Fight or Flight? Which one comes to mind when you think about the high school siting saga? More importantly, if our community were a living body, what kind of neurotransmitters would be coursing through our collective circulatory system?

I am concerned that there is a lot of emotion building up over this one topic. To be clear, we have many issues before us that grab our attention and cause our heart rate to spike; pension turmoil, Obamacare, now the holidays are upon us, slick roads, the promise of more taxes, Common Core, potentially big Primary and General elections next year… The list goes on. I am not saying emotion is bad; Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer will point out, with many words and anectdotal stories, how emotions play an important role in our decision-making process. But we have to balance that with a method of rationalization as well.

So Read the rest of this entry »

December 2nd board meeting: here comes the referendum

At the Nov 18th BOE meeting, we were told that the Board would meet on December 2nd to narrow the list of six potential sites down to three, and then possibly on December 7th to narrow it even further. Looking at the agenda for the December 2nd board meeting, it’s all about setting into motion things for the future, specifically the new high school site, funding (via a property tax referendum) and increasing the number of kindergarten classrooms.

I have several grave issues with way the Unit 4 future is being planned. I will grant, right up front, that probably most of my concerns center around the fact that there has been little to no realistic planning for the past 40 years, and the current cast of players have inherited both that fact and the mindset that goes along with it. I choose the word “inherited” very intentionally – I think there are a lot of good intentions at many different levels, yet we still have many really big obstacles to work through.

Where to start….. Read the rest of this entry »

An incomplete historical snapshot of bond issues, tax levies and referenda

After attending and chewing on the Community Dialog about various school options (which all lead to big tax referendums), I got to dwelling on the the Elementary School options. Partially, as I said before, I was surprised to see them in the packet on Tuesday in the first place. So let me state right off the bat, I am fully aware and acknowledge that our school buildings, at all levels, need a bit of help. We have known this for over two decades. The sad part is that we have not come up with a good plan to deal with these issues, which has resulted in a snowballing problem, an escalating urgency that eventually borders on a crisis.

First some definitions and attempts to bridge the financial jargon.

  • Bonds (Sales Tax Bonds, Working Cash Bonds, etc): Basically, these are long-term loans, like mortgages.  The district gets a bunch of money from a bank to do stuff, and the district slowly pays back the loan (including interest) over 20 years (typically). To “issue” a bond is therefore to put oneself in debt to another.1
  • Tax Levies: This one is a bit harder for me to wrap my head around, but here goes. We pay property taxes, right? Various groups get a slice of the pie from those property taxes, and public education usually gets the biggest slice.2 The tax levy by the Board of Education therefore determines exactly how big that slice will be. 3 5 7 Gene Logas often bragged that Unit 4 has one of the lowest rates going.4 At the same time, Gene complained that “tax caps hurt”. 6
  • Referenda: The law states that when the school district wishes to acquire more money above and beyond what tax levies can bring in, the school district can ask the voters to approve more money via vote during an election in the form of a referendum. Obviously, this does not happen often because taxpayers typically do not want to pay more taxes. The Working Cash Bond is special because it slips under a certain ceiling that allows the district to raise property taxes without a voter approval.

(NOTE: Both Gene and Greg were amazing warehouses of information, but even more impressive was their willingness to sit down and explain things to folks like me)

Elementary School funding (and lack thereof)

While there is a rich plethora of statistics, financial data and worthy history, I am going to just rewind the clock to 1998 and focus on the elementary schools and related funding projects.

Gene Logas tells that Read the rest of this entry »

all those babies

US Birth rate & primary enrollment

Recently I was notified about an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (“America’s Baby Bust“). When I went looking for the data sources, I got a bit frustrated and finally decided to grab data from the World dataBank. Along the way, I also noticed a number of other articles out there on the internets, some of which are contradictory to some of the cause-effect relationships in the WSJ article (for example, this one from the Huffington Post). Which just goes to show that you have to be very careful about what you read online. Regardless, most items I can find via google indicate that the number of live births is decidedly down, and at the same time we are not exactly at the top of our economic game.

While the articles, when read in isolation of different points of views, seem to paint a pretty worrisome picture, it is not clear to me at all what the point is. Both Jonathan Last of the WSJ and Bonnie Kavousii of the Post want us to make more babies; the ramifications of a dwindling supply of warm bodies brings me back to The Matrix Reloaded:

Neo: You won’t let it happen, you can’t. You need human beings to survive.
The Architect: There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.

Their arguments make sense. The factual information, if nothing else, is rather astounding. For instance, the number of immigrants that bolster our live birth rate data just blows my mind. If we are to take these bits of statistics, and more importantly, what the authors want us to believe about them, as gospel, it reminds me that we humans do not really have as much control as we think we do; all our past choices are going to catch up to us.

I have also started a little research of my own; I am digging up the total enrollment in Unit 4 since the 1950’s. Along the way, I have talked to a number of librarians (Champaign, Urbana, University) and finally found some rich resources that I will be scouring tomorrow (Tuesday). What I have gleaned so far is that Champaign had a whopping 12,000 students back in 1970. We took a precipitous drop until 1985 when we bottomed out at a little over 8300, and have been climbing since then. Even more amazing than that, however, are the projections I have uncovered during my search. One demographic projection published in 1988 concluded that population trends would be down in the year 2000, below 1988 levels. Ooops. Another published in 2003 predicted an extremely modest growth over the next 10 years, much flatter than what actually happened. Remember that now infamous 2008 Demographic Survey that somehow missed the Kindergarten explosion of 2011? And now we have yet another firm peering into a crystal ball telling us what the year 2023 might be like.

Here is my take-away. We cannot predict the future. We can kind of make an educated guess, but the only thing I can guarantee is that there are no guarantees. So to me, it seems paramount to enhance our flexibility skills. We need to be able to adapt to changing situations. What is a bit frustrating to me is that Unit 4 has had the awesome sounding  Long Range Strategic Plan and things like “Great Schools, Together“, but it is exceptionally difficult to see how that has helped us prepare for the future. Pattsi, as she tells it, has been telling the school district “for 40 years” that they need a planner. 🙂 In light of the Super Bowl weekend, actually I think we need a quarterback. And a darned good one at that (unfortunately, I am not a sports fan, so I can’t rattle off a short list of Hall of Famer’s – I am sure some of you could). We need somebody who can see that linebacker blitz and audible a pitch to a running back.

And it just kills me that we have a research institution that forms the roots of our community.

Feb 27th Special Board Meeting

After hearing about Meg Dickinson’s article highlighting the working cash bonds and taking a peek at the Agenda, I decided to drop by and see what was going on. In truth, I was very interested to hear about the Great Schools, Together (GST) report and the research on the high school options, both of which have received very little coverage. Both topics consumed roughly 2.5 hours, a long, drawn-out “conversation”. I kept thinking to myself “there has got to be a better way to do this”.

I am going through the notes I took, and I have to apologize that they are not fully organized. But I’ll relate to the best of my ability.

Before the meeting kicked off, Read the rest of this entry »

Big Agenda for tonight's Board Meeting

Apparently, my RSS feeds are seriously lagging – I am just now learning about a number of very interesting things going on at the Board meeting tonight.

From BoardDocs:

7. Reports: New Business
B. High School Options: Judy Wiegand
C. Summer Youth Employment: Orlando Thomas
D. District Technology Plan: Roger Grinnip
8. Action Agenda: Unfinished Business
A. Approval of Resolution: Notice To Issue Working Cash Bonds: Gene Logas
B. Approval of Resolution Expressing Intent To Reimburse Certain Capital Expenditures Form Future Bond Proceeds: Gene Logas

The PDF for the Great Schools Together (GST) is … not as exciting as I was hoping for. The High School Option PDF gives an analysis of what it would be like having one high school, but I did not see where the report is credited to any one person or group.

I am a little concerned about the working cash bonds; $15.5 million is a bit of money, and over the past month since Meg reported on this, I have not seen or heard of any kind of discussion happening about these things. I get the feeling that the District assumes silence implies consent, which is probably the furthest thing from the truth. 🙂


The Gene Logas documents spell out the legal requirements, and since I don’t speak Legalese, they don’t mean much to me. The one spreadsheet does give a broad breakdown of that $15.5 million. I see that the wireless ($2.3 mil) and the one-laptop-per-child ($3.4 mil) tie into Grinnip’s technology plan, but I was under the impression those monies came from other sources (the name of the Federal Grant escapes me now). That’s just one-third of the total pie, but a big third it is.




Meg Dickinson’s article from today:

Meg’s Jan 23rd article:

Previous blog entry:


My head is starting to spin. You all have 30 days to gather some 9,000+ signatures if you want to petition the cash bonds.

News from Lynn Peisker (Great Schools, Together; new staff; etc)

Lynn Peisker of Unit 4 continues to crank out helpful and informative tidbits. Her latest is the next installation of “To The Point” and includes an update about “Great Schools, Together”. I have not yet had a chance to read it, but hope so soon. Lynn has also been very active in updating the Unit 4 Facebook page (which I encourage you to subscribe to).


More to follow soon.


Here is a syndication of what she supplied to the KCN:

Today, we welcome new administrators approved by the Board of Education at last night’s meeting:

Barb Daly has been approved the Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education on August 8 as the Interim Principal of Westview Elementary School.  Under Ms. Daly’s leadership as principal, Bottenfield Elementary earned Unit 4’s first Illinois State Board of Education Academic Excellence Award.  She also served as Principal for South Side Elementary, as well as a teacher and a teacher’s aide during a 34-year career in Unit 4.


“It is exciting to have an educator with Ms. Daly’s skill and experience available to lead Westview.  Her expertise will allow students, families and staff to make a smooth transition and have another successful school year.  We are elated to have her back in Unit 4,” said Dr. Robert Malito, Interim Superintendent.


In addition, The Board of Education has approved:


James P. Eastin has been named Assistant Principal at Garden Hills Elementary School.  Mr. Eastin holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Milliken University and a Master of Science in Educational Administration from Eastern Illinois University.  He was most recently the K-12 Principal at Oakland CUSD #5 in Oakland Illinois.


Christopher D. Gilbert has been appointed as Assistant Principal at South Side Elementary School.  Mr. Gilbert holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Ohio State University and a Master of Education from Cleveland State University.  He most recently served as a Resource Teacher at the Achievement Center for Children in Highland Hills, Ohio.


Rachel Maehr has been appointed as Assistant Principal at Barkstall Elementary School.  Ms. Maehr holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois and Masters’ Degrees in Social Work and in Education, Organization and Leadership, both from the University of Illinois.  She was a School Social Worker at Centennial High School and previously served as Student Services Coordinator at Barkstall Elementary from 2005-2009.