"A Possible Plan" by Greg Novak

The following was sent to me with permission to post from members of Greg Novak’s family. It is my understanding that Greg wrote most of this while he was in the hospital in January of 2012, and shared bits and pieces with various board members and people close to him. We have waited to allow an appropriate amount of time to pass to give respect to Greg and his family. With the recommendations from DeJong-Richter now in Dr. Wiegand’s hands, which will be presented to the new board this coming Monday (May 13th), I felt the time was right to give light to Greg’s thoughts as a way of continuing the ongoing discussion of what to do with our schools. Speaking on a personal level, I tend to listen whenever Greg speaks because he knew what he was about and was no slouch in the research department.

One final note: it’s totally ok to disagree. 🙂 All I ask is that you present a viable alternative.

A Possible Plan
By Greg Novak

Champaign High School (Country Fair)
Grades: 10-12

Champaign Academy (Centennial)
Grades: 8-9

Champaign Middle School (Franklin)
Grades 6-7 (North-East Regions)

Champaign Middle School (Jefferson)
Grades 6-7 (South- West)

Elementary Specialty Schools

Garden Hills
Dr Howard (2 strand +gifted)*
South side (2 strand K-7 balanced calendar )*
Westview (balanced calendar K-5)

*. These two buildings would be three strand at K-1, and two strand above that level. Dr Howard would have additional gifted

All of the above schools would have class limits imposed and monitored

“Neighborhood” Elementary Schools

Boulder Ridge

These six schools would each have a large “neighborhood” assigned – and any student from the “neighborhood” would have a seat there. Class size is NOT capped at neighborhood schools.

Families would have a choice of either their “neighborhood” school or attending one of the magnets.

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*

Beth B Zeider's Savoy Star column

Beth wrote an interesting column for the Nov 27 issue of the Savoy Star. So much so that I called her up and had a chat. Hopefully I do not misrepresent her viewpoint in any way by what I say here.

I don’t think Beth is against a neighborhood school, per se, but more against the thinking that there is one solution that will solve all our problems. She, like Pattsi Petrie, has been struck by the lack of “thinking outside the box.” Or in other words, too many folks vocalizing the standard run-of-the-mill opinions. While a complete random lottery make equalize the playing field a bit, it would make busing utterly chaotic (is it possible to get even worse?).

But let’s start at the top. We both agree that the diversity in our school district (cultural and economically) is great – we do not want to trade that. We also both feel that NCLB (No Child Left Behind) has completely missed the target of bringing all kids up to a certain par. Or at least, we have no intention of qualifying said “par” with the practice of “teaching to the test” in a mere two topics. On that topic, Beth had an interesting idea that we as a community have a letter writing campaign to let our congressmen (ie, Dick Durbin) know the extent to which we are dissatisfied with NCLB. I am sure there are many folks who feel this way, based on my meager sampling of educators and other professionals. I also recently read an article about a U of I professor that pretty much slammed NCLB.

What to do about busing? That is a very hard question to answer. Neighborhood schools would obviously make the busing issue a little more easier to grasp. But I appreciate that Beth had a number of other ideas to address the problems. What about having kids walk a tad further to a more central pickup/dropoff spot? What about exploring the option of using smaller, more gas-efficient (hybrid?) busses? What about a program by which parents are credited or reimbursed for carpooling children to school? I think these are interesting ideas, and I plan to bring them up with the Unit 4 School Board just to see what they think. It is clear to me that there are still issues with funding in general and equity across the board, but at least something like this takes a small step towards doing something right.