Another HS referendum option to consider

The details are not yet public, but according to the agenda published by Unit 4, it looks like the board is chewing on an another option for the voting public (and the newly formed Special Board Committee to Develop Facility Plan) to consider: refurbishing and expanding Central HS at its current location.

 

Please note that none of these details are set in stone by any means; they are just ideas, options for us all to consider. Board President Chris Kloeppel mentioned to me that he talked to several land owners in the area around Central, and to his surprise found that with only a few willing sellers, Unit 4 could easily expand the footprint of Central to the north, with cooperation and blessings from the City to close off Park Street and maybe even create a foot bridge over Church Street. This certainly opens up a number of ideas in regards to what can be done at the existing location, and keeps the Interstate Drive area essentially as a land-bank, or even possibly as one way to consolidate outdoor facilities for Central. Again, just ideas. Hopefully a map will be made available soon. And I expect Nicole Lafond and others will be getting a word in with Mr. Kloeppel as well. (UPDATE: Lafond’s article is now online: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2016-01-23/new-options-agenda.html)

 

I am lead to believe that the Board and Unit 4 administration have been approaching this carefully and ethically, talking to interested parties and addressing legal issues with the intent of making this option public at the Jan 25th Board meeting. As such, I believe that steps have been taken to legally secure an agreement with some of the various landowners in the suggested area. In fact, look at the Jan 25 agenda items:

D. Approval of Real Estate Purchase Contract – 711 Sherwood Terrace: Tom Lockman 

 

E. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 603 W. Church Street, 606 W. Park Street, 201 N. Lynn Street, and 203 N. Lynn Street: Tom Lockman 

 

F. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 605 W. Hill Street and 602 W. Church Street: Tom Lockman  

 

G. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 500 W. Church Street and 606 W. Church Street: Tom Lockman   

 

In the end, the district has a strong desire to address the very serious and real needs of the physical buildings; the whole maintenance issue has been “kicked down the road” for far too long, and now the price of fixing buildings has snowballed. There is also an oft-repeated need for “capacity planning”, and we have frequently been told of the dire need to create more learning spaces as we are currently over capacity in our high schools, and quickly nearing capacity in other buildings. It seems like such an option is meant as a way to address all these concerns and make a future referendum more acceptable to voters.

 

One thing I hear others asking, which I would ask myself, is “what is the plan to make sure we don’t end up in this position again?” What are we going to do differently so that maintenance is not deferred to such an extreme in the future? It would be my expectation that the new special board facility committee will tackle that one.

 

UPDATE: According to twitter, Nicole’s article about this new option is on the front page of Saturday’s paper. It is not yet online.

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Educating the Community

In just two more days, five brave volunteers will be sworn in as new board members. I for one am very excited, for I feel that this incoming group is set to make some very positive changes in how the school board acts as the agent of the community that elected them.

As you might guess, the agenda for the May 4th special board meeting is rather small. The old board will meet in executive session on last time at 5:30, they will go through the normal routine (public comment, communications, upcoming events, action agenda where new board members are sworn in) and then back to executive session with the new board members. Although it is a short agenda and a very specialized meeting, there is one item that I would like to highlight in today’s post. That of “Appointments – Board Committees/Representatives”.

First, it is my understanding that these are actually Superintendent committees; I believe they are commissioned by the superintendent and they report to the superintendent. Sure, they may make a report to the board from time to time, but legally speaking, they are not Board Committees as spelled out. Furthermore, I believe as Superintendent appointed committees, they are not subject to the Open Meetings Act. It is tricky enough to even find out the name of all the committees that have been created, let alone when they meet or find the agendas. (While researching the OMA, I found out that Evanston/Skokie School District 65 neatly spells out the function of board committees for their school district: http://www.district65.net/domain/66)

Here’s the rub. Based on my own experience, and hearing from others that have attended various committee meetings, there is a depth of excellent information reported at some of these meetings. For example, The Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee shares a ton of information about the achievement gap, and often has overlap with the Discipline Equity/Advisory Task Force in terms of inequities in suspensions and expulsions. Both the Finance Committee and the Promises Made/Promises Kept (PMPK) Committee share a wealth of information about the finances, and I know from personal experience that Gene Logas in the past, and Matt Foster currently, were more than happy to share their knowledge about finances. Some committees have become, over the years, much better about posting relevant documents (in addition to agendas and minutes) on a committee webpage, but there are still quite a few for which it is exceptionally difficult to learn about.

And now we come to the topic of this post – Educating the Community. The school district is all about education, right? The core of the Unit 4 mission statement says the school district “… is to guide all students in gaining knowledge …”. Are we to consider that only those aged 5-18 and enrolled qualify as “students”? *grin* Are we not all supposed to be “life-long learners”? So try this suggestion on and see how it fits with the so-called “Board Committees”. Given that committees are tasked with a project or responsibility, what if all committees were structured to address an audience that is not physically present? Maybe perhaps podcasts, prezi presentations, online documentation – basically, an online class. The face-to-face meetings can (and should) still happen as a way to have an organic discussion about the “lessons”, but the “lessons” should be able to reach a much broader audience. This means they are not only available, but also accessible and delivered in such a way that the average Joe can understand it. I have challenged the board in the past to make it so a Unit 4 5th grader can understand the content. The challenge still holds.

Let me close with one more example. The Facility Committee has had an interesting history, recently resurrected/reborn at the time DeJong-Ricther was hired. The Facility Committee was “ground zero” were members had an opportunity to chew on all the various high school location options. All those questions you see being asked in the News-Gazette online comment section were already asked and pondered 3 years ago by the committee. The number one problem is all that great discussion, debate and deliberation were all locked up in the four walls of the meeting. Worse, even though the public was invited to attend, the public was not allowed to particpate (based on first-hand experience). Yes, granted, some if trickled out via board meetings or the occasional News-Gazette column, but by and large, the community was not educated. The fact that the April referendum failed by such a large margin is a testament, in my opinion, to the lack of the community’s engagement in the process. This is why it was so easy for the Keep Central Central crowd and the tax-defeating interests of the Koch Bros. to sway votes.

The bells may ring at 8:00 am and 2:30 pm for most schools, but the School of the Body Public is going 24/7. We are students also – teach us.

PS: I gave the KCC a hard time about the billboard they put up near Judah. It has come to my attention that the flyers Unit 4 sent out cost significantly more than the billboard. I believe those full-color flyers were propaganda paid for with public tax dollars – I am still trying to determine the facts whether they were actually paid for with public money or private donations.

Fact finding: Prioritized, itemized list of deferred maintenance

While browsing the Unit 4 Facility Committee website, I stumbled upon a 10-year HLS report. It is interesting to note that the one presented at the BOE meeting is just the summary, with no reference (that I know of) to the more complete version:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/Ten-Year%20Safety%20Survey%20Report%20for%20Champaign%20Unit%204%20School%20District.pdf

 

This is a huge report and will take some time to digest, but it does give some very useful information. For a gander, I focused on Central since that seems to be the focus of some much discussion these days. There are some interesting tidbits here.

 

According to the report, the total amount for work needed is $12,598,371 (page 10). Looking at the number closer, the bulk majority of it is to “(r)eplace existing system with a new system whose characteristics would be determined by a life cycle cost analysis” at $7,053,000 (page 65). I will have more to say about this later, but I wanted to get the factual part out first.

Pages 3-4 explain each of the three priority levels; A means they must be corrected in 1 year, B means they must be corrected in 5 years, and C means corrected whenever possible.

 

Let me know when you have looked at all 126 pages.

April 28th Special Meeting agenda

I know folks are getting excited (insert alternative adjective as desired) in regards to a Spalding site. Keep your hats on, here are the “action” portions of the agenda for Monday:

  • 7. Reports: New Business
    • A. Suits and Ties Project: Dr. Judy Wiegand
    • B. Youth Assessment Center: Orlando Thomas
    • C. Master Facility Plan: Matt Foster This item has files attached
  • 8. Action Agenda: New Business
    • A. Resolution to Prepare a Final Budget for FY14 and Approval to Hold a Public Hearing on Such Budget on June 9, 2014: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    • B. 2014-15 Regular & Special Board Meeting Schedules: Dr. Judy Wiegand This item has files attached
  • 9. Consent Agenda
    • A. 2014-15 Elementary English Language Arts Adoption: Trevor Nadrozny This item has files attached
    • B. K-12 Health Adoption: Cheryl O’Leary This item has files attached
    • C. Acceptance of Contract for Sale of Marquette: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    • D. Bid: Auditing Services for FY14, FY15 and FY16: Matt Foster

 

 

Suits and Ties was really awesome. If you haven’t seen the video yet, go check it out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7vNEl4Br0w

One very interesting thing is that this video has gone viral, and you can find links to it on many many different websites. Reading through the comments on various websites, there is an interesting cross-section of responses; the vast majority give high praise and kudos to those involved. But some take a more cynical approach.

 

The Master Facility Plan sounds like it might address one of the things I need to vote for the referendum, but unfortunately Unit 4 has chosen not to post the plan at all, so we can’t read it. Hopefully it will be posted later. I don’t get why they don’t post it prior to the meeting. Note the the “District Facility Committee” and the administration “have done a lot of work”, yet there are no minutes or even meeting agendas that would give us a single clue.

 

Final Budget and obligatory “public hearing”. I always chuckle to myself when I hear about these “public hearings”. Maybe they used to be different, but all the public hearings I can remember last about 30 seconds. I think we need a few classes on “particpatory budgets” – and don’t worry Board Members, I don’t see a “participatory budget” happening in the context of a Board Meeting. At all. *grin*

 

April 14th BOE meeting agenda has been posted

As I was typing up this post, it occurred to me that perhaps my tone is critical and even negative towards the school district. Know that I very much support Unit 4, and I love many of the things that are going on. Yes, I am critical – but I aim to be constructively critical. The main goal of this post is to raise awareness in the community on various issues and developments, to make people aware and maybe even to generate discussion. I am of the belief that the more we involve ourselves, the more we care and the better we can work together. Yes, we will always have differences of opinion. That is a good thing. 🙂

 

A number of items are on the agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting. One of the first things is a continuation of the future facilities discussion (aka, strategic planning):

We have spent time learning about several potential scenarios regarding our facility strategic plan.  The administrative team would like to recommend that the Board narrow the scenarios for consideration to Scenarios One, Eight, and Nine.    We believe that these three options have many positive elements to consider as we continue to work towards one comprehensive facility strategic plan. 

The three scenarios have been posted as well if anyone wants to compare them:

The meeting minutes from the last few meetings will be “approved” at Monday’s meeting, so we can’t see them, yet. For those that want to get “caught up” in this ongoing discussion, you will have to go back and watch the videos (Vimeo). The News-Gazette also has a bevy of relevant articles and “letters to the editor”. Several of those have a long list of comments from a small group of readers that make for interesting reading in their own right. If I had to summarize, I would say it like this.

The school district feels pressure to get a high school built because 1) previous administrations and boards didn’t do diddly squat to help plan or prepare for growth, and 2) the current projections for growth warn us that within the next eight years, we will be exceeding capacity at all schools. Right now, the school district is concerned that the high schools are already at 103% capacity. There also seems to be a huge amount of pressure to have schools ready for the “21st century”, but it is not clear to me where this comes from. On the other hand, the predominant voice I read/hear from those who are not Unit 4 employees orbit around feelings of frustration, anger and consternation. Especially about plans for land-hungry athletic fields, building out on the edge of town, contributing to sprawl and how much worse the traffic on north Prospect will be.

In the middle of all this, I reflect upon the district’s desire for “community involved planning.” There have been some token efforts in the past to engage and involve the community; much of the current planning and directives come from goals set forth in the 2008 “Great Schools, Together” project. Some of the decisions have been shaped a little by the 2012 DeJong-Richter work. And right now, the Facilities Committee is pretty much carrying the torch (the genesis of the “three scenarios” above). The deadline for the district to submit  a referendum for the November ballot is August, which leaves us with about four months. As expected, the Unit 4 PR machine is in full swing, with a lot of help from the sharp Shatterglass videos (more are in the works). What I long to see is an effort to build unity. How are we addressing some of the deeper issues in our community? What are the deeper issues of our community?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really awesome things going on in Unit 4 – there is a ton of positive energy and excitement all around. Stephanie Stuart has been a “veritable cornucopia” of many of those things; there are also lots of really cool things going on with the Magnet programs, STEM at various schools (not just BTW), cultural understanding and appreciation via efforts of a group out of NYU and also local activist Imani Bazzell. The list goes on.

Back to the agenda.

This next one really concerns me, and I have to get my ducks lined up to make sure I am reading this right.

Agreement for Consulting Services Approval: Tom Lockman

Administration is recommending the approval of the Agreement for Consulting Services with the team of Gorski Reifsteck and DLR Group.

Architectural and professional services would be provided under this Agreement for a fee of $120,000.

 

There is a lot going on here. First off, Gorski Reifsteck was hired to the tune of some $60,000 last year to help the district narrow down the list of 16 different potential high school sites around Champaign down to one. So the fact that they are now being hired to consult on and design the school on a site where they acted as primary consultants in choosing seems a bit controversial to me. Second, this isn’t just about consulting on the architectural designs – this is also about promoting and building support for the November referendum; Gorski Reifsteck is going to be tasked with making sure at least half of the Champaign community votes in favor of a $100+ million referendum.

These raise my eyebrows quite a bit. Like I said, I need to chew on this some more and read up to make sure that I understand this correctly.

 

And to round it off, that previous RFP for 180 second generation iPads was upgraded to fourth generation because nobody wants to sell 180 IPAD 2 units:

Administration recommends the award of the RFP for iPad 4’s to Apple Computer for $68,220.00.

 

I am concerned about the push for “21st century” technology, and all these cool little gadgets (not to mention all the other computer equipment being purchased). I did follow up and talk to a few folks about the World Language program and how these iPads will be used. Again, there is a lot of positive energy and even synergy at various levels. However, there are some downsides as well. One employee I talked to said that they do not even want the iPads because they do not support Flash, and many of their programs require Flash. If the district is pushing these devices, what input from field staff did they take? How are the people who are actually using these things playing a role in the decision and planning of the utilization of technology in the curriculum? Also, in my own experience, using tools like eToys is a bit of a challenge on the netbooks; the trackpads are not that great for general navigation, and some of the finer details are really hard to appreciate. However, in the end what amazes me the most is how kids adapt! You give them a challenge and you watch them figure it out. It is so cool when that happens. Yet we have to figure out how to work with those children for whom these technological approaches are not a good fit.

A chance to speak about the Unit 4 Facilities (k-8, new high school, middle school configuration, etc)

From the PTA Council:

Our next meeting will be held on April 3rdnext Thursday, at Southside Elementary School.

We will be hearing from Laurie Bonnet, Kristine Chalifoux and Dr. Wiegand to discuss facilities and answer any questions you may have. Please let your school PTA’s know that everyone is welcome.

 

Typically these start at 6:pm 7:pm. For more information:

 

UPDATE: Correction! Meeting starts at 7:pm

QLEO: Quantified Learning Environment Outcomes

What is QLEO?

Quantified Learning Environment Outcomes

http://www.bldd.com/qleo-pages-189.php

 

How much did we pay for this opportunity?

In 2013 alone:

CASH ACCT CHECK NO ISSUE DT VENDOR NAME            BUDGET CODE ACCNT −−−−DESCRIPTION−−−− SALES TAX AMOUNT
0101      186488   11/08/13 203459 BLDD ARCHITECTS 102319000000 310  QLEO (QUALIFIED LE  0.00      5,900.00
0101      186897   11/22/13 203459 BLDD ARCHITECTS 102319000000 310  QLEO (QUALIFIED LE  0.00      35,400.00
0101      186897   11/22/13 203459 BLDD ARCHITECTS 102319000000 310  REIMBURSABLE EXPENS 0.00      282.16
TOTAL CHECK                                                                              0.00      35,682.16

Who was involved?

 

What did we get out of it?

Apparently, the Facility Committee had an opportunity to interface directly with the software and tweak variables. The only thing the public sees is a 32-page report which has been modified several times (high school capacity numbers corrected, Live/Work slides removed).