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 »



Fight or Flight? Which one comes to mind when you think about the high school siting saga? More importantly, if our community were a living body, what kind of neurotransmitters would be coursing through our collective circulatory system?

I am concerned that there is a lot of emotion building up over this one topic. To be clear, we have many issues before us that grab our attention and cause our heart rate to spike; pension turmoil, Obamacare, now the holidays are upon us, slick roads, the promise of more taxes, Common Core, potentially big Primary and General elections next year… The list goes on. I am not saying emotion is bad; Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer will point out, with many words and anectdotal stories, how emotions play an important role in our decision-making process. But we have to balance that with a method of rationalization as well.

So Read the rest of this entry »

Letter to the Board

update: edited for better formatting (curse you WordPress!!)

Good evening,

I know each of you has been extremely busy with many different topics related to Unit 4; I thank you for serving on the board and fulfilling a much needed role.

I would like to take a moment and remind the three board members that were voted in during the April elections what you said you were going to do as a board member. The full list I culled together can be found here:

From that list, I would highlight a few things, especially as tensions rise around the topic of the CFT contract negotiations. The questions I ask below I ask out of respect and sincerity – I ask because I truly wish to learn.

Mr. MacAdam: You said you were committed to fiscal responsibility, especially given your background and experience with Busey Bank. One of your goals was to develop strategies so the school district can be financially sound. You also spoke about being transparent and speaking in public. What strategies have you developed in the past 6 months? How do you intend to communicate those strategies out to the community? How have your plans and efforts contributed to teachers feeling appreciated and valued?

Ms. Bonnett: Your campaign spoke significantly of engaging the community, earning trust, being transparent and having quality communications, among other things. I thank you that you have retained your facebook page as an effort to remind us of your goals and also to have an extra open door of communication. As the Board President, you are the voice of the Board. How have you striven to build, earn and keep trust and engender accountability with the community and among your colleagues on the board? How have you encouraged communication and aided community members in gathering and checking facts?

Ms. Stuckey: You have a goal specifically tailor for the CFT negotiations – one of your goals was to attempt to support budget talks with the CFT early in the process and to ease cooperation between the Board and the CFT. How did that go? You also spoke frequently of working to make sure that any budget cuts would have the least negative impact to children (or impacting the least number of children). You also spoke of motivating community members to get involved and (along with the other board members) board transparency. What work have you done to make sure children are impacted as little as possible? How much success has your efforts to increase community participation met with? Read the rest of this entry »

Another look at the school board candidates

I was reflecting on my previous post, and after talking to a few folks, came up with a more objective look at what the candidates are saying about themselves. So instead of just linking to their public profiles, this time I am going to dive into them to see what they say. I will come away with promises these candidates are making and what we can hold them accountable to. Please bear in mind, by “hold accountable” I am speaking to the necessity and mutual benefit of the voting community holding their elected officials to the promises they have made; I firmly believe this engages the voters and empowers those elected. Everyone says they want to collaborate and work together – let us (all of us, you and me) not just say that, but do that.

Additionally, at the April 8th Board Meeting, Arlene Blank specifically said the board needs to do what the board said it would do. Admittedly, that is a larger scope – this post is to break that down into the context of the three new board members.

With that being said…

Scott MacAdam

It’s hard to find much online about Scott. We can dredge through previous board meetings (google helps but it is still a lot to read: There is his NG advertisement in which talks about being “[c]ommitted to fiscal responsibility and transparency”. Probably, the bulk of any online search is going to come up with his responses to candidate surveys. And finally what he shared at the 2013 candidate forum. What has he said he is going to do?

  • develop strategies so the board can be sound financial stewards
  • speak in public
  • embrace diversity
  • be accountable, accessible, transparent to the community; “serving at the mercy of the public, we are there to serve their needs, they need to know what we are trying to accomplish”
  • To address achievement gap,  we need engagement; starts in the home, reach out in various ways.
  • Leverage relationship with UofI to upgrade/enhance technology.
  • work closely with the administration to guarantee that we have the absolute best teachers available for our students, and that they have the resources they need to teach successfully and continue to feel valued and appreciated
  • is committed to fiscal responsibility and transparency

Laurie Bonnett

Laurie has a good bit of information on her campaign facebook page including her video ad (don’t know if that will stay up after May 6th or not, but right now she is still updating it). But she has been engaging with Unit 4 even before this; she went for the open vacancy last year (video of April 2012 Candidate forum), has served on at least one committee (search for superintendent) and put her name in for the January vacancies (after Tom Lockman and Sue Grey left). We have her responses to the NG surveys, and what she said at the 2013 candidate forum. Here is what I found:

  • work with other stakeholders and ensure we move forward taking into account multiple perspectives: the needs of the students and parents; the needs of the teachers and staff; and the needs of the broader community of Champaign.
  • Current and future board members must always look to engage our community in dialogue — in whatever method works best
  • Being available to meet with people and having regular informal discussions to hear people’s concerns and answer questions is something I am committed to do.
  • have communications that are back and forth where people have an opportunity to know what is going on and ask questions and hear honest answers.
  • operate from a place where the board values the trust of the community and actively works to earn and keep it.
  • The board must tell the truth, not always an easy thing to do but it is at the heart of most matters concerning the school district, and finally it must be transparent.
  • Make sure transportation is not an issue for new high school (ie, after-school events).
  • Access to technology not dependent on income level.
  • getting all members of the community to work together
  • fiscal health; become self-reliant
  • To address achievement gap, learn and experience the culture; let the students teach us.

Lynn Stuckey

Lynn has run several times for the board and has put her name in for multiple vacanies – she has obviously been trying for this position for a while. 🙂 Her campaign page has gone through several transitions over the years; for this post, I am using her latest (since I do not have copies of previous versions). We also have her NG responses, and the candidate forum:

  • support efforts and discussions with the CFT earlier in the budget creation cycle, in an attempt to work cooperatively with our school board, and as a means of helping assure that future cuts impact the fewest number of students.
  • Voice concerns and enact proper safeguards to ensure that any and all cost-shifting efforts by the City of Champaign to Unit 4 schools are shifts that truly are in the long-term best interests of the taxpayers.
  • I will support energy efficiency and “green” initiatives and push Unit 4 to aggressively pursue federal grants and foundation monies to implement them.
  • Remodel and revamp elementary schools, including embracing and building K-8 schools.
  • Connect with community by continuing to be an active member of my community, mixing with large numbers of people throughout the week and seeking discussion on matters regarding our schools and facing our School Board.
  • Making sure a report is compiled and delivered every year, detailing savings from “greening” efforts (this same report should also be a feature on the district’s website).
  • Work towards making sure each child is achieving to the best of their abilities; different configurations, different environments.
  • Making sure budget cuts impact the fewest number of children.
  • Utilize technology to compensate for reduced state funding.
  • Ensure we will be financially sound despite the State.
  • Work towards more engagement with the UofI
  • The board will be more transparent
  • Work on better building plans than we have now
  • Motivate people to become more involved


Here are some common themes I found in these promises – I invite you to compile your own list:

  1. A Board that actively pursues multiple bilateral communication opportunities in an effort to educate, to listen and to build trust by being accountable.
  2. Better partnership with the University and the community businesses
  3. Financial independence
  4. Cultural and ethnic awareness, seeking to embrace the diversity within our district

Extra documents from March 13th PMPK meeting

It is a bit puzzling why, for a group that wants to show that the promises once made are not (bad typo, sorry) now being kept for the sake of solidifying trust, they have such a hard time keeping the one and only public-facing information repository (webpage) up to date – the March 13th meeting isn’t even listed, and there are no (zero!) minutes posted from all of last year.

Here is the latest set of documents from the March 13th meeting:

Unfortunately, the attached documented is loaded with numbers and charts; for someone whose native language is finance, that is all good and fine, but for the rest of us mere mortals, it is extremely dry and does not lend itself to easy knowledge transfer whatsoever. What does all that mean? How does that document convey that promises made are kept?

To wit, note Agenda Item V: How to Effectively Share with the Community the Work and Oversight of the Committee

Nice. 🙂

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documents from various EEE/PMPK meetings

After requesting that Unit 4 post relevant documents for committees and having my patience dwindle, I decided to post a few documents I had in my possession.


October 25th 2012 EEE Committee Meeting:


PMPK Meeting March 8 2012 (not even on the PMPK site at all):


EEE Suspension Data (March 9, 2011):


EEE Supplemental reports (Feb 3, 2011):


PMPK Meeting June 2010:


PMPK Meeting June 3, 2010:



Promises Made, Promises Kept: a request and questions for the March 8th meeting

Here is an email I sent to the Board, Dr. Wiegand and Mr. Gene Logas:

Good afternoon,

I hope you all are able to enjoy the warm (although windy) weather we are having. 🙂
In light of the Promises Made, Promises Kept (PMPK) meeting tomorrow evening, and the general context of the various issues surrounding the working cash bonds, I have a general request and a few accompanying questions.
I request that any information presented at the meeting tomorrow be made publicly available (either via the U4 website, or I can post it quickly elsewhere) within 4 business days. I say this because the PMPK only meets every three or four months, thus meeting minutes take at least that long to be approved and finally posted. I am hoping for a quicker turn-around. 🙂
And now some questions for the PMPK Committee (the answers to which I am hoping will be made available soon after the meeting *grin*).
  1. What is the current dollar amount the Board wishes to issue working cash bonds for? I understand from the last Board meeting that $14.5 million is the upper limit – what is the current amount of money under consideration that will actually be needed?
  2. Related to the first question, what is the current quote for installing wireless infrastructure, and what are the individual line items for that component?
  3. In the June 9th PMPK Meeting Minutes, Ms. Blank is said to seek specific descriptions of building deterioration for the sake of helping the community understand why sales tax dollars are spent on facilities such as the Bus Garage. What conditions have escalated the situation now that warrants an emergency working cash bond to cover these expenses?
  4. And finally, this last one may not have a cut-and-dried answer yet (maybe it does), so I’ll ask it sort of rhetorically (but I do mean for it to be considered): During the Board’s various interactions with the community (whether it be face to face, one on one, small groups, business meetings, etc), what issues has the community indicated is a fiscal priority?
Thank you for your hard work, your long hours and above all, your stalwart and steadfast desire to provide excellent education to our children. You have my sincere thanks. Please note that I very much am aware of how the current economic situations is making life in Unit 4 rather difficult, with the impending promise of even less State aid in the near future; I realize you are trying your best to fix problems as you see it, and I respect that very much.
Humbly yours,