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.

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:

November 8 school facility referendum

According to the NG, the Nov 8th ballot will have wording for the school facility referendum as follows:

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, alter, repair and equip the Central High School Building, build and equip additions thereto, and acquire and improve the site thereof; improve facilities at Franklin Middle School, Spalding Park, and McKinley Field; alter, repair and equip the Centennial High School Building and build and equip additions thereto; demolish the existing Dr. Howard Elementary School Building and build and equip a new Dr. Howard Elementary School Building on that site; alter, repair and equip the South Side Elementary School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; alter, repair and equip the International Prep Academy Building and build and equip additions thereto; alter, repair and equip the Edison Middle School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $183,400,000 for the purpose of paying costs thereof?”


It’s a mouthfull. So I wanted to take some time to break it down a little. If you strip out the details, the ballot question basically says “shall the Unit 4 BOE take out a loan (or several loans) not to exceed a sum total of $183.4 million?” The rest is “legally required” language that tells voters what this money will specifically be used for.


This grid groups and organizes the proposed changes as a way of visualizing the ballot question:

School Building Additions Site
Central alter, repair, equip build, equip acquire, improve
Centennial alter, repair, equip build, equip
Franklin improve*
Edison alter, repair, equip build, equip
Dr. Howard demolish, build, equip
South Side alter, repair, equip build, equip
IPA alter, repair, equip build, equip

*For Franklin, the School District is proposing to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Park District to “share” facilities at Spalding Park. “Add and renovate track and athletic facilities for Central.”


I grouped the schools high schools first, then middle schools, then elementary schools. For me, I found this easier to chew on and digest (compare and contrast).

What exactly is being altered, repaired, equipped, built, acquired or improved? To start chipping away at that question, you can read the recommended “schemes” that came out of the Tier II committee, or read Nicole Lafond’s summary of the board’s final decision (and deliberation) in her August 15th article:


But to spell it out more clearly, here is how the $208.4 million breaks down.

UPDATED with information from the Fact Sheet.

School Work Total
Central -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Three Story Academic Addition (with CTE)
-Gymnasium Addition (3 courts and expandable to future fieldhouse/LOWER LEVEL lockers & support)
-PE Fields/Competition Soccer (turf)/Competition Softball (sod)
Centennial -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Two Story Academic Addition
-Cafeteria/Administration Addition
-CTE spaces
-Gymnasium Addition (2 courts/expandable to future fieldhouse)
-Football Field (turf)
Franklin fields, McKinley Field, Spalding Park -Competition Baseball (sod)
-Practice Baseball (sod)
-Additional Tennis Courts
Dr. Howard -Demolition of Existing School
-Three Story Replacement School facility
South Side -Exterior Upgrades
-Complete Renovation with Health Life Safety Upgrades
IPA -Interior Renovations: general minor renovations
-Addition: Cafeteria expansion, Gym, Library
-Secure Entry: Renovate to provide secure school vestibule entry
Grand Total  $208.4M

As stated several times, the Nov 8th referendum does not address all the needs of the district; it is expected that the district will have to return to the voters for another referendum somewhere down the road.

Some items that I have not been able to find (I will update this post as I find them):

  • A detailed breakdown of proposed projects for each school
  • A final prioritization of all projects (HLS, 10-year Capital Plan, Tier II recommendations)
  • Plans to pay for future maintenance (such a plan is talked about at board meetings, so I believe one exists)
  • A cross-reference of which HLS and 10-year Capital projects are not covered by this referendum