Agenda for the Jan 5 Special Board meeting has been posted

We have known about it for a couple weeks, but the district finally posted the BOE meeting agenda for the Jan 5 Special Board meeting on boarddocs. If  you read today’s “Tom’s Mailbag“, you will have gotten an idea that REWIND will be making itself known at Monday’s meeting; I imagine a number of others will be making public statements as well.

 

Typically Special Board meetings are not televised on CGTV 5, so I hope the meeting is posted on the district’s Vimeo site in the days following the meeting for those who are not able to attend in person.

 

The agenda shows a few items; undoubtedly, the biggest of which will be a discussion surrounding the 20 year facility plan (5. Reports – New Business). There are three documents attached in that line item that you might want to go look at, although be warned that they are not new:

 

The other two agenda items are a short report on HR changes and a reclassification for Brian Easter (for which is he very excited!).

 

A couple things to keep your eyes open for; Nicole Lafond has a couple articles she is working on, one probably for Sunday and another possible for Monday or Tuesday. The Sunday article will probably be about the referendum issue, the latter article about board member candidates. Along that line, REWIND will most likely be putting out some more public information on board candidates in the form of candidate responses to a questionnaire. I believe this will be discussed at their Tuesday evening meeting.

Taxes and Capital Improvements

I have been following the WakeEd blog (from the Wake County News Observer); recently, T. Keung Hui posted noticed that the school board passed a resolution to ask for $939.9 million in funding. That’s right, $940 million.

I did some digging around to put things in perspective. First, I knew that Wake County was much larger than Champaign Unit 4 – like two orders of magnitude larger. Their 2012-2013 projected enrollment is 149,508. So I asked how such a large referendum ($810 million, not the full $940) translates to property tax increases, and Keung replied it is about $55 on a $100,000 home. Get this, Wake County (WCPS) has been passing bond referendums on a fairly regular schedule, its actually quite impressive:

Year $Million per $100,000
2000 500 34.13580247*
2004 564 38.50518519*
2006 970 66.22345679*
2013 810 55.3
total 2844 194.1644444

* Using the 2013 tax rate of $55.3 per $100,000 on a $810 million bond – these are not actual values. If you know them, please let me know.

 

With that money, they have built, on average, 14 new schools and renovated, on average, 21 schools per referendum. Or for a total of 42 new schools and 62 renovated schools, prior to 2013. Wow! And that cost $139 per $100,000 in property taxes (again, subtracting out the 2013 value). Not too shabby.

In comparison, Unit 4 wants $180 per $100,000 in 2014 and another $70 in 2018. The working cash bond of 2012 works out to roughly $16.67 per $100,000. There is already controversy about the 2014 referendum; there is even not much consensus on what direction to head in.

The point of this post is to look at other school districts and see how they do capital improvements. I just happened to watch WCPS because they are tied up with Alves “Controlled Choice” thing as well, just played out on a much larger scale. I wonder what other school districts are doing. How do they get to the point that they can pass referendums every so often, backed by a well-thought out plan?

Sources:

An incomplete historical snapshot of bond issues, tax levies and referenda

After attending and chewing on the Community Dialog about various school options (which all lead to big tax referendums), I got to dwelling on the the Elementary School options. Partially, as I said before, I was surprised to see them in the packet on Tuesday in the first place. So let me state right off the bat, I am fully aware and acknowledge that our school buildings, at all levels, need a bit of help. We have known this for over two decades. The sad part is that we have not come up with a good plan to deal with these issues, which has resulted in a snowballing problem, an escalating urgency that eventually borders on a crisis.

First some definitions and attempts to bridge the financial jargon.

  • Bonds (Sales Tax Bonds, Working Cash Bonds, etc): Basically, these are long-term loans, like mortgages.  The district gets a bunch of money from a bank to do stuff, and the district slowly pays back the loan (including interest) over 20 years (typically). To “issue” a bond is therefore to put oneself in debt to another.1
  • Tax Levies: This one is a bit harder for me to wrap my head around, but here goes. We pay property taxes, right? Various groups get a slice of the pie from those property taxes, and public education usually gets the biggest slice.2 The tax levy by the Board of Education therefore determines exactly how big that slice will be. 3 5 7 Gene Logas often bragged that Unit 4 has one of the lowest rates going.4 At the same time, Gene complained that “tax caps hurt”. 6
  • Referenda: The law states that when the school district wishes to acquire more money above and beyond what tax levies can bring in, the school district can ask the voters to approve more money via vote during an election in the form of a referendum. Obviously, this does not happen often because taxpayers typically do not want to pay more taxes. The Working Cash Bond is special because it slips under a certain ceiling that allows the district to raise property taxes without a voter approval.

(NOTE: Both Gene and Greg were amazing warehouses of information, but even more impressive was their willingness to sit down and explain things to folks like me)

Elementary School funding (and lack thereof)

While there is a rich plethora of statistics, financial data and worthy history, I am going to just rewind the clock to 1998 and focus on the elementary schools and related funding projects.

Gene Logas tells that Read the rest of this entry »

$206 million bond issue

In Meg Dickinson’s Sunday NG article, the big number of $206 million is thrown out there for a possible bond issue referendum in April 2014. The subject of the article is about the “Community Dialogues” on February 12 at the I-Hotel, and then Meg goes into more detail about the work that DeJong-Richter and Fallon Research have been doing, quoting DeJong representative Scott Leopold, Unit 4 Community Relations director Stephanie Stuart and School Board member & Steering Committee co-chair Kristine Chalifoux.

The numbers come out of the Fallon phone survey, posted on the futurefacilities Champaign schools website (cross-tabulated results in PDF, result summary). Specifically, the $206 million comes from question 19A, the $80 million bond question is 20A (where 19B and 20B ask something like “if you knew it would bump your property taxes by x amount, would you still vote for it?”). I had someone call me and question even these numbers (how much our taxes would actually go up), so that is something I want to look deeper into as well. Would a $100,000 home only generate a $251/year tax bump? Keep in mind, a $250,000 home means $625/year, right? It just seems to me that a $206 million bond issue would require a higher tax bump than that.

 

It is interesting when you start looking at the cross-tabulated document to see how folks responded to that question. However, I am finding it frustrating the there is no way to ascertain the correlation of 19A to 19B – for instance, how many of the 216 people who responded favorably to 19A make up the 170 people who said they were less likely to vote for it in question 19B? We don’t know. But Fallon does. And what does “less likely” really mean? Further more, I found it interesting that the vast majority of the “DK/NA” group (those who declined to self-identify themselves) voiced their antagonism towards any bond issue, yet that particular group is only about 1.5% of the 400 (about 6 people total). The older the respondent (with the oldest group having the most representation in the pool), the more likely they were to be sure of their opinion (as opposed to “unknown/undecided”).

 

To me, it is scary that only 400 people were sampled. That is less than 1% of the voting, tax paying population. Them’s not high numbers.

 

Scott Leopold challenged us (the shareholders) to fact-check them. So that is driving me. I have asked Scott for the raw data from Fallon and/or some way to correlate 19A with 19B; I have also asked for the data in a spreadsheet format because the PDF provided does lend itself to analysis very well at all. I have also followed-up with Meg about the article and I hope to learn more about these numbers and what they mean.

 

Finally, some might wonder why focus on money? It is my observation that when you hit people in the pocket book, they start taking notice. I have found it exceptionally difficult to get people talking about softer issues (especially when I throw in words like “social justice” *grin*). But when you drop dollar signs, people turn their heads and pay attention. On top of that, dollars are a very easy metric to conceptualize and measure. So let’s talk about whether or not you want to pay towards a $206 million 20-year loan, and what you want that money to do.

 

Are y’all ready for some Community Dialogues on Feb 12th? *smile*

Color me confused

[note: this is also posted on IlliniPundit]

I am looking at the Champaign Demographic Study, and am very confused why the 2006 Tax Referendum was so strongly opposed by the Consent Decree Plaintiff Class and (rumor has it) black churches in general. I am very curious if some of the decisions that were made at that point in time were merely lacking in hard numbers, like those provided by the Demographic Study. If I understand the arguments correctly, the Plaintiff Class opposed a Boulder Ridge school because they felt like it did not address the spirit of the Consent Decree, while it did adhere to the letter of the Consent Decree. I understand that there were some 11th hour negotiations and things were happening very quickly right up until the time of the election. But in retrospect, I am curious.

The Facts

Page 34 of the Study shows that the black population has increased significantly in “Planning Area 3”, which covers Boulder Ridge all the way to Springfield and Mattis. Granted, populations for all races have grown significantly in the Boulder Ridge area as families move in. A similar story is true for “Planning Area 7”, directly south of “Area 3”, stretching from Springfield to Windsor Road.

Page 35 shows that the Hispanic population has increased across the board north of University, and also in “Planning Area 7”.

I might be able to understand some of the reasoning if the focus was on socio-economic status; while I have no hard evidence on hand, it seems quite reasonable that the average income per household for the Boulder Ridge area is higher than the same for households farther east along Bradley (between Prospect and Lincoln, for example).

Another confusing point is that the Demographic Study clearly shows that Hispanic populations are growing rather quickly as well. But my understanding of the Consent Decree is that this group is aggregated into the “non-black” group. Along with Asians. If this is a correct understanding, it would be extremely difficult to plan effectively through the lens of the Consent Decree (if we dare call it a lens at all).

Please note that it is not my intent to trash the Plaintiff class. I have not used any inflammatory language, nor is it my objective to point an accusatory finger. I fully believe that Consent Decree came about in the first place because of horrible inequities, and there is, no doubt, lingering traces of that. I am merely confused and would like answers. I have attempted to contact Carol Ashley without success, as well as Tracy Parsons. Who else can I talk to?

To clarify why I even posted this note, I very much want to understand how Unit 4 can best serve all students. Not just white, black, Hispanic, Asian or “other”. Not just poor, middle-class, or filthy rich. The path to answering that question will inevitably cross several bridges, the first being “what are the needs of all students in the school district?” And “where are the most severe unmet needs?”

The Demographic Study, much like the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability, is an example of some excellent statistical analysis. But where are the action items? Where are the answers for questions like “so what” and “now what”? If there were another referedum just like the 2006 one tomorrow, would the Plaintiff Class agree?