Congrats to the new board members

According to the Champaign County Clerk’s website (and Meg Dickinson’s tweet 🙂 ), the new board members are:

  • Laurie Bonnet
  • Lynn Stuckey
  • Scott MacAdam

Congrats to all three.

Now our job as the citizenry is to hold them to their promises. 🙂 I’ll continue working on collecting those from over the past few weeks; since I delayed, I now only have to do three instead of all five.

Looking forward to an exciting couple of years.

EDIT:

The final roster for the Board of Education is:

  • Kristine Chalifoux
  • Jamar Brown
  • Stig Lanesskog
  • Ileana Saveley
  • Scott MacAdam
  • Lynn Stuckey
  • Laurie Bonnett

A very interesting mix.

 

Final EDIT:

Meg’s related NG article: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2013-04-09/updated-macadam-stuckey-bonnett-win-champaign-school-board-seats.html

What do you want out of your school board?

datesThis is both an announcement/reminder post, but also an attempt to provoke your grey matter and maybe even generate discussion.

First, I am going to assume you do realize that you, as a tax-payer and vote-caster, do indeed have a voice that the school board members, as your publicly elected officials, are obligated to pay heed to. 🙂 This means that we voters have to hold them accountable, and the board members have to allow themselves to be held accountable. In an ideal and somewhat Utopian fashion, this relationship would be built on trust and mutual respect. Unfortunately, our State has done us a disservice in terms of being role models in this regard; none the less, let us remember our obligations.

Having said that, there are elections coming up on April 9th, 27 days from now. Within the next 27 days, do you know who you will vote for and why? Perhaps at this stage of the game you had not even planned to vote. Or maybe you had the election on the back burner of your brain and figured you would get around to contemplating the candidates “tomorrow”. Well, this is your lucky day! For in fact, tomorrow there is a candidate forum – an excellent opportunity to hear more about the candidates that are running:

PTA Council Candidate Forum tomorrow night (March 14th) @ 7 p.m. at the Mellon Administrative Center. The forum will also air on Champaign Government Television starting Friday.

In addition, Meg Dickinson will be running an article in the near future on the candidates, so keep your eyes peeled. And finally, Laura Bleill of chambanamoms.com talks about some of the qualities that she, as a parent, would like to see in a board member:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/2013/03/12/at-the-editors-desk-if-i-was-running-for-unit-4-school-board/

Just as a reminder, there are two sub-races for the board this time; three 4-year seats and two 2-year seats. The 2-year slots are uncontested and filled by incumbents. The three 4-year seats will be decided between five candidates (alphabetical by first name this time):

 

For the sake of disclosure, I Read the rest of this entry »

Relevant news articles

I have been stumbling on what I would term as interesting and relevant articles, both from the News-Gazette, Anthony Cody’s blog “Living in Dialogue” and even a techy news aggregator (slashdot).

Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaire Boys Club: This is Cody’s blog post. I like how he references a couple different view points, from Diane Ravitch to Alexander Russo (just to name two). Is big money really steering the course of education? Mr. Cody is no friend of the Gate’s Foundation take on Education nor the influence it is exerting upon policy-making. One of my take-aways (which will resurface again shortly) is that the common people are removed from the political process because they simply don’t talk the jargon. One wonders if all the money used for funding races was diverted to, well, education. Or what about re-writing the laws so we can at least understand them?

Three largest area districts spent $936,000 on legal bills: Speaking of money and legalese. Almost $1 million of money funneled into schools from our hard-earned taxes for 1 year of lawyers – this comes out of the same pot used to pay teachers. Wow. Is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture? Meg responds to one commenter by spelling out the legal fees are “spent addressing topics like general school law, real estate matters, expulsions, tax objections, personnel matters, special education and student matters.” Our laws are so complicated that we need subject-matter experts to interpret and argue on our behalf, instead of paying teachers. Fun stuff.

Khan Academy Lead Developer Ben Kamens Answers Your Questions: Mr. Kamens takes us on a brief but intriguing tour under the covers of Khan Academy. The folks asking questions pose Read the rest of this entry »

$206 million bond issue

In Meg Dickinson’s Sunday NG article, the big number of $206 million is thrown out there for a possible bond issue referendum in April 2014. The subject of the article is about the “Community Dialogues” on February 12 at the I-Hotel, and then Meg goes into more detail about the work that DeJong-Richter and Fallon Research have been doing, quoting DeJong representative Scott Leopold, Unit 4 Community Relations director Stephanie Stuart and School Board member & Steering Committee co-chair Kristine Chalifoux.

The numbers come out of the Fallon phone survey, posted on the futurefacilities Champaign schools website (cross-tabulated results in PDF, result summary). Specifically, the $206 million comes from question 19A, the $80 million bond question is 20A (where 19B and 20B ask something like “if you knew it would bump your property taxes by x amount, would you still vote for it?”). I had someone call me and question even these numbers (how much our taxes would actually go up), so that is something I want to look deeper into as well. Would a $100,000 home only generate a $251/year tax bump? Keep in mind, a $250,000 home means $625/year, right? It just seems to me that a $206 million bond issue would require a higher tax bump than that.

 

It is interesting when you start looking at the cross-tabulated document to see how folks responded to that question. However, I am finding it frustrating the there is no way to ascertain the correlation of 19A to 19B – for instance, how many of the 216 people who responded favorably to 19A make up the 170 people who said they were less likely to vote for it in question 19B? We don’t know. But Fallon does. And what does “less likely” really mean? Further more, I found it interesting that the vast majority of the “DK/NA” group (those who declined to self-identify themselves) voiced their antagonism towards any bond issue, yet that particular group is only about 1.5% of the 400 (about 6 people total). The older the respondent (with the oldest group having the most representation in the pool), the more likely they were to be sure of their opinion (as opposed to “unknown/undecided”).

 

To me, it is scary that only 400 people were sampled. That is less than 1% of the voting, tax paying population. Them’s not high numbers.

 

Scott Leopold challenged us (the shareholders) to fact-check them. So that is driving me. I have asked Scott for the raw data from Fallon and/or some way to correlate 19A with 19B; I have also asked for the data in a spreadsheet format because the PDF provided does lend itself to analysis very well at all. I have also followed-up with Meg about the article and I hope to learn more about these numbers and what they mean.

 

Finally, some might wonder why focus on money? It is my observation that when you hit people in the pocket book, they start taking notice. I have found it exceptionally difficult to get people talking about softer issues (especially when I throw in words like “social justice” *grin*). But when you drop dollar signs, people turn their heads and pay attention. On top of that, dollars are a very easy metric to conceptualize and measure. So let’s talk about whether or not you want to pay towards a $206 million 20-year loan, and what you want that money to do.

 

Are y’all ready for some Community Dialogues on Feb 12th? *smile*

More information about the school attorney position

I sent some questions off to Stephanie Stuart in regards to new school attorney position that was created and subsequently filled by former board member Tom Lockman. The basis of the questions came from responses to Meg Dickinson’s Jan 15th News-Gazette article, both from the NG online comments and also what taxpayers are saying to me more privately. Plus I was just quite curious for my own sake. 🙂 Stephanie responded with (what I thought were) pretty good answers.

 

 

qIn addition to my other questions, I am also very curious about the new school attorney position that has been created. When Ken Kleber read the position description on Monday (Jan 14th Board Meeting), I noticed that the description he read was not on BoardDocs nor was it on the open job listing on Unit 4’s website (I checked on Sunday before the meeting). Could you forward the job description to me, please? Or if it is currently posted somewhere on the Unit 4 website, a link will suffice.

 

aYou can find the job description at the link below:

http://www.champaignschools.org/humanresources/School%20Attorney%202012-11-20.pdf

 

At the recent Board of Education meeting Ken Kleber read the candidate qualifications aloud as we do for other candidates brought forward to the Board. These descriptions are not made available on BoardDocs due to the sensitive nature of personnel issues, and it has not been our practice to read aloud job descriptions during the meeting. The description itself was posted on our website at the time of posting. From there, it gets picked up by a variety of sources (Indeed.com, K12JobSpot, Illinois Job Link, etc.).  The Illinois State Bar Association also picked it up.  Ken Kleber also reached out to the U of I Law School to make them aware of the posting and to other Districts that had recently hired in-house counsel to see if they could offer any leads, but didn’t have much success.  Finally, the District let all the firms with which we have an existing relationship know of the posting.  Because this is a specialized position, we did more outreach than we’d do for a typical position.

 

qMeg’s Jan 15th article suggests that Dr. Wiegand talked to the Board about this position. When exactly? I did not notice it in the agendas for December or November, but maybe I missed it or maybe it was covered in closed session. I am curious about the justifications for the position. Certainly, what Meg has highlighted in her article makes sense (wanting to reduce costs to 3rd-party attorneys), but I am a little concerned that this position has a relatively high salary. The justification of it being equal to Barb Ramsay’s salary does not seem appropriate to me.

 

aBringing on someone with a legal background was part of the conversation between Superintendent Wiegand and the Board starting in January 2012 when she started as Superintendent. At that time, the hope was that the new Executive Director of Human Resources would have a legal background, but that was not feasible at the time and Ken Kleber was hired to fill the position. The discussion continued regarding bringing on an attorney in September 2012 in a one-on-one meeting between Superintendent Wiegand and then-Board President Sue Grey. Ken Kleber began researching similar positions in other districts. At the November 5, 2012 Board Meeting, the Superintendent brought forward a job description drafted by Ken Kleber to the board for feedback during executive session under personnel, as is standard practice when reviewing potential new positions. Dr. Wiegand was aware that Barbara Ramsay was looking to leave the District, and so it was an appropriate time to look for an attorney to replace her position in the administration with someone with a legal and business background to assume some of her responsibilities and reduce the legal fees for the District.

 

In regard to your question on salary, Mr. Lockman’s salary is competitive for the area and slightly below the national median for attorneys. For example, the salary for this position in Normal, Il pays $102,000.

 

Final thoughts

Personally, I am very glad the district is looking for ways to save money – that is good thing in my book. 🙂 I don’t know the “best” way to handle these kinds of things (ie, personnel issues), but I do find it interesting that this particular situation raised a little bit of a ruckus. I must also say that I am personally glad we found someone local to fill this position.

 

I thank Stephanie for providing these little nuggets of insight in an effort to explain what happened.

 

Your own thoughts and comments are welcome.

PTA Council hosting special topic on mental health

Meg Dickinson wrote a short article about Sheri Williamson’s effort to get folks talking and thinking about mental health:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2013-01-07/champaign-group-promotes-resources-mental-health.html

 

Sheri has been very active in organizing resource fairs in and around the schools and has a passion to bridge the gap between parents and resources.

Houlihans July 25: tackling the bigger issues

So Chuck and I plan to be at Houlihans tomorrow (right, Chuck?). We will probably be talking about our efforts to exert a change in Board Policy, but we always welcome fresh ideas from old friends and new. Over the past couple of days, I have had the opportunity to float this idea pass several Board Members and the reactions have been mixed (which is a good thing – I would be worried if I received a homogeneous, standard response). Some repeated themes so far are that the Board has tried several attempts to further engage the public over the years, all of which kinda sputtered out. So while all members I have talked to so far have expressed a desire and interest to connect with the public, they are not exactly certain how to do that.

As stated earlier and echoed in the undertones of what I hear the board members saying, what we really need is a change in society. That is a much larger and more complex issue to deal with. The quintessential question seems to be “How do we entice more engagement?” Many things have been tried and none have been sustainable. Why is that?

Allow me to tangent a little and talk about the Board Meeting last night. I still don’t like the wording of the Champaign Telephone Company contract, but putting that aside, Meg Dickinson wrote an article about the need for nine new hall monitors at the high schools. This got me to thinking about Read the rest of this entry »