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.

 

a glimpse at what is going on

No doubt, most of you have read about several things in the News-Gazette recently, or heard things on the radio. I am not going to go into much detail, but do want to mention them because there is a lot happening. And this will just be scratching the surface.


TODAY: Craft Tech Fair Saturday at Kenwood (from Todd Lash)

I wanted to invite you to come play this Saturday from 1-3 at the Kenwood Craft Tech Fair. The event will include:

  • Widgets and tools showcase (Fab Lab-Jeff talking to parents)
  • Electronic cutters (Fab Lab-stickers, paper snowflakes, etc…)
  • Graphic drawing tablets (Fab Lab-Photoshop or PaintTools)
  • Raspberry Pi Mini-Computer Demo (w/ Adriana from Wolfram/ Tech Time)
  • Scavenger Hunt of the Champaign Urbana Wiki  (InfoCity)
  • Photography Station (Erin Knowles, Parent Volunteer)
  • Makey-Makey Music (Mr. Lash)
  • Computer Hardware (Tech Time Volunteers)
  • Scratch/Code.org Demo Station (Student Volunteers and Travis Faust (Tech Time Coordinator)
  • Minecraft Lounge – Creative Mode
  • Adult Computer Station w/ Printing
  • Foam bracelets
  • Holiday bookmarks
  • Kaleidoscopes
  • Scratch board ornaments
  • Holiday photo frames
  • Snowman puppets
  • Bags for decorating to take your items home ??

Equity and Civic Action at the high schools

First, some really good news: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-12-04/central-centennial-land-honor-roll-doubling-access-ap-classes.html

I thanked both Nicole Lafond and the school district administration/BOE for all their work towards this goal. This demonstrated an excellent collaboration to address real and perceived issues of access. These are not easy issues to deal with, and I am glad that Unit 4 is not shying away from them.

On that note, you have probably already seen/heard the news about the planned peaceful protest at Centennial, but just in case you have not:

Centennial Principal Greg Johnson sent a note to staff and parents that reflected these thoughts as well. There are obviously two sides to this coin; I am proud that so many students elected to voice their chagrin at the injustice in New York and Ferguson in such a manner as to convey a strong message while not resorting to needless violence and spreading more hate. However, on the other side of the coin there are those that take things too far for one reason or another. It is easy to repay hurt with hurt, but it is both better and significantly more challenging to respond with some form of love and/or forgiveness.

Imani Bazzell has been running a series called “Why Black Folk Tend to Shout” on WBCP 1580 AM. While I have not had the privilege of listening to this fascinating series, I appreciate that folks like Imani are getting these things out in the open and provoking discussion. Our prejudices damn us, and we need to learn how to live with each other.

UPDATE: Several related stories in WILL’s Illinois Public Media page, including a video of the car being driven among protesting students:

Additionally, Imani has responded to the City’s investigation into the student who damaged the vehicle’s window, and has posted this elsewhere (still looking for a link):

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/imani-bazzells-response-to-the-city-wrt-centennial-protest/


“Other people’s children”

At Thursday’s PTA Council meeting, three groups were featured that are proving assistance and aid to the needy in our school district. It was a heartwarming display of how people have a heart to reach out and provide essentials for those are lacking. The three groups were:

  • Helping Hands
  • Feeding our kids
  • His Kid’s Closet

I strongly encourage you to learn more about these efforts, or any number of similar work going on in our community. For those that are already involved, I sincerely say “thank you” for all your time behind the scenes and doing what you can to improve the lives of the entire community.


April board member elections

As mentioned previously, I was aware of at least two efforts to form a slate of board candidates for the April 2015 elections. I am still seeking permission to post a number of private emails (being sick has dogged my efforts) as there are many fascinating conversations revolving around why individuals wish to run for the board. One citizen has already made a very public announcement via the NG last week. What strikes me the most is that there is a wide array of specific issues that folks are passionate about, it is seems difficult at times to find the common ground we all know is there. Aside from the “unofficial” news, the PTA Council is making plans to host a board candidate forum in April. I hope all the candidates are able to attend.


Hour of Code

The official Hour of Code begins next week, even though technically speaking, anyone with a web browser can start coding right now, either as a guest or after logging in to track your progress:

http://code.org/

Kenwood has embraced Hour of Code as an entire school, and Mrs. Slifer’s 4th grade class at Carrie Busey will be participating as well. I am sure there are many other teachers/classes getting involved. The last time I visited Mrs. Slifer’s class (this past Thursday), we observed that the students are doing a great job of collaborating without even realizing it. For instance, a student will get an idea that will quickly spread like wildfire throughout the class, and pretty soon variations start popping up. It is really cool to witness. I must emphasize, the focus is not merely about using computers or “coding” per se, but exercising critical thinking and problem solving skills. The computers and the technology is merely a tool to help achieve this goal.

There is a lot more here, but I’ll have to save it for a dedicated post.

Is your PTA online?

I gave myself a mission to contact PTA “webmasters”, and frankly I am disappointed that most schools have absolutely no information about their respective PTA, much less how to find them online. I am scratching my head trying to figure this out. I can understand that PTAs are simply volunteers, and it is entirely possible that most do not know how to generate a webpage (even though there are wide array of tools to help with this). The bigger issue, I think, is that Unit 4 does not make this easy at all. Unit 4 gives the “keys” of the PTA page to the school principal – if the principal has any free time whatsoever (a rare occurrence, I am sure *grin*), what are the chances they are also quite web-savvy and know how to get their PTA online? Of the few schools that have information on their PTA page, some have no links, email addresses and/or phone numbers. Makes it really hard to contact folks like that. 🙂

 

My self-appointed mission? To make it a ton easier to get PTA information in a webpage. Heck, I would even volunteer to pop up a very basic page for each school. The tricky part is ongoing sustainability, and teaching all the right people the steps they have to go through. Ideally, I would want to remove the PTA information out from under the principals domain; I am confused why that is set up that way. As part of that, I would encourage PTA folks to use a 3rd party site (not champaignschools.org). Unit 4 is joining up with IlliniCloud, and I have hopes (and designs) to get them to host more stuff for us. If that falls through, there is always the IMC, and I can donate some space as well.

 

Some schools have some nice stuff setup already. Some are using facebook, at least one is using tumblr, several are using Google Groups (and even Google Sites), a couple utilize u4friends.org (I have a mail to Mr. G David Fyre about that), and one seems to be run by a colleague at work (small world, eh?). I had a great meeting with Maeve Reilly last Friday; she is currently helping the Centennial PTA and has inherited a Google Sites/Groups setup. I also got her going on a Facebook Page. It is great that parent volunteers are stepping up to the plate. But why are each of us re-designing the wheel? Why is there so little apparent support from the schools? Keep in mind, I have a limited perspective on this – most assuredly, I am receiving a lot of support from our school. But system-wide, I see very little support.

 

More to follow.

Unit 4 is busy with the Superintendent search, but the RSS is silent

<drama>

I recently managed to piss off members of the Board because I, in email, made it sound like the Board was not doing anything about the Superintendent Search.

</drama>

 

So I recently was enlightened about all the work that is going on in the context of the Superintendent search. And I even found some new items online that I had not seen before. It turns out that, if you are like me and consume information online a lot, you either have to setup RSS feeds on EVERYTHING, or you really have to go scouring for it. For example, I learned that during last weeks “Media Friday” (an event where the media is invited to the Mellon Center every second Friday at 10:am, the last one being August 12th), the Board discussed the Superintendent search “at length”. I did not hear about this from any of my existing feeds (News-Gazette, Unit 4, a couple blogs here and there), so I had the opportunity to hunt down the following stories:

WICD: http://www.wicd15.com/newsroom/top_stories/videos/vid_4420.shtml  (text is poorly formatted, btw)

WILL: http://will.illinois.edu/news/spotstory/unit-four-officials-say-supt.-search-process-off-to-good-start/

Apparently, the NG ran a story in the print-only edition. So I hear.

 

So, first the WICD news item. We hear that a lot is happening and that things are moving in a good direction. Great. Unfortunately, I am the kind of person that wants more details than that. 🙂 We hear that over 800 surveys have been returned. Great! I am looking forward to hearing a summary or analysis of those surveys. During the last few seconds before the video abruptly stops, the anchor says that the search firm (School Exec Connect) will be at Centennial on September 12th and the community is welcome. This is not in the printed text, and is so crammed into the last few seconds I had to replay the segment just to digest it. No time is given.

 

The WILL article not only mentions the Centennial forum but spends a few words on it as well. “In the evening”. The WILL article also mentions “Champaign-Urbana Days over the weekend in Douglass Park” – I would like to learn more about this (feeling really clueless now *grin*).

 

The Board has elaborated a little on what else they have been doing.

  • The September forum is apparently in coordination with the Junior League
  • A letter from the Search firm will go out soon(tm) to school parents
  • Small focus groups are being organized
  • Community Interview Committee will be announced soon(tm)

 

So my goal in making this particular post is to simply pass along information that I found. I still wish Unit 4 would put this stuff on their own website, and I am really puzzled why they don’t. In fact, they only thing they do have is this little dinky “Search Page“, which is obviously outdated even now.

 

I have followed up with WILL and asked about how to get a feed on specific Story Categories, since I have no desire to RSS the entire site looking for interesting stories. Going to pursue similar things with WICD and WCIA, but that might be a bit more difficult. If you already know how to do this, please let me know! 🙂

 

*UPDATE*: Mr. Lockman just informed me that the September 12th Community Forum is at 7:pm.