Hope you enjoyed the festivities last night.
There is certainly an interesting mix of variables that will play out in April, and I think you have hit all of them.
I am going to respond to your email; I apologize that it is a little long, but I feel it is import to provide context. As such, if you use any of this, I ask that you not rip any statements out of context (nothing personal, just bad experiences in the past).
Perhaps one of the factors that troubles me the most is and has been the process. Starting with the consultants (DeJong-Richter, Gorski/Reifsteck), I think the board could have done a whole heck of a lot more to find out what the community would support. Obviously, to the tune of over $200,000 in consultant fees, the consultants utterly failed to provide an end product that the community would agree on. This is a waste of money, but more importantly, a waste of time and trust, which I think are more cherished commodities.
On that note, what process has the board executed to address the issues with the referendum? We don’t know – the board has not spoken to its efforts at all. We will find out more on January 5th, but then, as in the past, it will be at a Board Meeting, which is notoriously limited in scope. And even though there will be time for public comment (and no doubt, there will be a number of public comments), there is no deliberation, no back-and-forth argumentation of any sort. In my opinion, this very process is utterly broken.
When the November referendum failed, Board President Laurie Bonnett and Dr. Wiegand spoke about going to some of the “no” voters to talk about their vote. Presumably this was done, and presumably the board has been working on some “tweak” whereby Dr. Howard will be shoe-horned into the April referendum. But again, there are no public facts to this effect (and again, we will most likely find out on Monday).
Another factor which seriously bothers me is the lack of a strong, super-majority unity in any referendum. Most referendums (referenda?) in the past 40 years have been quite close. Why? Those who analyze voter trends for Unit 4 ballot measures can determine if voters largely vote consistently (either for or against), but I personally do not have that information. Again, in my opinion, this is where DeJong-Richter and Gorski/Reifsteck totally failed us – is there any accountability whatsoever? If these consultants where charged and paid to engage the community and find a viable referendum, then why did the referendum not pass the first time?
We have a complicated, divisive community. We need more things to pull us together, and in my opinion, the public schools should be something that unites us. Instead, for a long time, public education in Champaign has been just one among many issues that polarize us.
Sorry for all the verbiage – I wanted to set the stage for how I am going to answer your questions.
1. What is your hope with the upcoming election?
My hope is that the board will have taken a deep breath and realize that the community has not been fully engaged, that they have not fully executed the role of a school board in acting as the agents of the community. My expectation is significantly different.
2. Why (or why not) is now the time to act and build new schools?
The time to act is LONG overdue! And the current board realizes this, which is why I give kudos to the board for at least making a strong decision in buying the Interstate Drive land, regardless of whether I like that idea or not. They took action, which in and of itself is a good thing. Our two high schools are already over capacity, and the rest of the middle schools are not far behind. We need to address that issue sooner than later. However, no matter how decisive or how good the board feels about their direction, they have to do the hard work of figuring out what voters wants. And I do in fact realize that the true work of a school board in listening and aggregating the voices of the community is very hard, very time consuming and very arduous. But that is what we elect board members to do.
3. What does the board need to do to come up with a passable proposal?
Another tricky question. If the board is able to address issues at Dr. Howard while keeping the overall price relatively still (around $150 million), I believe they will gain just enough votes to pass the referendum in April. And/or reduce the payload to, say, $120 million. Or convince the “in-fill” crowd that the board will pursue an in-fill site. These are all things that would address separate issues raised by “no” voters, and may perhaps gain enough votes to pass. Of course, for me personally, just getting the few votes to count as a majority is not enough, as I described above.
4. Why is this important to your children’s future?
It is hard to answer why this is important to my children’s future because there is a lot involved. In some ways, the referendum in and of itself will not have any measurable impact upon my children’s education – some of the other ideas that are being tied to this referendum (ie, more emphasis on the Trades, more emphasis on technology, project-based curriculums and computational thinking) will have much more impact. The resulting tax, if it should pass, is negligible for us. However, the tax will be significant for many others, and as a society, our practice of funding big ideas with little consensus is more troubling than the bare-bones fact of a new high school. To me, there are bigger issues than just the referendum taken by itself. How will my children be impacted by this process? I do not even know how to begin to answer that.