5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum

First off, hats off to the candidates that won a seat on the school board:

  • Amy Armstrong
  • Chris Kloeppel
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon
  • Jonathan Westfield (2-year seat)

UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

With a 10:4 ratio voting against the referendum, I was actually surprised with such a huge margin; I expected it to be much closer. Obviously, the Keep Central Central’s strong campaign efforts (and lack of a corresponding thrust by the “Yes” crowd) made an impression, which is also reflected in the choice of board members; every candidate that took a strong stand for the referendum failed to claim a seat.

So this is what democracy looks like at the ballot. Now the harder part – how do you get all those “No” votes to actually agree on a solution, and then sell that to the everyone else? This will be a challenge for the new board. Another challenge will be if they desire to choose a new president, and building bridges with the North End Breakfast Club (which I think is very important and healthy).

For the referendum, I would love to see a multi-staged effort take place. First, break the referendum up into pieces that actually address individual goals. One for Dr. Howard, one for the current Central (ie, the dreaded lack of AC we keep hearing about in the summer months), one for Centennial and one for a new Central. All of that needs to be put under the umbrella of a comprehensive and community-vetted long-term strategic plan than can be summarized in a one-page infographic. I would love to see an effort towards participatory budgeting whereby the guts of how finances work are simplified and made accessible to the average Joe, and give stakeholders a sense of ownership by giving them the power to vote on more granular items (as opposed to a carte blanche $144 million).

Here are a few short-term goals I am going to push the new school board to jump on.

  1. Figure out a way to have informal get-togethers that do not violate OMA but yet do not require an agenda, much less Robert’s Rules. Most of the candidates have already been practicing this; now to make it official. Happy Hours at Jupiters/Sun Singer/Blind Pig? 🙂
  2. Even though KCC won tonight, don’t let the referendum dominate your role as a board member. Keep things in perspective. Focus first (please!) on governance and serving the people that elected you.
  3. Connect with the North End. Make it a priority to adopt some of their issues, like inequities in discipline and the achievement gap. Jamar’s voice will be missed, so find a way to fill the gap.

There are very exciting times ahead. The public has voted in some good people, even if they are not the ones you wanted. Each of them has promised to bring a listening ear, so it is up to you to make sure they do exactly that.


21 Responses to “5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    And, and one other thing. Since we hired DeJong-Richter and Gorski-Reifsteck/DLR to help pass the referendum, do we get our money back?

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    I was first surprised by the large number of precints where the referendum failed:

    The picture does a very nice job of comparing both referendum attempts at a macro level, and tells a rather telling story. Now I want to find out about the low-level details – why did people vote no, and what are we going to do about it?

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

  4. Lynn Stuckey Says:

    Dear Charles,

    As you and I are well aware, KCC ran their campaign on lies and half-truths (for those who don’t believe me, look at the flyer KCC gave to voters. They deliberately left off the Ashland Park neighborhood, which is next door to the proposed site and has been in existence for 10 years). While the results are disappointing, it will be the children who suffer most in the long run, and the voters who will pay more when we get around to building a new Central high school.

    I personally do not take the results as they are currently being painted by the News-Gazette and others. I think a more finely-grained picture will emerge, over time, and that finely-grained picture should guide the Unit 4 board to where it needs to go.

  5. joe@smith.com Says:

    A more “fine grained” approach will simply divide the electorate and fail. What incentive do Centennial parents have for voting for a new Central? What incentive to Central parents have for voting for a new Dr. Howard? People vote their own benefit (as well the should). I am the parent of a Central student and an Edison student. Unless you give me an incentive, I could care less about Dr. Howard and Centennial. You may think this is short sighted, but I think a fine-grained approach encourages exactly such short-sightedness.

    • charlesdschultz Says:


      You make a good point about the basic nature of people. My goal in doing the charrettes and community education (ie, #edcafe – coming your way, Katrina Kennett!) is to give voters a wider perspective. It was fascinating to watch SO MANY people rally around the NO vote – but that is negative energy. We really need to find a way to encourage and focus positive energy.

      To that end, I have to ask, Joe, what is your alternative solution? You want Unit 4 to spend money on Edison and Central. How would you convince people to vote in favor of such money? Obviously these big packages that Unit 4 has been lobbing at us are not working. What will work?

      • joe@smith.com Says:

        You imply that it is the size of the packages that is the cause of the lack of support. We don’t know that. In fact, there is good evidence that it is not the packaging of the referendum that has led to their defeat, but other factors. These other factors are well known: 1) location of the new Central 2) the unpopularity of the current school board–particularly the president 3) lack of trust in the ability of the school board to manage a $100 million plus project, and 4) the fact that the referendum doesn’t include all costs for all the projects–it is a lowball figure bordering on dishonesty.

        Let’s resolve these issues and THEN see who will and won’t support a single, large, comprehensive referendum.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Sure, we can address those issues. In fact, #2 is pretty much a done deal. That might help #3, depends on your point of view. For #4, I agree, and that has been a sticking point for me – I want to know more details.

        For the location – in some ways I think this is a red herring. But first, let us focus on the other factors you mentioned. I personally agree with the research that suggests a stronger, hyper-local geographic community can help enhance a school, but I also see that what you put inside the school can really impact the educational experience.

        First things first. You said we don’t know the cause for the lack of support. 100% agreed. We can make guesses. So let’s find out why people voted no and what they really want.

        Who volunteers to fund and organize a high-quality survey to collect that information? And no, I am not being sarcastic at all. This seems like a crucial piece of information. I think one of the board’s job (including outgoing and incoming members) is to get the pulse of the community. That takes time and effort, but it’s part of the job description (in my opinion).

  6. joe@smith.com Says:

    Well, I would be very interested in the results of such a survey. We just don’t know for sure, but I have thought all along that there is a significant percentage of the population that is going to vote no to ANY $150 million referendum no matter how perfect the location or how talented the school board leadership. It is even possible that this opposition is such a significant percentage that it will never be overcome and the next year or two’s debate is an exercise in futility. With only 15,000 votes in a year with higher than average turnout, it only takes a small but determined group to scuttle any referendum. If you read carefully through the Keep Central Central website, there are clues that the people who are always going to vote no have rather cynically jumped on the KCC bandwagon when, in fact, they could care less about Central, its location, or public education at all. There are all the standard “no new taxes” and “higher taxes are bad for business” tropes of people with such a mindset. A high quality survey could assess the size of this population, but it would have to include “likely voter” data to be useful.

    But even with such survey results, we really don’t have much of a choice. We must address the four issues I enumerated above and forge ahead with a new referendum. It might take 5 years to pass but the only other alternative is to do nothing. And doing nothing is a complete abrogation of responsibility and ceding victory to the cynics among the KCC campaign.

  7. Lynn Stuckey Says:

    Okay, can folks please explain where the cost estimates for the referenda were low-balled, or what costs were left out? (And I don’t want to hear about all the stuff removed from Centennial in the 2nd proposal. Where did folks think the money was going to come from when Dr. Howard got added?) The Board actually moved furnishings out of the 2nd referendum, with the stated intention of paying for the furnishings with money from the Education Fund (and yes, state law allows this. Whether it is a good idea might be subject to other debate.)

    Folks can talk about breaking a large project into smaller parts, but you also need to remember that time has to be committed to getting the individual referenda passed, and what happens if the voters would pass a resolution allowing the District to borrow funds to renovate Central into district offices while turning down a new Central High School at a different location? Also, every time you do a new set of bonds you pay a lot of fees to the originator, so it makes more sense to do one large bond (unless you like the idea of scattering money around to a lot of bond originators).

    • joe@smith.com Says:

      I agree it is ludicrous to split the referendum into multiple referenda. As a parent of a Central student and an Edison student, what am I supposed to do? Vote for the Central referendum and against the Dr. Howard referendum? Insanity.

      As for the costs for the 4 proposed projects: a new high school, a new Dr. Howard grade school, remodeling of an existing high school, and remodeling of an existing high school to turn it into an administrative center, I have to ask: WHERE are the details? I have searched extensively for cost breakdowns from architects all over the Unit 4 website and found very little. http://futurefacilities.champaignschools.org/ It is a bunch of hand waving. Where are the studies? Where are the costs? Where is the analysis? How were these numbers come up with? There is a shameful lack of specificity in the referendum. But I voted for it anyway because I knew this was going to be the last chance in a LONG time to pass a referendum.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Joe, exactly which studies, costs and analysis do you want? The more specific, the better chance I have of getting my hands on them. Note that there have been a number of studies, starting with Holly Nelson’s survey, continuing on through DeJong-Richter and the Spalding site analysis task.

        I ask this not because I am trying to be snooty or anything; I just work better when I have a solid, concrete task ahead of me. Also, I have some of the same questions. I have asked Unit 4 for over a year to see a copy of John Ayer’s master list of maintenance items, but for some reason it never gets put into my hands. I have asked for details on the numbers behind Dr. Howard and the new Central, only to be told that they are taking “industry averages” in projecting costs. All that to say Unit 4 has quite a lot of information available, but it is not always what we are looking for, or in the form we expect it. But like I said, if you are willing to give me homework, I am willing to tackle it. (Pattsi already gave me a couple questions to hunt down)

  8. pattsi Says:

    Here is a thought problem–what if the recent referendum had asked for bonding to do DH and maybe include Southside. Backing away from the HS until 2018. My bet is that the DH referendum would have passed. The community was feel there would be more time to breath through the HS dilemma and come on board in 2018. Even though the structure fees might be more, passage would have happened and therefore fees would actually be less.

    • joe@smith.com Says:

      There simply isn’t any evidence for this one way or another. It is just as likely that The KCC crowd would vote any other combination of referenda down as well. It is not clear at all that the KCC crowd won’t morph into a “no new taxes” crowd when the next referendum comes around. As I stated above, there is evidence that the KCC crowd has a significant population of voters that won’t vote for any referendum ever. Their issue simply is money. They don’t want to pay more than they already do for local education. And this population has cynically joined ranks with the sincere people who really do want to “keep central central” to form a real powerhouse movement that will take years and years to overcome.

  9. pattsi Says:

    No one can make statements as to how a voting population might vote until a scientific survey is done. And Unit 4 did not do a scientific survey after the failure of referendum #1. Plus the timing of a referendum related to the economic stability of the community and country come in to play.

  10. Lynn Stuckey Says:

    Sorry, Pattsi, but an e-mail to me before you posted here might have been a really good idea.

    1. South Side was not included in any package because the capacity issues in K-5 are far less acute than they are at the high school level, which in 2014-15 has already reached the 103% level. As an Urban Planner, you know this means that for every 100 seats we have in our high school buildings, we have 103 students for those seats. We’ve already got a trailer in front of Centennial, and more will be coming in to both high schools in the next few years. Have you also forgotten that a building as large as the proposed high school (300,000 square feet) will take 2-3 years to build? Waiting until 2018 to pass a high school referendum means we will be at 110% or higher on high school capacity (meaning: for every 100 students in the high school building, we will have 110 or more students), and we are projecting 120% in 2022, just 4 short years after your proposed referendum. So basically, you want us to get to an overcrowded high school before we even start talking about building something, and you want the high schools to be over 115% capacity before we start pouring concrete to give students somewhere to sit. I simply cannot understand how a former college professor in a subject that revolves around how humans function in the built environment can think and speak this way. Are you truly saying you don’t care how overcrowded the high schools get, as long as the undercrowded but old elementary schools are taken care of first? What is the logic in that? Are you hoping students will drop out of high school?

    2. Unit 4 did indeed do polling after the first referendum. We got the list of all Fall election voters (meaning: you had to cast a ballot in some form–absentee, early, election day–to be on this list) from Gordy, then turned it over to a company who selected a specific number of people in each precinct where the referendum failed. These selected folks were called, and demographic questions were asked. Then we had questions regarding their vote in the referendum, and if they said they voted no, we asked them if cost, proposed location, or “other” were their reasons. Almost 50% picked cost, almost 50% picked location, and I think fewer than 2% picked other. Combine the 50% for cost with the 48.xx who voted for the referendum, and statistics told us that roughly 74% of all voters in Fall 2014 did not object to the site of the proposed high school. That’s why the 2nd referendum also went back to Interstate.

    So, Pattsi, what part of this was not scientific enough for you? Is Unit 4 now required to contact the County Board Chair every time we do something? Or is your friend Linden Warfel, the great Unit 4 expert who lives in (5th generation at the same farm, if memory is correct) and sent his children to Tolono Unit 7, upset that he was not included in this poll and the planning for the 2nd referendum?

    If anyone wants details about the # of people called, contact Stephanie Stuart–I simply don’t have that information in front of me, and frankly, that’s one of the things we pay Stephanie to do. Keep in mind that we will not release the names and phone numbers of the people polled, as confidentiality is needed. to get people to participate.

    And I’m sorry for getting so cranky, but I’m really getting tired of the other elected officials in Champaign County assuming that Unit 4 does not know what it is doing, and perpetuating rumors and false facts before they can be bothered to speak to, e-mail, or call someone on the Unit 4 Board, or someone who works for the District (especially in District Administration at the Mellon Building). People–especially other elected officials–like to complain about how poorly this has gone, but how many have contributed, either publicly or privately, to all the problems Unit 4 has?

    • Theresa Says:

      I believe this was a very rude reply and unacceptable of an elected board member. The personal attack was out of line and you owe her an apology-more than “sorry for getting so cranky”

  11. pattsi Says:

    Lynn, thank you for all of the information included. I do not understand the reference to Lynn Warfel. I know the individual because we attend one monthly mtg together. Other than that, I have absolutely no idea as to his thoughts about Unit 4 and the referendum.
    Indeed, I understand about environments. I also understand urban planning, space relations, traffic issues, sprawl, connectivity, enhancing livability, and other design and urban planning concepts. It is for these very reasons that I am not alone in having concerns about the location of the acreage purchased by Unit 4. There exists other options that ought to be given high consideration as if we were land locked. Yes, we are not, but that is no reason not to have those robust community-wide conversations.
    The survey done after the fall election, as you describe, might be scientific. That stated what is actually needed for the community to better understand the thoughts, economic commitment, desires, needs, is to survey the Unit 4 population, not just those who voted. It is just as important to find out why people did not vote or rolled off. From your description, that was not done.
    Just to be clear my input is not because I happen to be an elected official. My input is because I am a Unit 4 taxpayer who wants my tax dollars fiducially used efficiently and effectively. In addition, I do happen to be an urban planner who does understand the complexities of the school issue. And as an elected official, I understand budgets and very tight budgets, timing of borrowing monies, going to the public to ask to bond, solving facility problems (the county owns 22 plus has a DOJ ADA report to resolve), etc.

  12. rochf Says:

    And the attitude of the Unit 4 Board, as demonstrated by Ms. Stuckey’s comments, is at least one of the reasons I voted against the referendum.
    Elected officials should treat taxpayers civilly, even if they do not agree with them.

  13. pattsi Says:

    The following is a discussion by Robert Putnum (Bowling Alone) of his recent book, Our Children. Must view. And share with others.


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