The wheels of the referendum are starting to spin again

Nicole Lafond wrote an article for today’s News-Gazette:


Nicole presents a number of different perspectives that are worth considering, more so because they are from board members and potential board members. In talking with members of the REWIND group and various board members over the weekend about the Monday night BOE meeting, including a certain inflammatory letter from a certain activist, it is clear that there are a lot of passionate opinions surrounding the referendum. One thing that Jamar Brown said to me that stuck in my mind is keeping the bigger picture in front of us – what is best for the students, and I will take the liberty of extending that to “what is best for our community”. The referendum, especially the location of a new high school, is just one factor among many. But it seems that the referendum, like a magnet, attracts more opinions and passion simply because it hits us in our pocketbook in a way that a more general discussion of “what is best for the kids” never could. Even those that are willing to support a larger referendum if (and only if) it puts a new high school at an “infill” location want to “put their money where their mouth is” and make sure their hard-earned dollars are going towards something they are convinced is “best”.


Yet, what is best? Is there an absolute, or do we all have valid subjective answers to that?


Is it possible we are focusing on the wrong thing altogether?


When students want to hold a protest and have a great idea of how to implement it, our educational culture (the school staff, the administration, the public media, the community members, all of us) are challenged with how to respond appropriately. Some people choose to express anger and/or dismay at students, a driver, teachers, etc, while others uphold those very same people. To me, the entire purpose of public education is to learn how to successfully deal with all those issues. Throwing stones or slinging mud, yelling invectives, stepping on the gas pedal in a crowd of students, none of this is helpful.

When some students are clearly on the pathway to a promising career while others are destined for time in jail, something is clearly wrong. When oppression and dishonesty are seen as the best way to accomplish a goal, something is wrong.


What will it take so that we see each individual student as a brand new book, waiting to be read and explored, nurtured into a wonderful and fantastic story? How do we get rid of prejudices? How do we wrap our arms around other in loving concern when there is pain? How do we create an environment where each child can grow into a successful part of society?


I don’t care where we put a high school. I don’t care how much the referendum costs. IF, AND ONLY IF, the higher priority is making each and every single child successful. And not just at one new school, but all schools in the system.


But why we have so much verbiage, so many articles, so many meetings, so many opinions about a $150 million bond issue to build and renovate schools is because construction is much easier than addressing the deeper, root issues of society. The reason we have so many different responses to the referendum is because we have different ideas of what is “best” and we lack any sort of reasonable cohesion that binds us together.


Back to the article, it is obvious we have capacity issues which make it much more difficult to offer the “best” education to our children. Note that I do not believe capacity issues make it impossible, but I also believe that our hard-working teachers already have enough on their plate, and adding in the additional stress of maxed out classrooms just makes it more likely that students are not getting the “best”. How do we feasibly, responsibly address capacity issues? Note that I ask this question in terms of a potential April ballot question – even if 100 people think one idea is superior, that idea still has to pass a majority vote, no matter how great it is. If the Bambenek and Chalifoux have collaborated to create a “tweaked” referendum that reduces costs and one or both high schools while also including some monies for Dr. Howard, will that get enough votes? It will until someone is able to pitch a better plan.


Here is what I sent to Nicole in response to her questions for today’s article – for me, it is important to get the entire context.


In closing, I will also mention that I was involved in several conversations that reflect Bambenek’s thoughts from the article, about the possibility of Dodds Park. That idea seems to be gaining more momentum, but there is still at least some resistance to Dodds Park. I am in the process of asking some “infill” folks what they think of Dodds Park. Pattsi has told me that is still the “easy” solution and takes a high school further away from the center of community where it is needed most.


18 Responses to “The wheels of the referendum are starting to spin again”

  1. Kathy R. Says:

    Eloquent as always. Charles. I would add that passionate opinions and healthy disagreement are essential to any public endeavor. I don’t think any of us who are debating how to spend the taxpayers’ money believe that school construction is the only path to successful education, but neither need we apologize if this issue happens to be the impetus for our entry into the public sphere. The reason why you get out of the armchair and into the arena becomes less relevant as long as you come to the arena prepared to engage.

    • craigwalker48 Says:

      My email was inflammatory !!?? [moderated]

      And for those running opposed to the current site, if you cannot articulate a viable alternative then you are merely telling the children of Unit 4 to sit in substandard high school while you try and figure it out. That option as well is a loser position for the kids in high school in Unit 4.

      Good to know where you stand Kathy R. How do you feel about REWIND and James Kurley… we already know Chuck doesn’t care so long as they agree with him on the referendum.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Craig, as to your points about not raising a viable alternative, I grant you that is a valid point of discussion, but one in which we will most likely have differing opinions. Members of the community have indeed posited alternatives to the Interstate Drive site, but they have been classified as “not viable” by the board. Thus there is a significant disconnect that is going to pose a challenge to discussions and even progress. I am not saying the disconnect itself is bad, it just stems from the natural consequence of those who differ in their beliefs and approach.

        I have already stated that the classrooms at Central pretty much suck, and that we have very real capacity issues now. I do not think anyone would deny that. Even though we had a very binary vote, the “yes” voters have their own doubts and qualms, and some of the “no” voters still very much support the schools. My point is that we as a community are not united, or anywhere close to be united, because we are not really addressing the root problem.

      • craigwalker48 Says:

        This is not a personal issue. You mentioned REWIND as a group you are talking too. Any person who is talking to this group or accepting financial support from them when their Co-Chair has expressed such vile views publicly, that is a major issue of POLICY . 50% of the kids in Unit 4 have families who accept some form of public aid and the Co-Chair of the REWIND group has characterized them in a racist manner on FB . This is all about who will be accepting of such views all in the name of “winning” some referendum. Will you stand up and reject REWIND as a credible entity on the discussion of the referendum with a Co-Chair like Kurley or will you choose to ignore his FB posts and work with REWIND ? Simple question.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Simple answer to your simple question: I cannot judge a group by one member. I have spoken with Jon Rector on several occasions and I believe he is earnest and has merit in his thoughts. I plan to go to a REWIND meeting in the near future to learn for myself what is being discussed, and perhaps even meet people in person.

        I also know for a fact that Kerris is neither threatened nor attacked. I hope Kerris finds the time and inclination to make a comment here on this thread to set the record straight, but I fear we are digressing from what is really important. Both Kerris Lee and Jamar Brown are strong advocators of our children and public education. I spoke with both gentlemen over the weekend and always come away from our conversations very impressed. I have spoken with other board members in the past, and I realize that they are serving as non-paid volunteers on a board that attracts negativity and requires a lot of personal time. They don’t do it because it is fun.

        I would suggest that anyone (including you, Craig) talk directly to board members and board member candidates. I called your email “inflammatory” because you seek to speak for two gentlemen with whom you have not spoken to recently. Ask board member candidates directly if they are taking money from REWIND – I know the answer for four of the candidates already.

        Hate begets hate. Instead, let us figure out how we can work together to fix the problems before us. To that end, I am talking to folks like Kerris Lee, Jamar Brown, Jon Rector, Chris Kloeppel, Kathy Richards, Kathy Shannon, Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield. I want to know from them how I put my energies towards an end that allows our children, all the children, to succeed in our society.

      • craigwalker48 Says:

        Did you read my email Charles ? No where in there did I claim to speak for anyone. I was informing the community about a Co-Chair ( which is a leader of the group not a member) of REWIND and his dangerous and racists views. Jon is a good guy, but so are a lot of people. When you associate with people like Kurley and give them leadership positions then you are empowering their viewpoints and if you remain silent about those views you become complicit in them. This is a major issue and I agree it does distract from the primary issues. But when we let people who espouse such racist views in a public forum like FaceBook become credible to the conversation then we have reached a real dangerous level of acceptance of radical hate. I agree the discussion on the referendum should be had…. But REWIND and their association with Kurley as Co-Chair cannot be accepted to the table of discussion. Period. Those views cannot be accepted anywhere in this discussion and as long as he is a Co-Chair then REWIND accepts his views.

      • craigwalker48 Says:

        BTW REWIND has made it clear they will oppose anyone who supports Interstate Drive which both Jamar and Kerris voted for… so yes REWIND is seeking to unseat them on the school board.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Again, as to REWIND opposing board member candidates, first talk to Jon Rector and Kerris Lee personally. I am not at liberty to speak for them. And I say this not only to you, Craig, but anyone interested in learning about the candidates should contact the candidates directly.

  2. craigwalker48 Says:

    What is Kathy R’s opinion on REWIND ? What is her “credible alternative” to a site ? The only one alternative I see on the landscape is Dodds Park which would be perfect next to Parkland but the big money boys and their Park Board President will never let that happen.
    The whole three high school thing would severely damage the sports programs of Unit 4 which by the way provides college scholarships to many kids of all backgrounds in all sports. Not a single student I have talked too is in favor of three high schools. Being against Interstate without being for something is simply playing into the rich developers hands who want Interstate for private development when the Olympic Drive extension is completed.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      You know the saying, “never say never”. I believe that at least one board member, possibly two, are in fact re-approaching the park district board about Dodds Park. Ultimately, if the community wants something, they are the ones who will have to put pressure on the various decision makers. One or two board members alone cannot have as much impact.

      Would three high schools really severely damage sports? Is not Kerris already talking about doing an entrepreneurship program, for high school, and the proposed vacated (old) Central? Why is three high schools such a threat? I understand the current high school coaches don’t want a third high school, but again I have to ask, what best creates an educational environment that propels students into success? Maybe two high schools is the perfect way to create such an environment. I do not know the answer to that – all my “hot air” is basically me thinking out loud and trying to figure that out. I lack the necessary information that tells me what physical format is best. Although Kerris has certainly convinced me that awesome things are ahead. 🙂

  3. craigwalker48 Says:

    Three high schools dilute the school population and takes the system down in class. Many colleges will not recruit students in swimming, golf and the other obvious sports unless they compete at the 3A level or higher.
    What Kerris is proposing is a great idea but it is not a three high school system. In addition with three high schools you have higher costs for teachers, staff, operating expenses etc. I hope the community brings tremendous pressure on the Park Board… Dodds is the best location hands down. They can use Interstate for the fields they have there now. But I can assure you the big money folk have put their foot down against that site and Petry is their guy. Only sever public pressure could get that rock moved out the way.

  4. Kathy R. Says:

    Kerris and I have learned that we disagree on the importance of school siting. However, I believe he and I agree that it would be irresponsible for a board candidate to fixate on a single site while ignoring the views of the public they are supposed to represent.

    I decided to run for the school board, in part, to give voice to the numerous members of the Unit 4 public who for a variety of reasons do not support constructing a new high school on the Interstate site. I also have ideas about how to make board operations more accessible to people who have previously felt alienated. If enough people decide to vote for me, then I promise my best efforts to all of Unit 4.

    I am happy to discuss my ideas for alternative solutions to the space/facilities crunch facing our district, which no one can realistically deny. But as I said at tonight’s board meeting, I will not engage in personal attacks.

    • Craig Walker Says:

      Its good to know Kathy R that you have no problem being part of a group that has its co-chair someone who vilifies and demeans poor people and people of color in a racist manner on Facebook. Considering Unit 4 is a majority minority school district, your unwillingness to address or condemn such individuals, makes it is very clear for the progressive voters of Champaign to know you will sit silent when such things occur. Please continue to let the good people of Champaign you are fine with James Kurley and his racist attitudes. #SilenceisComplicity.

  5. Andrew Moss Says:

    Dear Mr. Schultz,

    It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. As always, I find this blog very informative. Thank you for it! Much less well-read on matters of the current referendum, I wanted to post about your discussion of individual students. A couple of ways we can all help students are: volunteering at schools or looking for organizations that currently organize programs at/for schools and join them. Hardly a sea-change in terms of policy, I know, but I’ve seen in the past few years just the kinds of nurturing you’re describing by many in Champaign who are giving time and attention to our kids in partnership with schools.

    Thanks for the post.
    Andrew Moss

    • charlesdschultz Says:


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on helping students. I love how you have been so active and involved with the after school programs at Stratton! And I agree, while not a “sea-change” per se, it is indeed practical, fundamental, and impactful. One of my hopes and wishes is that more community members would follow suit and step up to the plate by volunteering their time. It is really cool to bump into fellow mentors who also happen to work in at the TV station, work in Real Estate, Principals, even the Superintendent.

      Another thing I love about the idea of volunteering is that it is so simple. The very fact that there is no policy involved (basically), no money, it just boils down to simply building relationships, which is obviously key to a successful, functioning society.

      So thanks again, Andrew, not only for sharing, but by being one of those people who give time and attention to our kids.

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