Pros and Cons, part 2

This weekend I received several items that reminded me of how dysfunctional our current method of “voting” has become. This post is going to focus on a couple positive examples of looking at issues from both angles, plus also exhibit some cases where healthy community deliberation is clearly lacking.


On September 1st I published a post about the pros and cons of the upcoming referendum. Even though a couple minor things have been added or changed, overall that pretty much sums up the pros and cons of the proposed Unit 4 $149 million referendum. Since then, I have been rather impressed with how the Chamber of Commerce has approached the referendum, providing its members with an opportunity to chew not only on the well-publicized and widely distributed facts that Unit 4 and the “Friends of Champaign Schools” are propagating, but also the somewhat-harder-to-find “other side”, by allowing dissenting voices of other prominent community leaders (as showcased in the thread of emails after the September 30 Chamber meeting). But more impressive is that someone obviously did their homework and sent a rather comprehensive and detailed email to Chamber members on October 17th, including a link to a recent Oct 13 Illinois Policy Institute blog post that claims “Champaign County breaks promise on sales-tax hike“. This reminded me of a June 2010 Promised Made, Promises Kept Committee (great question/answer between Greg Novak and Gene Logas). However my point is that the Chamber is doing a decent job at presenting different angles of the referendum for its members to chew on, and I applaud that.


Another example of covering both sides of an issue arrived in my mailbox in the form of a pamphlet from Jesse White, Secretary of State, covering the “proposed amendments and addition to the Illinois Constitution”, as required by Illinois Constitutional Amendment Act (5 ILCS 20). What I appreciated about this pamphlet is that it intentionally and explicitly presents a short-form argument (and explanation) both for and against the relevant proposed changes that you and I will be voting on. In my opinion, this is a great start at educating the public. I wonder why we don’t do that for all ballot questions.


From there we turn to two new NG Letters to the Editor (also added to my ever-growing index of Letters to the Editor). The first one talks about how the school district plans to defer much needed maintenance on elementary and middle schools, and questions the viability of a single high school. The second talks about several brochures that have been sent home with students (and if you are a Unit 4 parent, I am sure you have seen them – I counted three so far), and even goes so far as to question the legal ramifications with the State’s Attorney’s office. As you can tell from my index, there have been many letter writers who take issue with the location, the plans (or lack thereof), and various other aspects of the referendum. What bothers me is that some of the same topics come up over and over; why have we had no public forum, no open deliberation, no healthy out-and-out argument on these issues?


And here is what also bites me. I have talked to many representatives of the “Friends of Champaign Schools” campaign group (still working on that blog post), and I have been very impressed. They have great hearts, great passion and great intentions. I absolutely love the support that is being pulled together for Unit 4. This stuff is awesome! And such support is not very common for Unit 4, so I don’t want to stand in the way of it. Yet people on both sides of the fence have doubts right along side their convictions. How do we, as a voting public, give voice to our thoughts in such a way as to collectively build on our understanding of the root issues? Most people I talk to are basing their vote on a single, passionate aspect; I wonder what that does to elections? I am not saying that is wrong, for we all have to start somewhere. But here we are 16 days out from November 4th and that is all we have.


One final thought. We in Illinois have three “Statewide Advisory Questions”; clearly, these are not referenda items and thus are not actionable, and likewise it is unclear how the results of these binary questions will be used, but at the very least it is interesting that the questions are even being asked in the first place. I wonder, what if all Unit 4 residents had an opportunity to answer similar “school district wide advisory questions” in an official ballot? Not just approving a $149 million bond issue, but other questions. What would that look like? Would it even be helpful?

Letter to the editor submitted

I have been wanting to solidify my “position” (as it were) with regards to the ongoing saga of the High School siting and a property tax referendum. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the physical location of the high school, and even the amenities that come attached to it, are of a minor importance compared to a need for the school district to have a solid bank account of Trust with the community. To me, it is paramount that the community and the school district work together to reach a commonly agreed upon, mutually beneficial goal.


Having said that, here is the letter I have submitted (online) to the NG editor:

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” From the Maroon Tiger (January-February 1947), “The Purpose of Education”.

Regardless of where Unit 4 ultimately decides to build a new high school, regardless of when the referendum is put on the ballot, as a community we must first remember the purpose of education and take our civic responsibilities seriously. Personally, I need three things in order to vote for a future high school referendum.

First, I need to see the work of uniting the administration, teachers, students, parents and community; like a prized cultivar, we must be selective about propagating characteristics that enhance our society. How do we collaboratively imbue creative and moral thinking?

Second, I need the school district to involve and educate the public in regards to a 10-year strategic plan and a 40-year vision, via a minimum of three charrettes.

Third, I need a well-understood financial plan. Will yet another tax referendum be put on the ballot in five years, especially if external sources continue to decline?


The quote is from a letter that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote to the Morehouse College campus newspaper in 1947 – the entire letter is very instructional.


Having time to chew on the recent events of the past couple days and hearing from parents and a board member, I have several observations that have steered my thinking

  1. While a number of people are voicing support for a possible high school at the Spalding Park area (including myself), it seems extremely unlikely that the board will ultimately go with that location due to a number of problematic obstacles:
    1. railroad tracks
    2. money involved to purchase land, eminent domain, tear down Judah, make safe walk ways, etc – all for land that the Board has said several times is too small
    3. will the park-district do a land-swap with the Atkins-Ponder lands we just purchased? Probably not.
  2. It is possible these talks will open up the possibility of negotiating land at Dodds Park. But I am not holding my breath
  3. No matter what, it is going to be very challenging for the district and the board to come out of this looking good; if they go with Spading Park, the tax referendum will likley be more expensive, while the Atkins-Ponder site garners more negative attention from those who are most vocal.
  4. The district has already conducted phone surveys, opinion polls, a so-called “Town Hall” and various forms of “Community dialogues”. I don’t think more of the same is going to be very effective.
  5. Board member Jamar Brown has said that when he talks to folks on the north end, they are less concerned about the location of the high school and more concerned about discipline issues. Yet discipline issues are not the focus of any phone survey, opinion polls or “Community Dialogue”. Why not? What is really most important?


Also, here is a more recent NG article:


I have no doubt that due to poor planning over the long-run and growing enrollemnt, we have a clear and present need for more capacity. Yes, we can do portables as Board President Laurie Bonnett suggested for a “Plan B”. Obvioulsy, this is not ideal. But neither is making an unwise choice that will effect us for the next 50 years or so.


What do I suggest? We need to do the hard work of building relationships, building trust, getting out there and learning what our parents, students and residents need. We need to work together to get those ends met. We need to make sure we educate with the goal of thinking critically, intensely and with morals. This is a burden we all share, not just the teachers.

NG Editor speaks up about the high school siting issue

First, read Mr. Dey’s article:

Update: Also ChamabanaMoms is asking the same question:

And be sure, Unit 4 has already ramped up the “sell”; all the amazing videos coming out, the quotes from current students, reports from current high school officials… I am not saying these are bad things, my point is to acknowledge that work has already started to get people in a favorable mood for passing a tax referrendum. It makes a lot of sense from the school district point of view.

And then we have a number of folks who are giving public comments at board meetings. My hat is off to them for taking the time to attend board meetings and make their voices heard. Tod Satterthwaite has spoken a few times in the past few weeks, members of the Ministerial Alliance and representatives of the NAACP have voice grave concerns, Holly Nelson has spoken against the current direction, as well as other various members of the community that I am not familiar with; all these citizens are saying they do not like the idea of a school north of I-74. I wish the board would react more publicly to all these people. Granted, Jamar has responded directly to a couple points (ie, explaining why Country Fair didn’t work out), but so far, the board has not released a scorecard of all sites, weighing out the various metrics for each site. Even the RPC “analysis” of the various sites that was published late on boarddocs gives only a cursory glance at how schools measure up in travel costs. And why is Centennial used as a baseline? That confuses me to no end – why is not Central used as a baseline if that is the school we are replacing? The lack of trust-building does not bode well. Read the rest of this entry »

Letter to the Editor (Sunday, Dec 16)

Here is an exact copy of what I sent to the NG ‘letter to the editor’ – note it was slightly modified when printed.


Do you know what your tax dollars are doing? Or tired of how taxing entities play shell games? I challenge you to contact your elected officials, speak up at board meetings and demand a kind of transparency that is not only in the public domain, but more importantly, easy to understand and accurate. You want to know what is being done with your money, and you need to have a say in how it is spent.


It is easiest to start locally; the boards of most local library and school districts, either city or county, are filled with elected officials who truly want to hear from you. If you believe something is not right, make it known and provide a possible way to fix it. Or take it to the next level and involve five other people; those who are already engaged can show others the difference they can make.


A colleague and I have been holding an open discussion at Houlihans every Wednesday, 11:30 am. We talk mostly about the Champaign School District and often chat directly with school board members – in fact, this letter is one of the action steps. Topics and highlights are posted online and used to interact with the school board during their regular meetings. There are other such opportunities around town. Take advantage of them.


“Open government is critical to an informed public, and an informed public is critical to democracy” – Judith Zaffirini

Houlihans plans for the next few weeks

So after the last couple of Houlihans meetings, we want to be a little more intentional about our gatherings in December (and January, and February, you get the picture). So even though we are more intentional, the format is still open and welcome new & old faces alike. 🙂 Take special note (Laura B) that the third gathering is on a TUESDAY.


Wednesday, December 5th: Letter-to-the-editor day – if you show up, you are helping to write a letter-to-the-editor (due December 5th) or you have already done so this week. (this is a throw-down challenge issued by Pattsi)


Wednesday, December 12th: I am inviting a board member or two to join us and talk about the last official board meeting of the year (December 10th), what next year holds, answer questions (or even ask questions).


Tuesday, December 18th: Scott Leopold will be joining us to report on DeJong-Richter and Fallon. He has seen Pattsi’s questions and will respond to them at this meeting. They have a Steering Team meeting the day before (Monday, December 17th) and will talk about that. I am really hoping they have the “living document” (aka, Background Report) ready to see the light of day, or at least an early version of it.


No official gathering for December 26th. Not sure about January 2nd, but I am thinking no gathering since it is still kind of the holidays. 🙂