The new referendum

re: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-01-09/updated-dr-howard-now-mix-champaign-ballot-proposal.html

 

At a reduction of about 3.36%, the overall price-tag of the proposed bond issue is not much different at all. The big element of change is what exactly that money is going towards: totally rebuilt Dr. Howard, needed upgrades and work at the current Central, at the cost of significantly reduced work at Centennial and no “turf” at the new Central. In my talks with Kerris, board members had also discussed a different version that weighed in at $139 million – still, not much but at least a token gesture. 🙂

 

I’ll say it up front – as I told Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield (chairs of the 2014 “YES” committee), right now I am leaning towards a “yes” on this vote. But I still have big hangups (six, in fact) that I fear never will be addressed.

 

Hangup #1

Why can’t we vote on pieces of the referendum? Why is it all or nothing? I think it is outstanding that the board and district administration FINALLY put Dr. Howard in the spotlight, and FINALLY decided to put HVAC at Central (tired of the trolls about holding Central students hostage?). I am still dumbfounded why those were left off the table in 2014. But we still have a $94.5 million high school being planned for Interstate Drive (I am not even going to get into Dodds Park thing now). That’s a lot of money, and still at a site that a large number of people do not support. From my point of view, it totally sucks that we have to vote for all of it or none of it.

 

Hangup #2

All the focus is on location, capacity and addressing the issues of aging physical plants. Show me the correlation between $1 spent and an increase in academic achievement. In 8+ years of talking, why do we still have unanswered questions in regards to how a referendum will boost the “output” of our school district? We have some excellent educational initiatives, including CTRL-Shift, CU Cradle to Career, and At Promise of Success, but these are not rolled into the language of the referendum at all.

 

Hangup #3

While I appreciate that board members met with each other, and someone met with some “no” voters (who talked to whom?), I don’t like that so much is happening behind closed doors. I appreciate that board member Kerris Lee has been filling me in on a number of details (like the $139M alternative that we still have not seen), but why is so much hidden from public view? I don’t get it that “we have been talking about this for 8 years” but then in a last ditch effort to “tweak” a failed referendum, some very important items are put on the table. There is something very wrong with this picture.

 

Hangup #4

I still very much want to see a super-majority vote. Counter to what the article says about the expected results for the 2014 referendum, I expected things to be close. I actually thought it might be a little closer. I expect this tweak is going to win over a few more votes; it is hard to say what the expectation will be given how voters in Champaign vote quite differently in a Spring Consolidated Election. But personally I want to see a vote that is 75% united. How do we get that? See my previous post about a successful school board and community engagement. There is a lack of ownership and concensus that is going to continue to make public support challenging.

 

Hangup #5

I still don’t see a big overall plan. Yes, we have the 20-year facility plan (which will now have to be updated to account for changes at Centenial, the current Central and Dr. Howard); yes, I understand that took a lot of work to compile, and yes, I realize it signifies that someone is trying to do some planning. But more importantly, how are we going to keep ourselves from winding up in this stupid place again? Tom Kacich had a good response in today’s “Tom’s Mailbag” about why we are where we are:

“As to how Champaign got into the predicament, my take is that school administrators and board members for decades were preoccupied with other issues and ignored their aging buildings and growing enrollments. Now that those issues have finally been addressed school leaders have taken note.”

Yes, decades!! That should be a little scary.

Here is the problem with the current referendum and 20-year facility plan – nobody is painting the big picture that we are going to have to go out for YET ANOTHER referendum to fix up all the still existing problems. My understanding is that we have a number of “Health/Life/Safety” (HLS) issues that are supposed to be paid out of a HLS fund, but my understanding is also that we have no such fund. I am still trying to seek out the facts about that. Beyond HLS, what about the expansion work at Centennial that is supposed to help us prepare for future enrollment? Who is going to pay for that? We have a number of things that are stacking up that might get paid when 1% sales tax money becomes available again (2024?). We seem to be spending money we do not have, hence our current annual $8 million debt service and the need to go out and get a $144 million bond issue. Ouch.

 

Hangup #6

We are getting a minimum of 3 new board members in April; in other words, at a bare minimum, three people who worked on crafting the current referendum will not even be on the board after the vote. The number of new faces could potentially be as high as 5 (out of a total of 7). And if Board President Laurie Bonnett should happen to win Frerich’s old seat and choose to resign from the board (my understanding is that this is her choice, it is not required), that will be a maximum of 6 or a minimum of 4 new faces. That’s got to be a little rough.

 

Conclusion

So with these hangups, am I stupid crazy to be leaning towards a “yes”? We have been totally screwed over by previous boards and administrative officials. As the general rule in Illinois now, we have for too long borrowed against the future, and now our debts are due. In fact, for me personally, it is more imporant who we vote in as board members than how we vote on the referendum. That is the reason why I wrote my previous post, and why I intend to follow-up with another post about characteristics I am looking for in board members (and the board president). If we want better results, we must change the very process itself. Unfortunately, it is easier to address the “surface” issues of a school site or whether we put in HVAC at an old building. I hope we begin to wake up to the fact that we will forever have disagreements about many of the details, but at some point we must work, and even collaborate, on the bigger issues.

 

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Asking the Park District board for Dodds Park

A group of folks, including at least one board member and a board member candidate, will attend the next Park District board meeting and inquire (again) about the possibility of securing a small portion of Dodds Park for the new Central High School. The News-Gazette has run several articles (1, 2, 3, and there are more, including letters-to-the-editor) mentioning that the school district would much prefer Dodds Park if it becomes available, and there are several folks in the community who also favor this site. If you are one of them, I encourage you to make your voice known at this meeting.

 

The meeting is Wednesday, Jan 14th, 7:00 pm at the Bresnan Meeting Center, 706 Kenwood Road (near Centennial).

 

Of course, I realize that there are those that think Dodds Park is a horrible location. Nothing stops you from attending the same meeting. 🙂

Jan 5 Special Board meeting

Even though it is two hours long, I encourage you to at least check out the beginning of the video of last night’s BOE meeting:

http://vimeo.com/116062752

UPDATE: Public comment starts at 23:10

 

Nicole Lafond also did an article:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-01-05/school-proposal-april-ballot-coming-monday.html

 

In talking with Kerris, it sounds like the plan that several board members had been working on was, for one reason or another, not highlighted. Chalifoux asked a question about it, but that is about all we hear. Kerris has told me he is going to do a little digging to see what the story is.

Kerris Lee available to hear your thoughts: Cafe Kopi, Monday November 10th, 10:30 am

Kerris says:

“I will be at cafe Kopi tomorrow if anyone wanted to meet and chat about the referendum”

.

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

217-351-8538

 

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.

2 day countdown for November 4th

Last week I received a copy of the email that was sent out to Chamber of Commerce members; in my opinion, the letter was very thoughtful and tackles both sides of the issues surrounding the Unit 4 $149 million bond referendum. I urge you to read it and take the embedded suggestion seriously – “(r)egardless of how you choose to vote, please remember to vote on November 4”:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/chamber-of-commerce-public-policy-update-on-the-unit-4-november-4th-referendum/

 

Aside from the numerous Opinion articles to appear in the NG today (letters and an editorial, all of which you can find on my index), Dr. Wiegand was recently (and timely) interviewed by Laura Bleill of ChambanaMoms.com:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/2014/10/31/judywiegand/

 

And if that were not enough, there were two related articles in the October 31st NG that caught my attention:

  • Since you asked: Behind the video of referendum supporters: Nicole Lafond wrote this article to address questions that the NG has received related to various promotional materials in support of the referendum. What I liked most about the article is how Shatterglass co-founder Brett Hays donated the time and energy used to produce the video. The video itself is well done, and as I told a couple of you readers earlier, I agree 100% with everything the students say in the video. They stayed on safe ground. 🙂 Regardless of whether this referendum passes or not, I sincerely hope that the support that has sprung up around Unit 4 continues to grow – it is afterall a community school district.
  • Flipping the script: The students have become the teachers: Another article by Nicole Lafond, this one focuses on how teachers and students in Urbana are exploring the concept of a “flipped classroom”. When I tweeted Matt Sly (an Educational Technology Coach in Unit  4) about this topic, he responded with “Flipping is alive and well in Unit 4!” I personally really like some of the core ideas with this approach is that it makes the entire classroom much more interactive. There are obvious downsides of course; for instance, what if a student simply does not do the “required” self-learning at home via reading and/or watching podcasts? I am not saying this approach is perfect, but I do like it very much. How is this related? I believe the recent surge of embracing technology as a tool to help “flip” classrooms and allow more versatility within the educational environment is the meat and bones of a “21st Century Education.” I could be wrong, but this is the way I am leaning at the moment.

 

 

We have big issues to tackle, but never impossible ones.

 

NG articles this morning; covering both sides of the referendum

A nice bevy of things to read in today’s paper:

 

Julie Wurth’s article goes into quite a depth covering both sides of the story, and references a study of which only a few pictures are included in the 6-page PDF, as well as previous studies. The editorial highlights two distinct viewpoints of the $149 million referedum, closing with “Next Sunday, The News-Gazette editorial board will offer its opinion on the Central/Centennial proposal.” I have not yet had the time to digest what both outstanding ladies have said, but I hope to do so later today. In the meantime, I recommend you read these articles as they are excellent windows into differing perspectives.