November 8 school facility referendum

According to the NG, the Nov 8th ballot will have wording for the school facility referendum as follows:

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, alter, repair and equip the Central High School Building, build and equip additions thereto, and acquire and improve the site thereof; improve facilities at Franklin Middle School, Spalding Park, and McKinley Field; alter, repair and equip the Centennial High School Building and build and equip additions thereto; demolish the existing Dr. Howard Elementary School Building and build and equip a new Dr. Howard Elementary School Building on that site; alter, repair and equip the South Side Elementary School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; alter, repair and equip the International Prep Academy Building and build and equip additions thereto; alter, repair and equip the Edison Middle School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $183,400,000 for the purpose of paying costs thereof?”

 

It’s a mouthfull. So I wanted to take some time to break it down a little. If you strip out the details, the ballot question basically says “shall the Unit 4 BOE take out a loan (or several loans) not to exceed a sum total of $183.4 million?” The rest is “legally required” language that tells voters what this money will specifically be used for.

 

This grid groups and organizes the proposed changes as a way of visualizing the ballot question:

School Building Additions Site
Central alter, repair, equip build, equip acquire, improve
Centennial alter, repair, equip build, equip
Franklin improve*
Edison alter, repair, equip build, equip
Dr. Howard demolish, build, equip
South Side alter, repair, equip build, equip
IPA alter, repair, equip build, equip

*For Franklin, the School District is proposing to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Park District to “share” facilities at Spalding Park. “Add and renovate track and athletic facilities for Central.”

 

I grouped the schools high schools first, then middle schools, then elementary schools. For me, I found this easier to chew on and digest (compare and contrast).

What exactly is being altered, repaired, equipped, built, acquired or improved? To start chipping away at that question, you can read the recommended “schemes” that came out of the Tier II committee, or read Nicole Lafond’s summary of the board’s final decision (and deliberation) in her August 15th article:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2016-08-15/updated-new-unit-4-price-tag-lowered-482-million.html

 

But to spell it out more clearly, here is how the $208.4 million breaks down.

UPDATED with information from the Fact Sheet.

School Work Total
Central -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Three Story Academic Addition (with CTE)
-Gymnasium Addition (3 courts and expandable to future fieldhouse/LOWER LEVEL lockers & support)
-PE Fields/Competition Soccer (turf)/Competition Softball (sod)
 $87.1M
Centennial -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Two Story Academic Addition
-Cafeteria/Administration Addition
-CTE spaces
-Gymnasium Addition (2 courts/expandable to future fieldhouse)
-Football Field (turf)
 $63.3M
Franklin fields, McKinley Field, Spalding Park -Competition Baseball (sod)
-Practice Baseball (sod)
-Additional Tennis Courts
-Dugouts/Concessions/Restrooms/Bleachers
 $9.8M
Dr. Howard -Demolition of Existing School
-Three Story Replacement School facility
 $16.1M
South Side -Exterior Upgrades
-Complete Renovation with Health Life Safety Upgrades
 $11.1M
IPA -Interior Renovations: general minor renovations
-Addition: Cafeteria expansion, Gym, Library
-Secure Entry: Renovate to provide secure school vestibule entry
 $6M
Grand Total  $208.4M

As stated several times, the Nov 8th referendum does not address all the needs of the district; it is expected that the district will have to return to the voters for another referendum somewhere down the road.

Some items that I have not been able to find (I will update this post as I find them):

  • A detailed breakdown of proposed projects for each school
  • A final prioritization of all projects (HLS, 10-year Capital Plan, Tier II recommendations)
  • Plans to pay for future maintenance (such a plan is talked about at board meetings, so I believe one exists)
  • A cross-reference of which HLS and 10-year Capital projects are not covered by this referendum

 

Resources:

 

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Questions posed to the school board about the April 13th board meeting

Here is a small list of questions I emailed to the board in regards to the April 13th board meeting. I also included newly elected board members, who will be sworn in next month.

I was looking over the April 13th BOE meeting agenda, and wished to find more information when you have an opportunity.

  1. Under “Recognitions”, there is a fascinating mention of how 24 HS students participated in a Khan Academy course, and how Mr. Jim Linnenburger will receive $100 per student. Were all 24 students participating in the Google/DonorsChoose program (ie, “traditionally underrepresented”)? Did students participate while at school, or was this done outside school hours? Please note, I personally think this is a very good thing, as rudiementary skills in javascript are extremely helpful in the current software development job market, and outlets like Codeacademy and Khan Academy have made these skills very accessible. I can easily see hundreds of additional students taking advantage of these resources.
    .
  2. Under “Reports: New Business”, line item A (“DLR innovation challenge”) briefly mentions the outstanding success of four HS students and a teacher mentor. Will the team’s innovative solution (sustainable vertical farming) be shared in detail at Monday’s meeting? Will there be materials online that others can read about? And more importantly, can any of those ideas be implemented here in Champaign? I would love to see more students tackling broad problems and applying solutions at a local level. 🙂
    .
  3. Line item B (“Juvenile Delinquency prevention” with IL State AG Julia Rietz) mentions a report; can that report be shared online? I am sincerely hoping that Ms. Rietz will focus her report on the work of restorative justice, as highlighted in the News-Gazette a couple weeks ago.
    .
  4. Action Agenda line item B (Administration Compensation): the summary says “A list of eligible administrators is attached”, yet there is no document attached in boarddocs available to the public. Please attach said list to the agenda and/or make available online. Personally, I fail to see why administrative salary percentage increases need to mirror teacher percentage increases; the justification about remaining “regionally competitive” is not enough for me.
    .
  5. Consent Agenda line item J (HLS Implementations): I know Consent Agenda items are typically discussed under “New Business” at earlier board meetings, but I was unable to find where this one was discussed when I looked at all board meetings in 2015. I see the bid on the Unit 4 website, but I do not see where the details are. What is being done for $424,000? Furthermore, I know the HLS reports in the past have detailed many millions of dollars worth of needed work (prioritized into three categories of urgency). I assume the $424k takes care of the most important items. Does it address all the Category A items?
    .
  6. Lastly, Consent Agenda line item M (Renewal of Superintendent’s contract): May we please see the current contract, and for how long the renewal will be for (starting when, ending when)? The summary on boarddocs is completely and utterly blank.

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.