More fact questing/checking

Sent the following questions to Matt Foster – poor guy. 🙂


  1. Current average number of students bussed daily?
  2. Current average number of buses in operation daily?
  3. In the budget presentation given by Mr. Foster, I see each fund has an estimated value from July 1, 2013 with a footnote. Why an estimate since it was September when the presentation was made, and what does the footnote say?
  4. The Highlight page says expenditures for Transportation was down. However page 23 shows $4.1 million on all expenditures, and the actual expenditure from 2012 was $4.0 million. How is that going down? Also, page 24 shows $4.8 million – where is that coming from?
  5. When “local sources” is listed in each fund, what exactly are those local sources? I assume property taxes, but perhaps there are other sources? The Sales Tax feeds only into the O&M fund? It would help to have a slide on the overall picture, ie, how much money comes in altogether and which fund it goes to and where it comes from, maybe in both a table format and a pie graph as you have for the individual funds.
  6. Curious why the Tort fund has $1.1 million surplus; we don’t see any of the historical information for this fund like we do the others.
  7. More interested in the Ed Fund, since that is by far the largest expense. Would love to see a more granular breakdown of where money goes. Slide 12 shows “Instructional” expenditures which totals very close to $60 million and are separate from Administrative “support” and staff, but slide 13 shows a little over $60 million for all salaries. How much is teacher vs admin vs staff vs subs?
  8. I have an idea, but would like to hear in your own words; what is the purpose of sharing the proposed budget via this presentation?
  9.  When I was told that Unit 4 did not intend to include any more details on teacher salaries augmented with step/lane information that I had requested earlier, I am curious why. Is there a law that prohibits sharing that information?
Pattsi reminded me about “participatory budgeting.” I think it is a fascinating idea, but I have a hard suggesting to Unit 4 how they should do it. One board member I talked to is intrigued by the concept but thinks it is extremely impractical. Especially now when they are all going crazy with long meetings and phone calls. 🙂 I want to keep this idea open, and to do so I really need concreate, actionable ideas.
In the meantime, I am participating by asking my questions and blogging about it.

CFT negotiations

Both the CFT and the Unit 4 BOE have released their version of the story in regards to the ongoing contract negotiations as they attempt to get past yet another bottleneck. For your reading pleasure, here are the official releases:

Unit 4 BOE – Summary:

Unit 4 BOE 39-page monster:


The first thing I noticed is what appears to be a glaring disparity between what the BOE said they offered (3%/year for 3 years) to the CFT in terms of Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA) and what the CFT said the BOE offered (1.3%/year for 3 years). Am I blind? Did I miss something obvious? Was it a misunderstanding?

The parents are making their voice heard in support of the CFT and the teachers in general. It is starting to look like it is the administration and the BOE on one side, and the CFT, teachers and parents on the other side. This division concerns me greatly! Specifically, as someone who has put in an application for a board member and helped another to run for the Board, it pains me to see the BOE lined up across the line from the parents. At least, this is the perception I have of how this is shaking out.

Having said that, I do have other issues with the offer the CFT has made public. For instance, I personally am very much against vague “Step increases” – I do not believe people should receive “longevity rewards.” I MUCH RATHER pay more money to a REALLY GOOD teacher who has only been teaching for two years than a REALLY BAD teacher who has been teaching for 30 years. And therein lies the core issue – how do you know if a teacher is really good or really bad? How do you get rid of a bad teacher once that determination has been made? And under the current system, how in the world do you reward a really good teacher? We could listen to Michelle Rhee’s suggestions for how to grade teacher performance, that is one possibility. There are a few others out there that sound very similar (ie, peer grading, student/parent grading, etc). That could use some more discussion. But as it is now, I do not like “Step increases” at all!

Another issue with the CFT public proposal; while acknowledging the many good things in the Unit 4 financial landscape (and using that to say Unit 4 would have no problem affording the proposed salary increases), the CFT has not accounted for the problematic future of less federal/state funding and pension reform. Perhaps even more significant, the CFT has not publicly identified how exactly the budget can be shuffled in order to accommodate their requests. It is almost like robbing Peter to pay Mary, except that in this case, we all know Mary and we have no idea who Peter is. Would the CFT propose cutting…. High School band? Special Ed? What goes on the chopping block to make room for higher teacher salaries? Oh, you say administrator salaries…. now that would be an interesting discussion….. But herein lies yet another root issue – who really understands the budget? On September 23rd there was a so-called “public hearing” on the 2014 budget. I did not see any discourse; no questions, no outrage, no encouragement, no real explanation. Yes, a bunch of slides, but it painted a very high-level picture and I got lost while trying to wrap my head around it. The public cannot possibly hope to suggest, with confidence, that the budget can or cannot be shuffled one dollar in or out simply because we just do not understand it. How much does the CFT really understand it? And if they do, maybe they can provide some alternative budgets.

This is not to say that the Unit 4 BOE proposal is without fault. The 39-page detailed offer is a double-edged sword, as it is extremely thick and intimidating while at the same time, very thorough and comprehensive. It is a totally different read from the CFT proposal. I do like that they offer a bevy of explanations and rationale. On the issue of teachers being limited to 20 minutes of non-instructional time, I felt that the Unit 4 BOE proposal was exceedingly over the top. $1.7 million for 22 so-called “aides” to help ensure a “safe and secure school environment” comes out to a whopping $79,800 per person!! Crikey! So, my take-away is that the district rather spend money on people who do police work rather than people who do education. Interesting….

CORRECTION: the $1.7 million is to be spread over three years, bringing the aide salary down to $26,600/year.

In regards to salary, the BOE is offering (they say) 3% raises for the next three years, totaling 9%. They estimate that this will cost $3.5 million. I do not really understand how this fits into the budget. We are told that times are tight, the future is uncertain, that the school districts needs a certain amount of money in reserve, etc. Where is the $3.5 million coming from? And why is the CFT painting a picture that the BOE is being stingy? I must have missed something.

Also, why is the CFT only wanting a one-year contract, and the BOE offering a three-year contract? Contract negotiation is painful and expensive – why would the CFT only want one year contracts? For that matter, do we really need them? I know, I am asking the stupid question here. But look, teachers are teaching and getting paid with no contract currently. What if we just didn’t have contracts?

In conclusion, I believe there are two core issues we all need to tackle:

  1. how to assess and reward or improve educators (including principals)
  2. how to understand the budget

These are two very big issues, and I fear that the BOE nor the CFT nor the expensive Mediators are going to help us progress on those topics at all. And thus, we are setting ourselves up for yet another repeat next Fall. Oh joy.

Times are changing. While there are many interesting aspects to the single-room schoolhouse of yesteryear (yestermillenium might be more accurate), we must adapt and change as does technology/pedagogy and most importantly, fight the unintended consequences of today’s corrosive norms (eg, “school to prison pipeline”, overly individualistic “American Dream” chasers, etc).

Regular board meeting tonight

Agenda for tonight:

  1. Call to Order
    1. Roll Call
  2. Agenda
    1. Approval of Agenda (Items may not be considered in the same order as the agenda)
  3. Executive Session – 5:30 p.m.
  4. Recognitions
    1. Recognitions
  5. Public Comments
    1. Public Comment on Agenda & Non-Agenda Items
  6. Communications
    1. Communications from CFT
    2. Communications from CESP
    3. Communications from PTA Council
    4. Communications from Board Members
  7. Informational Items
    1. Upcoming Events
  8. Reports: New Business
    1. Middle School After School Programming/40North Grant: Angela Smith This item has files attached
    2. Engaging Solutions Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Preliminary FY14 Budget Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
  9. Action Agenda: New Business
    1. Administrative Appointment: Ken Kleber
    2. Bills and Treasurer’s Report – August: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Promises Made, Promises Kept Committee: Dr. Judy Wiegand
    4. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 3: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    5. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 4: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    6. Approval of Carrie Busey Change Order No. 20: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    7. Approval of the Contract for Sale of Real Estate – 801 Pioneer St./806 Dennison St.: Tom Lockman
  10. Consent Agenda – New/Unfinished Business
    1. Motion to approve the Consent Agenda – New Business
    2. Human Resource Changes: Ken Kleber This item has files attached
    3. Minutes of August 5, 2013 and August 12, 2013
    4. Policy 415.07/R Minority and Female Business Enterprise Goals: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    5. Policy 720.11R Exemption From Physical Activity: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    6. Policy 415.06 – Vendor Relations: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    7. FY14 Consolidated Grant Application to Serve Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students: Maria Alanis This item has files attached
  11. Executive Session
    1. Motion to move to Executive Session
  12. Open Session
    1. Reconvene in open session for possible action on items discussed in closed session.
  13. Adjournment
    1. Motion to adjourn the meeting.
  14. Future Meetings
    1. Special Meeting: September 23, 2013, Regular Meeting: October 14, 2013, Special Meeting: October 28, 2013, Regular Meeting: December 9, 2013


Based on what transpired last week in terms of Kenwood, the discouragement of parents paying for PTA activities and the PTA Council, I expect there to be some comments during Public Comment and the timeslot for the PTA Council.


There are a number of line items dealing with a focus on minorities and women in the workplace (ie, 8.2, 10.4).


Sheri Williamson (PTA Council) and R. Scott Davis (CFT) being added to the PMPK committee (9.3).


9.7, the District is seeking approval to buy two properties for the Bus Garage. The Satellite view of google maps gives a good idea of what the area looks like, including the busses parked across the street. This was previously discussed in Executive (Closed) session.


In 10.7, we get to see a preliminary FY 2014 budget. I encourage you to read it and try to wrap your head around it; it is important that we start to ask questions. Now. I say that as a way to entice stakeholders to understand what all the numbers mean – I know I don’t.


There are a number of other things. I don’t fully understand or follow all the various change orders. There is a part of me scratching my head on why we need so many change orders. Also, I just happened to browse the online check register and noticed that we sent another %5750 to Dr. Alves last month even though his contract expired in May or June. The discussion of the Choice RFP is not on the agenda at all.


What catches your attention?


More about being heard: finances and budgets

Pattsi Petrie has shared on her blog an extremely curious experiment carried out with the Champaign County Board on a “participatory budget”. I encourage you to read more directly from her – the opening line is an excellent invitation:

On 4 Sept., the Democratic caucus of the Champaign County Board has arranged to hold an opportunity to engage the county citizens in an open dialogue as to the best means to spend your tax dollar.

Isn’t that what we all want, a way to give some kind of input as to where all those thousands of tax dollars are going? And yet, when our wishes slam into reality, it isn’t necessarily a pretty picture. In fact, it is downright messy! Pattsi’s blog post is a long read, but it spells out the challenges along the way and, to me at least, points out that there is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we all have a social obligation to chip in. But the process of paving the path is exciting!

When it comes down to it, you and I just complain way too much. We are quite blessed, especially living here in America. Yet look at our habits; we saturate social media with our view of what is wrong and trade 140 character tropes; yet what really changes? What are we doing to make the world a better place?

I am not exactly sure what a better “democratic republic” would look like. I am not sure if a well-oiled and well-attended participatory budget session would induce more accountability into a largely misunderstood and heavily manipulated way of transacting business. But I do know to do nothing is unacceptable. Maybe all us whiners should roll up our sleeves and get to work. 🙂 Makes you wonder, what if (as the quote constituent points out) other bodies like the City of Champaign or the school districts did something brave like this? Hmmmm…


Kudos to Pattsi for pushing this idea.

houlihans is a go for tomorrow

There is a ton we can talk about, but I am really interested in identifying action steps, specifically for things we can do this month. Bill and I have continued the budget conversation and he has been trying to arm wrestle ArcGIS into submission. There is a Parent Advisory Group (aka, Advocacy) that will hold their first meeting on Sept 24th (same night as the Budget Public Hearing, different building). Dr. Taylor’s Social Committee kicks off on the 17th 27th (link to U4 schedule).

I am thinking it would be really helpful to come up with one or two things we want to consistently say at board meetings and in letters to the NG editor. I am having a hard time boiling it down to one or two, though. It already seems like Unit 4 is putting a lot of eggs in the DeJong-Richter basket, so my balloon of conversational meetings and public engagement is a bit deflated. I very much like that Tom Lockman is repeating the message that “they” (again, I assume the board) need to go out and get the feedback from the people (he used the word “incumbent”).

In talking to Cathy Mannen and Deb Foertsch about the CFT “informational picket”, I am now reflecting that it was a successful and well-done publicity stunt; it got their concerns in the public’s eye and got people talking. Although, reading the somewhat anonymous mud-slingers who post in the online NG is a bit disappointing, it is obvious that there is still a lot of confusion about where our taxpayer dollars go, who gets them and most importantly, who makes all those decisions. In fact, two commenters in particular are making it rather personal, as if teachers have any choice about how the district spends their money. Which brings me back to the picket in the first place; the public has no place at the negotiating table currently, so it is rather useless to get the public riled up. I think. Now is it good and proper that the public is not at the negotiating table? I have no idea whatsoever. The publicity stunt just puts more pressure on the board. Maybe it is good pressure. Again, I don’t know for sure. An interesting turn of events though is that maybe the PTA Council will be able to host both the CFT and the School District at an upcoming event. I am rather hoping so.

Recap of Aug 22 Houlihan's meeting

We had a good chat at Houlihans today; Chuck Jackson and I started making plans for the September 4th open forum and we hope to have a flyer/brochure ready by this Friday.

Board Member Tom Lockman showed up a little later and we talked about the open forum a little, the Public Engagement firm (and its purpose), how to address negative perceptions and what to do about them. Tom mentioned that Dr. Wiegand is out in the media a lot (newspaper, radio and TV) – while that is awesome, I had no idea she was visiting with the NG Editorial Board (along with U4 Board President Sue Grey) once a month. Guess those editors don’t like to share much, eh? Chuck mentioned it would be nice to see links to those outreaches on the U4 website, where possible.

We also turned our attention to finances in regards to the Boards announcement of a Public Hearing (Sept 24th) on the district budget. As the conversation ensued, Mr. Lockman mentioned he had some questions of his own he would like to get answered, and one thing leading to another, we finally asked Tom if he would be up for a small gathering between the public, himself and district officials. He agreed and is looking for a timeslot before Sept 24th. I think this would be an awesome way to help those of us who are curious about the budget to get up to speed and on the same page (maybe).

Lockman cautioned us that some parts of the budget are more or less non-negotiable; if I recall correctly, he stated examples like teacher salaries, operations and utility bills. The good news is that if we chop that out of our context, it gives us less to grapple with and a better chance we can fit it in our heads. 🙂