Working Cash Bonds mashup : March 12th

Bonus Meeting with Dr. Judy Wiegand, Gene Logas, Sue Grey, Tom Lockman and Don Kermath

I gave my own sort of “notice” that I was going to be doing this meeting and nobody gave me any questions, so I was content to be a fly on the wall. I don’t remember how I found out about the meeting, but I promptly invited myself for the sole purpose of learning more about working cash bonds. It was a rather informative session; I’ll try to boil down all the finance jargon, and in doing so I hope I do not misstate anything. At the very least, you are getting my perspective on what happened. I am sure there are other perspectives. 🙂

For starters, there is a ton of historical context that I know I often forget about, and I am sure others do as well. Where to start, where to start….

  • Over the past 50 some years, the School District had become negligent in maintaining its facilities. Instead of occasionally raising money to make minor updates/fixes/modifications, the District stalled and deferred what one might call “regular maintenance”. If I have my numbers right, back in about 2002 an out-of-town architecture firm was hired and gave an estimate of $200 million just to bring all the buildings up to modern standards. A few years later, BLDD confirmed the estimate (for free – no charge to the District). In the words of Sue Grey, this was the elephant. “And how does on eat an elephant?”
  • On top of that, the one and only voter-approved bond referendum (aka, property tax increase) was for $26 million in 1998, after which Stratton and Barkstall were built. Keep in mind that old facilities were not touched – only new facilities were built.
  • Another aspect; the amount of money coming in from property taxes consistently went down every single year since 1996 with exception of 2008 (documents from the COO). Pattsi argues (as have others by now) that this only tells part of the story. Yet this is the only story I currently have that has numbers.
  • When Gene was hired, he looked at the budget and nearly passed out (author’s artistic rewrite of what was said *grin*) – he quickly filed a true emergency working cash bonds to get the District back on sound financial ground.
  • And this last one gets to be a bit fun. When Unit 4 put up the referendum for the 1% Sales Tax, what exactly did they promise? The most common answer is probably “they promised not to raise property taxes!!” Which is interesting. Did they? Check out the promises that we the community have been holding the Board accountable to – this is nothing new. Even though we might forget about it from time to time. And especially since the PMPK meetings are sparsely attended. (Please note, I am not assigning blame, just trying state my observations). Greg Novak pointedly questioned Gene Logas about this back in June 2010.

There was probably more said. Don Kermath had some really excellent questions and Read the rest of this entry »

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,

The wrong question

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, be authorized to issue $14,500,000 bonds for a working cash fund as provided for by Article 20 of the School Code?”

— Unit 4 March 2012 Petition

I have been bothered by this whole thing (“torn“), and I think I finally put my finger on it; we are asking the wrong question. In my opinion, the real question is “How shall the Board direct the Superintendent to provide the best learning environments for all our citizens?” Allow me to deconstruct the current question that we have before us, and then build up the question I think we should be asking.

What the heck is a working cash bond? Read the rest of this entry »

Forming a "big picture"

Here is some recent tax information I received from Unit 4.

taxcapshurt

Tax Rate Comparison

Tax Rates in Champaign County SD

“Important to point out that each year’s calulation of dollars lost to caps is calculated as follows –  each year’s tax rate minus the 1996 rate times the current amount of assessed value = dollars lost to tax caps.”

 

It seems to me an indisputable fact that Unit 4 has had a significantly lower tax rate than a vast majority of other schools in the County, and even in the state. More to follow later, as I continue to ask more questions and learn more things. For me the big question becomes “what does the District really need?” And that goes back to my point of getting everyone on the same page (again, a brand new same page).

Really torn about the current petition push

This week has been a busy one. Kicking off with the Feb 27th Special Board Meeting, a snowball started its not so gentle way downhill. Since then, I have had an excellent talk with Board Members and community folks at Houlihans, graced with an impromptu chat with Judy Wiegand and Gene Logas at the Mellon Center, received the DVD for the Board Meeting, picked up a small stack of petitions, corresponded with Don Kermath a bit, talked with my local PTA and held a discussion with the PTA Council. Also during that time, a number of articles, letters and news pieces have hit the public news media.

Why I am against the petition

Read the rest of this entry »

Working cash bond, tech, and perspectives

First I’ll start out with a link I noticed on a technology website (slashdot.org):

http://annarbor.com/news/will-the-technology-millage-impact-ann-arbor-schools-14-million-shortfall/

Ann Arbor Public Schools wants a “$45.8 million bond for technology improvements”. Wow.

The article itself is an interesting read. I am tempted to look a little more into it to see if they hold any kind of forums or “safe environment” to hash out the ideas. And just glimpsing at the many comments on the articles, there are lots of ideas. Most of them along the line of “NO!”

Don Kermath apparently has a website up for the Unit 4 petition to block the Board’s issuance of our relatively paltry $14.5 million working cash bond (according to WICD – can’t find the website at all). I am waiting to hear back from Don and the reporters for more information. Also, in light of recent conversations (note to self: still have to write up a blog post about Wednesday at Houlihans yesterday – good stuff), the Board will most likely only “need” a portion of that $14.5 – might even be closer to $10 million.

UPDATE: Don’s website: http://board7voter0.com/
UPDATE 2: Don is rebranding as a Voice: http://avoiceforschools.com/
UPDATE 3: Interesting now he is using the new Carrie Busey as his backdrop.

Reading the comments on the NG articles (1, 2), I think to myself, a bump in property taxes is not that big a deal in this particular case since I do believe the school district does need the money for these things. More importantly, I have heard from a couple teachers and parents on what a huge difference updated/upgraded facilities make on the learning environment. However, as much as I think Unit 4 should move forward with the modifications, I really have a problem with the total lack of community input. If Unit 4 wants to build bridges of trust, pursuing a working cash bond seems like the wrong direction. If, perhaps, Promises Made Promises Kept had a bigger community investment something like this might possibly fly, but with the huge schism we have now, I have my doubts if a referrendum would even pass in November.

Maybe what we need to do is convince Don to have a dual purpose; petition to block the working cash bonds, sure, but then also support the November referendum. I do not like the idea of encouraging the rift between the Board/Administration and the Community. From my point of view, it doesn’t matter who started it – that is water under the bridge. Dwelling on whom to blame does not progress us towards resolution.

Houlihans: property taxes, working cash bonds and petitions, oh my!

So Monday’s Special Board Meeting was rather interesting, and I know Don Kermath is getting a political machine fired up to block the Board from going forward with the issuance of working cash bonds.

In typical Houlihan style, I invite you all to come out and talk about this, 11:30 – 12:30. My hope is to get a larger after-hours forum set up for a broader discussion as well. I’ll have a sign-up sheet if you want to sign a petition, but more importantly I want to take notes and ask how people react to this. You are quite welcome even if you do not want to sign. 🙂

What we are NOT going to do: we are not going to call anyone tyrannts. I feel strongly that the Board members and Administration staff are hard-working individuals with good intent. I personally sent them a word of thanks and appreciation for how much time they invest into the District after the Feb 27th meeting because I truly feel that way. There is no place, in my opinion, for tossing around adjectives with heavy baggage.

We might disagree (and we do), but I am cool with that; I invite disagreement. I totally agree with Unit 4 that we need to fix, repair and upgrade our facilities. The state is utterly failing, so the burden is on our shoulders. What are we going to do if Pensions fall on our shoulders as well? We need to figure out how to handle this mess the state has so conveniently dropped into our lap. I see this as an opportunity to galvanize the public and get people talking, raise awareness and encourage participation. I do not want to see mud-slinging, pointed fingers and name calling. But I also want the public more involved in these kinds of decisions, and I believe the Board does a disservice to itself by feeding people’s distrust. I don’t think that particular effect is intentional – is it out of habit?

References

News-Gazette (Meg is also interacting with readers): http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2012-02-27/school-board-approves-145-million-bonds-petition-could-force-vote.html

WCIA: http://illinoishomepage.net/fulltext?nxd_id=344852

WICD: http://www.wicd15.com/newsroom/top_stories/videos/vid_4949.shtml?wap=0

Halfway Interesting (Greg Novak has a great response from the Board’s POV): http://www.halfwayinteresting.com/Pages/CityofChampaign/tabid/90/entryid/859/Updated-Unit-4-Tax-Hike-Working-Cash-Bonds.aspx

(still waiting for Don Kermath to get a website up and running – have not yet checked facebook, but I am sure there are pages out there for this)

 

UPDATE (8:22): Meg has a new article focusing on Don Kermath’s efforts:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2012-02-29/resident-organizing-challenge-champaign-districts-working-cash-bonds.html