexible conversation(s) than has occurred.

        I still pitch for the intersection of Bradley and Neil or Bristol Park now that this space is destined to be levels, which is not the ideal means for redevelopment. When I hear people say that there are no other alternatives, I know that not to be the case; yet, getting an alternative conversation takes visuals, Create flyers with the visuals. Get the children to put them in Unit 4 citizens doors. Get a fund to have the visuals be a flyer stuff in the N-G. Use social media to distribute the ideas via FB, twitter, or whatever else now exists. This is retail selling, boots on the ground, identify the base to help, etc.

        As to growth to the north–indeed, this will happen in decades down the line, but why aggravate this happening right now, which a HS will do. Let us see if high speed rail is possible–if so, this will totally change the planning conversation here–will this become a bedroom community for Chicago or will it become an expanding community, but still this isolated island? These are interesting to discuss because the planning scenarios will be different based on the assumptions.

        And during these ensuing decades, the deliver of education will take on a massive change so do we need the buildings that are being discussed, do we need the athletic fields are perceived right now or in another format–these conversations are very important.

  6. Rebecca Patterson Says:

    I still think we should go with three schools, and Judah is still an option even if Spaulding isn’t used. The reason for including the park was for the sports programs. Call me crazy but does every high school have to have a football team? Not every boy plays. Can’t there be magnet high schools where the focus is on trades, or music and arts instead of sports?

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Personally, I believe that schools should focus on education and let the park districts handle the athletics. I understand that there is a solid core of fans (fanatics? *grin*) that strongly cling to the rivalry and sportsmanship that comes from a school mascot and identity, but when I look around and see that college football coaches are making obscene amounts of money for a football program that does not win that often, I am ready to totally seperate “education” from “athletics”. Let the park districts manage and maintain all the athletic facilities and associated programs. Let them play the market for which sports are popuplar and the niche interests. When I talked to Joe DeLuce, he seemed amenable to this idea. When I broached it with Bambenek, he said he would like to have the schools have “first right of refussal”. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, I was just tossing out ideas.

      Unfortunately, schools or so tied to athletics these days, across our nation, that I very much doubt that we will be breaking that bond any time soon. *sigh* Or maybe I am just crazy and insane.

      And yes, a third high school (or fourth or fifth, eventually) makes so much more sense. Judah would certainly be the cheapest route if we do not care about associated green space, but I am not so certain the timeframe would be practical – totally depends on how fast Judah can build their own school, which right now is several years out.

  7. pattsi Says:

    Just a simple reminder–moving school athletics to park districts is a half century old idea–showing how hard it is to create that change. Even harder than culturally is that state laws would have to be changed to allow a park district whatever team to play against and in a conference with school district whatever teams. So maybe focusing on this at or near the top of the concern list is not the best use of limited time and citizens’ energies. This does not mean the idea ought not be explored but it will take decades to change.

    • Jeff Says:

      I continue to believe that the thought of remodeling the current Central or to use the Spaulding site is short sighted. We will be having these exact same debates in a couple of decades if we try to force a school in an area that doesn’t fit. I believe that in the vast majority of times that as community grows the schools grow with them. I think this was the case when South Side Robeson, Westview, Barkstall, Carrie Busy, (both times) it was built and Centennial. None of them were built in the ‘downtown’ part of Champaign.

      Any public forum that is convened would be appreciated though this issue has been talked to death. I would be happy to provide a pro school and current proposal site perspective.

      • kshannon617 Says:

        If population growth in the north warrants another school in a couple decades, why not build a third high school at that point? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’m quite serious. Do we remain forever wedded to the idea of only two schools in Champaign no matter how big they are? Or do we build now for where the population is, and keep in mind that as we develop to the north, we’ll eventually need more of every type of infrastructure, including schools?

  8. Kathy Richards presenting her petition to the Board tonight | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] Richards, the author of the petition that I blogged about a few days ago, is bringing her petition to the Board tonight – here is what she has to […]

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