And so the real work begins

Congratulations to the school district, administration and board – a very large facility referendum passed last night with solid support from the voting community. After many decades of deferred maintenance projects and shifting priorities, we will finally be able to address the many issues surrounding the buildings where the students and teachers interact.


And now we put shovels in the ground.


The district administration and previous boards have shown that they are willing to be quite open about finances, especially in regards to the “Promises Made, Promises Kept” committee; I have no doubt we will get PMPK v2 to help hold the district accountable for the promises of the 2016 facilities tax referendum. And this is important – accountability is good (very healthy), but it only works if you are involved and engaged. It’s not a one-way street.

Starting now, the school district is going to put many plans into motion – projects for each of the six schools listed in the ballot question, in addition to other facilities and fields; at least one intergovernmental agreement to work with Park District for cooperative use of resources, and probably another with the City of Champaign for street closures and/or one-way alterations; a high school redistricting effort in the near future; committees and design meetings with stakeholders to go over plans for new facilities. That’s just scratching the surface. And it will take quite a few years for some of the projects to even start.


But there is other work involved. While those who voted “Yes” celebrate, I believe it is incumbent upon us, as a community, to find ways around our differences and work together. We had an amazing 68.58% voter turnout in Champaign County, and of the voters within the Unit 4 school district, 14,325 people voted against the referendum (Source: Champaign County Clerk election summary). Why? A number of folks, including the editors at the News-Gazette, simply think the ask is too high. Others don’t want their taxes to go up (and they voted for Trump?!?). You also have a number of folks aligned with the Preservation group, who with good intentions want to preserve some of the historicity of Champaign. We still have to talk with and listen to those we disagree with. (Interesting to note that the “Build Programs Not Jails” group seemed to influence 70% of the voters to turn down the County sales tax referendum – how will the County Board work with those folks going forward to address many of the County issues?)


While the facility referendum has been like a snowball rolling downhill, growing in size and momentum, it has finally been given the green light. Now we can focus on other issues within the school district that have deep impacts. For example, the current Superintendent search – the school board is uniquely situated to hire one and only one person, the Superintendent. We the community need to continue to be actively involved in that process to get a superintendent that drives the school district in such a way as to promote the characteristics we value the most. Personally, I fully applaud the trend towards a more student-centered approach, and I would love to help speed it up if possible. 🙂 Additionally, earlier this week State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith issued a letter that highlights something called “Democracy Schools”, talking about the importance of our civic responsibilities and being educated, informed civic servants. 54 high schools are listed. I have asked our school board what it would take to get Champaign on that list; we already have amazing teachers like Christine Adrian and Zachary Caine (and I am sure there are others) who are holding mock elections in our middle schools (among many other excellent tactics they use in their classrooms). This past election cycle was a pitiful joke, and I am further convinced that people don’t know how to demand higher standards from their elected officials.


The fun has just begun.

Chat with Arlene Blank about the PMPK committee

I had a fantastic talk with Arlene Blank recently. For those who may not be aware, Arlene has been with Unit 4 for several decades, employed in various positions (she reminded me how she hired Greg Novak way back when as the librarian at Edison) both before and after retirement and has served on the board for multiple (different) stints. Arlene also mentioned that she played a role in the 1% Sales Tax referendum; as the Board President of the time, her name was on the document that went to the County Board to be put on the ballot, so she felt some responsibility in being involved in the Promises Made Promises Kept Committee when it was formed in 2009. Although not her intent, she was elected as the board chair and has been so ever since.


It quickly became clear to me that there are many different opinions about the PMPK committee (not just between Arlene and I, but with others in the community as well). I hope to do justice to various perspectives and most importantly, keep the door of communication open as the invitation to disagree remains standing.


Before going further, Read the rest of this entry »