5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum

First off, hats off to the candidates that won a seat on the school board:

  • Amy Armstrong
  • Chris Kloeppel
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon
  • Jonathan Westfield (2-year seat)

UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

With a 10:4 ratio voting against the referendum, I was actually surprised with such a huge margin; I expected it to be much closer. Obviously, the Keep Central Central’s strong campaign efforts (and lack of a corresponding thrust by the “Yes” crowd) made an impression, which is also reflected in the choice of board members; every candidate that took a strong stand for the referendum failed to claim a seat.

So this is what democracy looks like at the ballot. Now the harder part – how do you get all those “No” votes to actually agree on a solution, and then sell that to the everyone else? This will be a challenge for the new board. Another challenge will be if they desire to choose a new president, and building bridges with the North End Breakfast Club (which I think is very important and healthy).

For the referendum, I would love to see a multi-staged effort take place. First, break the referendum up into pieces that actually address individual goals. One for Dr. Howard, one for the current Central (ie, the dreaded lack of AC we keep hearing about in the summer months), one for Centennial and one for a new Central. All of that needs to be put under the umbrella of a comprehensive and community-vetted long-term strategic plan than can be summarized in a one-page infographic. I would love to see an effort towards participatory budgeting whereby the guts of how finances work are simplified and made accessible to the average Joe, and give stakeholders a sense of ownership by giving them the power to vote on more granular items (as opposed to a carte blanche $144 million).

Here are a few short-term goals I am going to push the new school board to jump on.

  1. Figure out a way to have informal get-togethers that do not violate OMA but yet do not require an agenda, much less Robert’s Rules. Most of the candidates have already been practicing this; now to make it official. Happy Hours at Jupiters/Sun Singer/Blind Pig? 🙂
  2. Even though KCC won tonight, don’t let the referendum dominate your role as a board member. Keep things in perspective. Focus first (please!) on governance and serving the people that elected you.
  3. Connect with the North End. Make it a priority to adopt some of their issues, like inequities in discipline and the achievement gap. Jamar’s voice will be missed, so find a way to fill the gap.

There are very exciting times ahead. The public has voted in some good people, even if they are not the ones you wanted. Each of them has promised to bring a listening ear, so it is up to you to make sure they do exactly that.

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requesting feedback on Budget visualization

I have been fascinated by data visualizations, and at the same time frustrated with spreadsheet presentations of the budget. So I combined the two into one, and came up with a Sankey Chart visualization of the FY14 Budget. Note that this is a rough draft, and just a chart of the summary data.

NOTE: If you click on the chart below, it will take you to the live site where you can interact with the elements a little bit.

sankey_chart_unit4_budget_summary

June 30th Board Meeting agenda posted

The agenda for the June 30th board meeting has been posted. There are a number of items about the High School site relocation, including a “Benefit Cost Life Cycle Analysis” that is not posted, and a couple of Traffic Impact Analysis reports by Gorski-Reifsteck. I also see that the SRO Contract is first on the agenda, and I believe that the African-American community is going to make their presence known for this topic. The SRO Program deserves our scrutiny because it is public tax payer dollars, and there is very little accountability or even any attempt to measure how well the program is doing. Matt Faster will also go through the first steps of presenting next year’s budget, which also deserves our scrutiny but my expectation is that nobody will even be paying attention to it, not even the media. I hope to be wrong. 🙂

 

I hope to attend this meeting. Anyone else planning to go?

Who is this John Bambenek guy?

I had a great chat with the new Board member, John Bambenek, on Friday. My interaction with Mr. Bambenek on Friday reinforced my previous interactions with him, and I had two take-aways; 1) he is very open to talking, just drop him a note and work out a good time, 2) he is passionate about bringing a deeper level of transparency and financial accountability to the school board.

As an alumni of the University’s Computer Science department, I was somewhat compelled to start our conversation on the topic of computers, a topic that came up frequently. John teaches a 400-level course at the University dealing with operating system and network security. If I recall correctly, their latest task is to reverse-engineer a computer virus. I asked about special projects, and he mentioned one I was fascinated with, a quadracopter carrying a raspberry pi to accomplish specific tasks. Computers bled into other aspects of our dialog as well.

For instance, Bambenek has a tie into Adam Andrzejewski’s Open the Books project (I believe he said he either sat on one of the boards or consulted for them). For those not familiar with Open the Books, I encourage you check out the website and/or go read Jim Dey’s Editorial on it (11/02/2013). The basic idea is to track where and how all the money flows, or as their motto says “Every Dime. Online. In Real Time.” For me personally, I find this to be a fundamental part of modern democracy, giving normal taxpayers the tools and authority to see what their tax dollars are accomplishing. I believe it has the potential to bring the voice back to the voter, so that we can ask intelligent questions, but more importantly, give critical feedback to our elected officials so that they have concrete guidance on how to perform their duties. “Transparency” is something that becomes a bit of a buzzword when folks are campaigning, but it makes me wonder how many people really “get it.” I believe Mr. Andrzejewski gets it – and if Bambenek is following in the same path, I am happy with that. To bring the conversation to Unit 4 in particular, there are several things going on. First, we recognize and acknowledge that Unit 4 has gotten better about transparency. For instance, they have been posting check registers online for quite a while now, and even better, Read the rest of this entry »

More fact questing/checking

Sent the following questions to Matt Foster – poor guy. 🙂

 

  1. Current average number of students bussed daily?
  2. Current average number of buses in operation daily?
  3. In the budget presentation given by Mr. Foster, I see each fund has an estimated value from July 1, 2013 with a footnote. Why an estimate since it was September when the presentation was made, and what does the footnote say?
  4. The Highlight page says expenditures for Transportation was down. However page 23 shows $4.1 million on all expenditures, and the actual expenditure from 2012 was $4.0 million. How is that going down? Also, page 24 shows $4.8 million – where is that coming from?
  5. When “local sources” is listed in each fund, what exactly are those local sources? I assume property taxes, but perhaps there are other sources? The Sales Tax feeds only into the O&M fund? It would help to have a slide on the overall picture, ie, how much money comes in altogether and which fund it goes to and where it comes from, maybe in both a table format and a pie graph as you have for the individual funds.
  6. Curious why the Tort fund has $1.1 million surplus; we don’t see any of the historical information for this fund like we do the others.
  7. More interested in the Ed Fund, since that is by far the largest expense. Would love to see a more granular breakdown of where money goes. Slide 12 shows “Instructional” expenditures which totals very close to $60 million and are separate from Administrative “support” and staff, but slide 13 shows a little over $60 million for all salaries. How much is teacher vs admin vs staff vs subs?
  8. I have an idea, but would like to hear in your own words; what is the purpose of sharing the proposed budget via this presentation?
  9.  When I was told that Unit 4 did not intend to include any more details on teacher salaries augmented with step/lane information that I had requested earlier, I am curious why. Is there a law that prohibits sharing that information?
Pattsi reminded me about “participatory budgeting.” I think it is a fascinating idea, but I have a hard suggesting to Unit 4 how they should do it. One board member I talked to is intrigued by the concept but thinks it is extremely impractical. Especially now when they are all going crazy with long meetings and phone calls. 🙂 I want to keep this idea open, and to do so I really need concreate, actionable ideas.
In the meantime, I am participating by asking my questions and blogging about it.

More about being heard: finances and budgets

Pattsi Petrie has shared on her blog an extremely curious experiment carried out with the Champaign County Board on a “participatory budget”. I encourage you to read more directly from her – the opening line is an excellent invitation:

On 4 Sept., the Democratic caucus of the Champaign County Board has arranged to hold an opportunity to engage the county citizens in an open dialogue as to the best means to spend your tax dollar.

https://sites.google.com/site/p2district6/news/participatorybudgetingmeeting4sept2013#

Isn’t that what we all want, a way to give some kind of input as to where all those thousands of tax dollars are going? And yet, when our wishes slam into reality, it isn’t necessarily a pretty picture. In fact, it is downright messy! Pattsi’s blog post is a long read, but it spells out the challenges along the way and, to me at least, points out that there is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we all have a social obligation to chip in. But the process of paving the path is exciting!

When it comes down to it, you and I just complain way too much. We are quite blessed, especially living here in America. Yet look at our habits; we saturate social media with our view of what is wrong and trade 140 character tropes; yet what really changes? What are we doing to make the world a better place?

I am not exactly sure what a better “democratic republic” would look like. I am not sure if a well-oiled and well-attended participatory budget session would induce more accountability into a largely misunderstood and heavily manipulated way of transacting business. But I do know to do nothing is unacceptable. Maybe all us whiners should roll up our sleeves and get to work. 🙂 Makes you wonder, what if (as the quote constituent points out) other bodies like the City of Champaign or the school districts did something brave like this? Hmmmm…

 

Kudos to Pattsi for pushing this idea.