And so the real work begins

Congratulations to the school district, administration and board – a very large facility referendum passed last night with solid support from the voting community. After many decades of deferred maintenance projects and shifting priorities, we will finally be able to address the many issues surrounding the buildings where the students and teachers interact.


And now we put shovels in the ground.


The district administration and previous boards have shown that they are willing to be quite open about finances, especially in regards to the “Promises Made, Promises Kept” committee; I have no doubt we will get PMPK v2 to help hold the district accountable for the promises of the 2016 facilities tax referendum. And this is important – accountability is good (very healthy), but it only works if you are involved and engaged. It’s not a one-way street.

Starting now, the school district is going to put many plans into motion – projects for each of the six schools listed in the ballot question, in addition to other facilities and fields; at least one intergovernmental agreement to work with Park District for cooperative use of resources, and probably another with the City of Champaign for street closures and/or one-way alterations; a high school redistricting effort in the near future; committees and design meetings with stakeholders to go over plans for new facilities. That’s just scratching the surface. And it will take quite a few years for some of the projects to even start.


But there is other work involved. While those who voted “Yes” celebrate, I believe it is incumbent upon us, as a community, to find ways around our differences and work together. We had an amazing 68.58% voter turnout in Champaign County, and of the voters within the Unit 4 school district, 14,325 people voted against the referendum (Source: Champaign County Clerk election summary). Why? A number of folks, including the editors at the News-Gazette, simply think the ask is too high. Others don’t want their taxes to go up (and they voted for Trump?!?). You also have a number of folks aligned with the Preservation group, who with good intentions want to preserve some of the historicity of Champaign. We still have to talk with and listen to those we disagree with. (Interesting to note that the “Build Programs Not Jails” group seemed to influence 70% of the voters to turn down the County sales tax referendum – how will the County Board work with those folks going forward to address many of the County issues?)


While the facility referendum has been like a snowball rolling downhill, growing in size and momentum, it has finally been given the green light. Now we can focus on other issues within the school district that have deep impacts. For example, the current Superintendent search – the school board is uniquely situated to hire one and only one person, the Superintendent. We the community need to continue to be actively involved in that process to get a superintendent that drives the school district in such a way as to promote the characteristics we value the most. Personally, I fully applaud the trend towards a more student-centered approach, and I would love to help speed it up if possible. 🙂 Additionally, earlier this week State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith issued a letter that highlights something called “Democracy Schools”, talking about the importance of our civic responsibilities and being educated, informed civic servants. 54 high schools are listed. I have asked our school board what it would take to get Champaign on that list; we already have amazing teachers like Christine Adrian and Zachary Caine (and I am sure there are others) who are holding mock elections in our middle schools (among many other excellent tactics they use in their classrooms). This past election cycle was a pitiful joke, and I am further convinced that people don’t know how to demand higher standards from their elected officials.


The fun has just begun.


Facility Referendum endorsements

I am pleasantly surprised by the number of groups that are publicly endorsing the Unit 4 facility referendum – you can read more about it on the “YES” campaign facebook page:

To date, the groups include:

  • Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT)
  • Champaign Educational Support Professionals (CESP)
  • Champaign County League of Women Voters (LWV)
  • Keep Central Central (KCC)
  • Champaign County Young Democrats
  • Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 149
  • AFL-CIO of Champaign County
  • The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 601


And in case you missed it, Stephanie Stuart, Kathy Richards and Amy Armstrong had a live “facebook” chat – I encourage you to watch/listen to the chat and read the comments posted by participants:


Board members continue to actively meet with various stakeholders. At the October 11th Board Meeting, several meetings were mentioned, including an opportunity the PTA Council had to interact with the board and the administration at the Mellon Center on October 13th.

Teachers Union (CFT) endorses the Unit 4 Building Referendum (Nov 8)

Champaign Federation of Teachers

Local 1925, Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

For Immediate Release:

October 11th, 2016

Champaign Federation of Teachers Endorses Unit 4 Building Referendum.

“It is clear that the physical conditions of the buildings impact the learning conditions of students and working conditions of adults; our endorsement is a message to the community that something needs to be done,” says Jennifer White, President of the CFT.

The Executive council of the CFT approved an endorsement of the referendum at its last meeting.  Under consideration for this endorsement, the council discussed the following points

  • There might be different views on the cost, location or buildings addressed by the referendum but what we can all agree on is that the need for improving our schools is real and the board has done a more transparent job of seeking community input by having multiple stakeholders at the table.
  • The physical conditions of the buildings are both unsafe and are not conducive to learning
  • There is a relationship between quality schools and property values; if the schools continue to decline so will home values in the area.  School improvement however will help improve property values.
  • Capacity issues must be addressed

The Champaign Federation of Teachers strongly supports the November bond referendum; our students deserve access to quality public schools.

The Champaign Federation of Teachers represents more than 850 teachers working in Champaign schools.

For more information, please contact:
Jennifer White (217) 493-1721


For me, this is a big deal. Why? Because teachers have a pretty darn good idea what is really needed in their classrooms. Much more so than I. Consider also that the CFT just recently completed an extremely lengthy and contentious contract negotiation with the district administration and the school board, and yet they are still in support of this referendum. To me, that speaks volumes. They could have remained neutral or said nothing.

Supporting the Unit 4 November 8th facility referendum

Friday afternoon I submitted a “Letter to the Editor” for the News-Gazette (UPDATE – now published in Tuesday’s edition):

I will be voting Yes on November 8th to support the Unit 4 facilities

It was not an easy decision to make, nor is this an easy letter to write. In
regards to the Sept 25th NG editorial “School tax plan is just too big”, I
understand this is a heavy tax burden. There are some that do not want their
taxes to go up. I respect that – I certainly do not want my taxes to
increase. It is important that we support public schools, and I am willing to
put my money where my mouth is.

I believe the current referendum does in fact move us forward. Therefore, I
encourage you to vote in favor of the school district’s plans on November
8th. I would further invite deliberation with those that believe the
referendum does not move us forward.

There has been a lot of useless “talk” in regards to the funding our local
public schools, and this is a responsibility I lay at the feet of our
community as a whole. The current school board has bent over backwards in an
effort to gather feedback and discuss their options in open session. I would
even say the board has done too much; our community is too complacent and in
general, we fail to exercise real democracy.

To vote is good. To be an educated voter is even better; weigh your arguments
against others. But best yet is to care about other people.

Charles Schultz


In Sunday’s Opinion section, I see that the League of Women Voters has also thrown in their support in favor of the referendum. I heard from a Chamber of Commerce member over the weekend that the Chamber recently sent out a vote, so it will be interesting to hear their opinion as well.

I like the way that the LWV’s letter put it – sure, there are things we would rather change about the referendum (and/or the process that we have taken to get here), but overall, the good outweighs the bad. I have another blog post that will be published soon that is an interview I had with Board President Chris Kloeppel, and the bottom line that came out of that chat was “Does the referendum move us forward?” And I believe it does.

What I would have liked to have seen happen differently is that I would want the board (and administration) to take a step back and force the “Yes” folks to deliberate with the “No” folks, in multiple venues and settings. The community has not owned this discussion (for many years), and thus the community is not well educated. Just read the NG editorials and comment sections for proof. 🙂 And even though Unit 4 goes through the formality of a public budget hearing, there is essentially nobody there. So my one biggest gripe right now is that the voters do not fully understand the budget picture, nor the bigger context of facilities and how all that affects education. As I have said in the past, we do not have a clear correlation between dollars spent on facilities versus academic achievement – granted, it is exceptionally hard to prove it one way or the other.


For an interesting stroll through public opinion against the referendum, I encourage readers to go through the 28 pages of the Online Survey Open Ended Responses, or the 14 pages of the Phone Survey Open Ended Responses. I am thinking a forum on that alone would be a good place to start off a “town hall meeting.” 🙂

Upcoming community-engagement events

As we head into the last month before the election (November 8th), there are a number of opportunities for the community to engage in various aspects of decision-making within the context of the school district.


Now through October 19th – Online Superintendent Search Survey

On Wednesday, Stephanie Stuart stated that a superintendent search survey is now available online. I encourage you to consider what kind of traits and priorities are most important for a superintendent and respond accordingly (note – there is a free-form response section as well).

Champaign CUSD 4 Board of Education is conducting a search for a new superintendent.  The selection of a new superintendent is probably the most important decision a board of education has to make; therefore, the Board has hired the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) to assist in this process.

The Board of Education is seeking community input in the search process.  The Board requests that community members complete an online survey provided by the IASB, linked below. The survey will stay open through October 19.

The results will be tallied and used by the Board and Screening Team to develop a brochure to advertise the position.

Thank you for taking time to complete the survey.

English version:
Spanish version:
French version:

October 6th – Alliance to Reclaim our Schools Walk-in Day

Walk-in events are being planned at  Robeson, Jefferson, Westview, Carrie Busey, Garden Hills, Edison, Franklin, Stratton and Central. You can learn more about the Alliance at the AROS website:

They have 5 basic tenets:

  • Full funding and support for neighborhood-based community schools: don’t close or privatize them
  • More teaching, less testing
  • Positive discipline policies and an end to zero tolerance
  • Quality, affordable education from early childhood through college, including for undocumented students
  • A living wage that lifts people out of poverty


I know Carrie Busey has put information on their PTA email list, and I hope others will as well.


October 11-12 – On-site Superintendent Search sessions

At the September 26th Board Meeting, Board President Chris Kloeppel mentioned that two IASB representatives will be meeting in various locations all day October 11th and 12th. There will be specific sessions for teachers, students, community members, etc. Keep your eyes open for more news.


October 13 – PTA Council hosts a tax referendum Q&A session with Unit 4 + BOE

The PTA Council has announced that they will be hosting a session that allows the public to interact with representatives of Unit 4 and the school board on the topic of the November 8th Facilities Tax referendum.

We have scheduled the first meeting! We have been able to work with Unit 4 and the School Board to create an open venue to ask any questions you may have about the district and upcoming referendum. We will also talk about how the Council works with the district and take nominations for a new slate of officers.

Date: October 13
Time: 6:30pm
Topic: Connecting with the District: Open Forum to discuss the upcoming referendum
Location: Mellon Admin Building
Dinner provided.

Please do let me know if you are able to attend so we can have enough food.
Everyone is welcome to attend, please share this information with your schools.
Thank you,
Anna (



In other news, Unit 4 has updated their Referendum FAQ – a number of relevant questions have been asked and answered:


Referendum Fact Sheets

Stephanie Stuart just released some fact sheets in regards to the Nov 8 facility referendum:

What projects are included in the referendum and how much do they cost? How do I calculate my tax impact if the referendum passes?

Find the answers to these questions and more by reviewing the attached fact sheets.

Find these fact sheets, the long-range facilities plan, and more at the District’s website:

Referendum Fact Sheet

Tax Impact Fact Sheet



Post at the U4BoardCorner – Kathy Richards explains a little more about where the district is at with presentation information and answers in regards to the referendum.



The facilityplanning website has been updated with a lot of information (blog-style) – this is a good place to start reading:

#EdCampCU at The Pyg – September 16-17

EdCampCU Sept 17 FINAL


EdCampCU is excited to announce a screening of the award-winning film, Most Likely to Succeed, to take place in conjunction with the Pygmalion Music Festival.  The screening will occur at the Art Theater at 5:30 PM on Friday, 9/16 to be followed by discussion.  Our goal is to use this screening as a way to bring people from all parts of our community together to engage in honest and productive discussions about the current and future direction of education and how it can best meet the needs of all students.”

Join us and weigh in with your opinions; Friday’s discussion will spill over to the main EdCampCU event on Saturday. And don’t forget to enjoy the rest of the Pygmalion festival.

Register for the Friday screening of MLTS

Register for the Saturday EdCampCU un-conference