The "Schools of Choice" lottery system will not be modified

In a strange turn of events, the US Court in Peoria shot down an attempt by a school district to change the way the kindergarten lottery works. Keep in mind that the Supreme Court ruled the current lottery system unconstitutional. The motion was denied without prejudice based on the fact that no parties want to extend the Consent Decree, thus, in the Judge’s eyes, there is no reason to modify the school assignment system which is set to expire on June 30, 2009.

And of course, this raises a few questions. Since the Consent Decree is set to expire in June, which is after the Fall assignments, the current lottery system will have to be used for Fall 2009. The current unconstitutional lottery. And what happens in Spring 2010? Nobody knows.

Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?

Dialogue with Crystal Ligon

Crystal and I were discussing my Dec 1st post, and I wanted to post my responses to her questions in the off-chance that others might appreciate the extra information.

Q:About how many people came to the meeting? Was it a different crowd from the last time?
A:8 people total, including the host (Sky Sanborn) and myself. Very different crowd. As I mentioned in the blog, no one had a child in Unit 4, and I feel that had a direct influence on the discussion.

Q:This seems to be a popular issue Savoy residents have. Do you mind telling me who are the Johnsons are? Do you have contact information for them? I will have to check up and see how much Unit 4 spends on busing. I think that was one of your questions as well.
A:The Johnsons live nearby both of us, and were represented at the first meeting. In fact, that is where I learned about the hour-long bus rides. I will ask if I can share their contact information.

Q:I’m not sure if I understand…isn’t Prairie Meadows the subdivision on the other side of Church Street? Do you mean an additional sales tax hike? Do you have names or contact information of people who seemed to be in favor or not in favor of this?
A:Doh, I am an idiot. What is the subdivision that would be on West Tomaras? In regards to the Sales Tax, no I meant the one that will most likely be on the spring ballot – the same one we just voted on in November. I will ask if folks mind giving out the names in terms of favoring the tax. I myself am still undecided, despite how I voted in November. *grin*

Q:Did you guys come up with any answers for some of these questions? Was there leaning either which way?
A:No specific answers yet, but definitely some leanings. There was a strong desire to get a school in Prairie Fields (do to the land being donated and sitting idle) the quickest way possible. Those particular questions were along the lines of brainstorming – how to get a school ASAP? If the law can be changed, that opens up the door to other possibilities. As a side note, my personal feeling remains that the fastest and most cost-effective path to a Prairie Fields school is to pass the Sales Tax, whenever the next opportunity arises.

Q:Do you mean using a sales tax to help build a private school (which probably could not happen in a legal sense) or school district? Or do you mean those two items were separately talked about? How would you like to see a sales tax used to fund Unit 4? Where do you think this angst for Unit 4 came from?
A:It is possible “angst” is too strong a word; I would ask that you not print that. =) I never thought about the Sales Tax outside of Unit 4, so that was not my intent when I wrote that blurb about the sales tax. I agree, I do not see how it would help a private school by any means, and for all practical purposes, the Sales Tax will pass long before Savoy forms its own district (personally, the chances of us forming our own district seem to waver between extremely thing and none). How would I like to see the tax used? My voice carries absolutely no weight on that matter; the school board has already dictated where the money will go. If I had my druthers, I would like to see significantly more cooperation between all entities involved; groups that stood to gain were strongly in favor, groups that would not gain were opposed, and only one group had an even slightly cogent and balanced approach (the Chamber of Commerce). And lastly, where did the “bad feelings” come from? I am the wrong person to ask; I will answer to the best of my ability. Most likely, my perception is that there is a general frustration among parents who bought homes with the elusive carrot being waved by Realtors – “Move to Prairie Fields and watch a school spring up in your midst”. I know my Realtor mentioned that, which is why I have involved myself on this mission to find information. =) But back to the point – I heard a number of folks say that they were told there would be a school. And we have no school. Instead, we have many buses and our children all go to different schools.

Q:Do you mean pass the sales tax in the same sentiment that was talked about in the Nov. 4 election? You remain uncomfortable with the idea, could you elaborate on your own personal concerns? Is what you’re saying that even with a Proximity A choice for Savoy residents, which would mean Savoy residents would have an 80 percent chance of getting into the Prox. A school, you do not like this system? What do you mean by “atmosphere” of the Consent Decree?
A:The same sentiment? My own sentiment? =) Not quite sure what you meant by that. I am quite torn about the Tax because there are many good and bad things. On the good side, I really like how it will offset property taxes for a short time (5, 7 years?); I like how it will be used to pay off bond debt; I like how it will be used improve infrastructure; I like how it cannot be used for salaries and other items outside Capital Improvement; I like that it will eventually be used for a school in Savoy. I both like and dislike the lack of a sunset-clause; I straddle the fence because on the one hand it allows the school district to have more freedom in pursuing costs associated with buildings without havig to depend on referendums, and this community has shown in the past few years that it will vote down any such referendums. On the other hand, I dislike it for the same reason; the community should have some power and ownership over what the school board does. I think one of the issues with our (Champaign) community is that we do not have that sense of ownership, thus there is a lot of divisiveness, finger pointing and general lack of interest. I am starting to think that perhaps the Sales Tax is a lesser evil than no Sales Tax. I just wish that the districts would make it more palatable, perhaps drop it to half a percent instead of the full one percent.
Note that I did not say anything about how I feel about the school system or “schools of controlled choice”. At least, I do not believe I did, even after looking at what I wrote. =) Some of the parents who attended the Dec 1st meeting mentioned that even if we do get a school in Savoy, the Controlled Choice program may require that some of our students go to a different school. I think the clear implication is “That is not fair.” I look forward to learning how Greg Novak’s “Socio-Economic Status” metric is going to work for the Controlled Choice lottery.
The “atmosphere” of the Consent Decree. Basically, my observation is that a lot of people are really fed up with it. I also observe that a lot of these people are white (some I have heard from on IlliniPundit, so I am not sure of their ethnic background, but those folks I do know make up the majority). I have talked to African Americans and they are not fed up with it. Why is that? Why did African American pastors urge their congregations to vote down the 2006 Referendum when the “north school” would have gone to Boulder Ridge? There is a lot of distrust on both sides of the fence. In fact, the Honorable Judge McDade gave both parties a minor wrist slapping for not working better with each other. Imani Bazzel has tried hard to work with Unit 4 (the “Great Campus” initiative), but the idea hit a brick wall with the previous school board. Melodye Rosales has tried to get both sides to see that Hispanics are really loosing out on the current Consent Decree (they are counted as “non African American”, or “Non Afr Am” in the documentation). In my own efforts to learn more about the Plaintiff party, I have been completely unable to make contact with Carol Ashley or her law firm, and there are no local spokespeople; I would have love to have talked to Tracy Parsons, but he is person-non-grata right now. Something is definitely awry.

Q:Are there any specific current expenses that you think are not worthwhile? Or is this something you are saying needs to be done?
A:I do not have any numbers yet; I have not had the time to dig into this particular avenue. A couple folks at the Dec 1st meeting were contractors and stated that the “prevailing wage” used by local unions is standard across the whole state when dealing with state-funded entities, and they led me to believe that attempting to get the prevailing wage lowered would be impossible. Gene Logas (Unit 4 CFO) has been taking a hard look at the Unit 4 budget and has been working to trim it down; he is a very smart fellow, and I would love to talk more with him about his efforts.

Q:Does this mean developing action on your ideas?

A:Yes. Can I leave it at that? *grin*

Monday, December 1st, in review

We had another good turnout on Dec 1st; an interesting demographic about this crowd is that we all either had children under the age of 5, or one on the way. And it reflected in how the discussion went.

One of the attendees, an officer, has toured most of the schools during the past year. His observation is that some schools have much more “curb appeal” (my words, not his) than others. In particular, BT Washington and Doc Howard did not score well; staff not as friendly, rooms not as well supplied, etc.

Another brought up the point that busing is a big issue with Unit 4, and many people agreed. He mentioned the Johnsons and their story of seeing ~10 buses go through the area and how one (or more?) of their children is on the bus for about an hour each way. Busing is expensive and just crazy.

There was some discussion about a possible pedestrian bridge over Route 45 to help those in Prairie Meadows to get to a potential Prairie Fields school. I also got the impression that everyone was in favor of the Sales Tax, although most folks did not come right out and say that. Some seemed to be willing to work on getting Prairie Fields residents in favor of the tax.

Some questions that came up:

  • Would it be possible and/or desirable to build a private school on the lot in Prairie Fields?
  • Can the law that says Savoy cannot be its own district be changed? How?
  • And the biggie of the night, “What do we do now?”

Since there were no school children represented, there was more discussion about what it takes to pull out of Unit 4, and about the finer points of the Sales Tax. Even though I mentioned some of the observations from the Nov 17 meeting, I am still a bit surprised that there is a seemingly higher level of frustration and/or angst about Unit 4. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe not.

I think the “what do we do now” question is getting to be critical. We have had a few discussions, and parents want to know what steps they can take to get a school in Savoy. I still think the fastest way to do that is to pass the Sales Tax, although personally I am uncomfortable with it. The controlled schools of choice is still going to be a big problem, especially if residents are forced to send children to a different school. So perhaps understanding and addressing the “atmosphere” of the Consent Decree (even if it does terminate June 30, 2009) is going to be paramount. Maybe.

But getting back to the question at hand. I believe talking to our representatives on two different topics is probably worthwhile. First, Chapin Rose’s direction of getting better funding from the State is critical. Secondly, following Shane Cultra’s lead, I think it is important to take a hard look at our current expenses and decide if they are really worth it or not.

I think we also need better community involvement; we in the community need to own the issues surrounding Unit 4, instead of expecting some magic bullet (aka, Sales Tax, Consent Decree, what have you) to fix everything up. A number of people have tossed in the towel and gone to a different school district – that is a choice each individual has to make, and I am no position to judge. One of my biggest personal issues with moving away is the fact that Champaign is relatively very diverse, and I believe in that diversity very much. Personally, I have not seen any issues that are insurmountable; vast, difficult, mind-boggling, yes, but not impossible.

One of my “take away” items is to figure out what exactly folks can be doing, if so inclined. For instance, instead of a nebulous, vague suggestion of “talk to your representatives”, what exactly should one say? Is letter writing practical and if so, what should one write?

I still would like to have a larger community meeting. January might be too soon, but perhaps February. We will see.

Color me confused

[note: this is also posted on IlliniPundit]

I am looking at the Champaign Demographic Study, and am very confused why the 2006 Tax Referendum was so strongly opposed by the Consent Decree Plaintiff Class and (rumor has it) black churches in general. I am very curious if some of the decisions that were made at that point in time were merely lacking in hard numbers, like those provided by the Demographic Study. If I understand the arguments correctly, the Plaintiff Class opposed a Boulder Ridge school because they felt like it did not address the spirit of the Consent Decree, while it did adhere to the letter of the Consent Decree. I understand that there were some 11th hour negotiations and things were happening very quickly right up until the time of the election. But in retrospect, I am curious.

The Facts

Page 34 of the Study shows that the black population has increased significantly in “Planning Area 3”, which covers Boulder Ridge all the way to Springfield and Mattis. Granted, populations for all races have grown significantly in the Boulder Ridge area as families move in. A similar story is true for “Planning Area 7”, directly south of “Area 3”, stretching from Springfield to Windsor Road.

Page 35 shows that the Hispanic population has increased across the board north of University, and also in “Planning Area 7”.

I might be able to understand some of the reasoning if the focus was on socio-economic status; while I have no hard evidence on hand, it seems quite reasonable that the average income per household for the Boulder Ridge area is higher than the same for households farther east along Bradley (between Prospect and Lincoln, for example).

Another confusing point is that the Demographic Study clearly shows that Hispanic populations are growing rather quickly as well. But my understanding of the Consent Decree is that this group is aggregated into the “non-black” group. Along with Asians. If this is a correct understanding, it would be extremely difficult to plan effectively through the lens of the Consent Decree (if we dare call it a lens at all).

Please note that it is not my intent to trash the Plaintiff class. I have not used any inflammatory language, nor is it my objective to point an accusatory finger. I fully believe that Consent Decree came about in the first place because of horrible inequities, and there is, no doubt, lingering traces of that. I am merely confused and would like answers. I have attempted to contact Carol Ashley without success, as well as Tracy Parsons. Who else can I talk to?

To clarify why I even posted this note, I very much want to understand how Unit 4 can best serve all students. Not just white, black, Hispanic, Asian or “other”. Not just poor, middle-class, or filthy rich. The path to answering that question will inevitably cross several bridges, the first being “what are the needs of all students in the school district?” And “where are the most severe unmet needs?”

The Demographic Study, much like the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability, is an example of some excellent statistical analysis. But where are the action items? Where are the answers for questions like “so what” and “now what”? If there were another referedum just like the 2006 one tomorrow, would the Plaintiff Class agree?