Notes from the April 8th BOE Meeting

Stig opened the meeting to give special mention of Dave Tomlinson’s last day on the Board, and to open the floor for Board comments praising Dave for all his work over the past few years. Stig honored Dave with a plaque, after which Dave shared how he feels best about advocating for teachers.

No public comments.

Board member comments
Tomlinson: talked highly of the early childhood center, good news about not RIFfing anyone. (note: RIF = Reduction in Force, a practice of letting staff go with the hopeful promise of being hired again)
Jamar: good stuff at college and career center, good “state of the district” address at Carrie Busey, good feelings all around at address; talked about how Dr. Wiegand met all her goals and is changing the perception.
Chalifoux: go vote tomorrow
Van Ness: one positive and one negative. positive = “Gold card” thing, college and career center. Negative = some schools still have no Proximity A – 1) either get rid of Proximity or 2) give every child Proximity A, the 1.5 mile thingy is IRRELEVANT (his emphasis).
Chalifoux: “Gold card” thing is good; asked about doing a REALTORS brunch. Wiegand responds that we are doing them, and in fact one is scheduled for May (if I heard correctly).
Stig: acknowledges present candidates again.
Upcoming events (among the many events, I focused on one)
May 6th, special board meeting to swear in new board members

Item D moved up to the front.

Future facilities presentation:
Steering Team Co-Chair Bruce Knight started; lots of background provided; enrollment projections need to be looked at annually.  I ask (and have asked previously) “who is going to do that?” More on this in just a little bit. Most dense population around Garden Hills. Population shift moving north and east.

In discussing the “opinion polling” by Fallon, Bruce Knight says a majority of they “yes” votes came from low-propensity voters. So his solution is to get more people to vote. I wonder about that; to me, it essential to make sure folks are first educated properly about the issues (and candidates where relevant). In addition to the above, the majority of “yes” votes came from the younger generation, while the majority of “no” votes came from those who are older. Are the older folks just stodgy? Are the younger folks just naive? We cannot really assume anything – we just don’t know.

Given all the Read the rest of this entry »

April 8th Board Meeting

Video of meeting

 

Too tired to comment much. Board members had lots of good questions and comments, especially in regards to schools of choice, future facilities and discipline  I’ll provide more details later.

new video uploads

Just a quick post about some recent videos Unit 4 uploaded and I downsized:

March 11, 2013 Regular Board Meeting

March 14, 2013 Candidate Forum

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's first neighborhood discussion: first thoughts

I was happy to see the range of parents that showed up, from those that have already graduated children through high school, to those of us who have yet to step foot inside kindergarten. And while I was almost fearful that we would have been swamped with information-hungry neighbors, we had an excellent, if modest, turnout that allowed for comfortable discussion. I posted the agenda.

First off, I was overly impressed by all the positive things that folks shared about the schools, especially the teachers; in general, parents that have (or had) children in school had high praises to sing for their teachers. Even in situations where the school was jammed-packed with students or slightly behind the maintenance curve, it sounds like the teachers and students are making lemonade out of lemons. Very encouraging to hear.

There was also some discussion about detachment and annexation, since that was included on our invite. Also, Channel 3 did a horrible job reporting that Savoy parents were planning to annex to Tolono, even before we had our meeting. The fact of the matter is that Savoy parents have not made any decisions at all, as a group. And I did not hear anyone say “I want to annex to Tolono.” Maybe they thought, who knows. However, I do know several parents do not want to detach from Unit 4 – they really love the teachers. Allyson help explain the process of detachment and brought an army of paper documents. I also helped to supplement a little as I received a phone call from Jane Quinlan, the Superintendent of the Regional Board of Schools. If we ever submit a petition to detach and annex, it would end up on her desk. She explained the process to me very briefly, and also indicated that ever since 1983, it has been illegal to simply detach and form your own district; to detach, one must also annex to a contiguous district. Interest little twist there.

It will be interesting to hear what folks from the December 1st meeting will think.

Here is a list of questions that came up, and I hope to follow-up on them with answers:

  • Would “Schools of Choice” ever go away?
  • If the Sales Tax passed, would there be any guarantee that all schools would be equitable, instead of a few that obviously are more attractive than others?
  • Can we look forward to a time when the Consent Decree is not needed (not just in word, but in spirit)?
  • Does the Consent Decree discourage or exacerbate the lack of parent involvement?
  • Why do some schools receive more money than others? Is it only because of PTA, or are there other factors?
  • How much money is Unit 4 spending on busing? Is anything being done to address those specific costs?
  • Why do Franklin students wait outside for 30 minutes before school starts?
  • Can all households have a Proximity A to at least one school? What is stopping Unit 4 from making this a reality?
  • What is the long range plan for the High Schools? We have heard rumors and pipe dreams, but what is actually being done?

Some great questions, and I hope to be answering them soon.

Some other things I made mention of. Both of our representatives (Savoy is divided up between four representatives, but two have the lion’s share of Savoy), Chapin Rose and Shane Cultra, are eager to talk to residents. Chapin is very keen on getting more money for the school district, whether through raising the Sales Tax or getting more funding from the State. He indicated to me that he is working on changing the Sales Tax law to modify the Sunset clause (or lack thereof). Shane Cultra, on the other hand, is very much wanting to look at reducing current operating expenses. I think I would put more money with Cultra on this one. He specifically target the unions, and how they artificially increase rates for projects when there is no real need to do so. And what about those administrator salaries? Why does the Federal Government mandate that we have Special Ed teachers, and then slap us in the face by providing a mere $8000 for a “fully-funded” position?

Jodi Heckel of the News-Gazette will be posting a story about this meeting in the very near future (today, tomorrow?). I am hoping that they can do a longer-term series in an effort to get our community (not only Savoy, but Champaign as well) involved in discussions that leads to mutually beneficial change. I am a bit  tired of Unit 4 residents being divided on issues of race and funding. Maybe I am too Utopian. Or naive. So be it.