Cliff notes from the May 13 board meeting

As with my previous cliff notes, I apologize for the raw nature, and again, all times listed are elapsed video times.

boe May 13, 2013

Art Recognitions: 00:00 – 15:36
Service Awards: 15:37 – 27:53

public comment – 28:30
Chuck Jackson
Spoke about the DeJong-Richter Recommendations report. “What do we need and why do we need it?” There is a lot of information we do not have. Need more feedback on exactly what the weakness of each site are and why they are weaknesses. Be creative.
Recognitions: 32:19 – 38:29

38:28: Cheryl Camacho, Asia Fuller-Hamilton and Janelle Weinzierl going to Harvard for the summer:
Communcations 38:45
CFT (Cathy Mannen): welcome to new board members. Common goal to teach students.

Board members:
Stig: 40:20: important things going on. Facilities – very critical. Gotta move, waiting detracts from educational opportunities. Focus on best interests of school district, teachers and especially students.
Scott MacAdam: 42:07: mandatory board training. Enjoyed it
Kristine: 43:02: first year all the middle schools doing track and field, all three schools sending kids to state. Big kudos.
Ileana: 44:46: recognition from one of her schools, PBIS assembly, top scorers in Mathematics. Shout out to Robeson.
Jamar: 46:28: Marc Changnon taking all (45) students through a career program; graduation ceremony at the CPL, 30 grads. Shout out to Central. Shout out to 1-to-1 mentoring programs. Summarized involvement at Kenwood, including his adopted 5th grade class.
Laurie: 51:19: lots of diversity, learning the ropes.

52:47 Orlando – speaking about the Student Code of conduct.

54:06 Laura Taylor – High school graduation dates; can’t use Assembly Hall next year.

57:30 Future Facilities
Dr. Wiegand invokes a quote from “Great Schools Together”. Read the rest of this entry »

Community Dialog: what to do with Central High School?

I attended the 3-5:pm Community Dialog, the latest in a series of public-engaging discussions put on by Unit 4 and DeJong-Richter. I have a number of mixed feelings about it. Before I jump in, those who wish to form their own opinions are welcome to peruse the futurefacilities links first:

  • The options themselves: 4 Elementary School (ES – Green), 3 Middle School (MS – Yellow) and 4 High School (HS – Orange) options
  • The “District snapshot“: A amalgam of previously released reports, updated with more information about the current schools and a bonus track with Holly Nelson’s work
  • The questionnairre: we did this both as individuals and as a group during the session today (note the online version can indeed be submitted online)

Also, here is Meg’s scoop on the options:

So here we go.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the presentation, having seen most of it before, knowing what was coming. I did browse through some of the new information, and I slowly realized that there was a whole lot of emphasis on the elementary schools. Let me emphasize, I was very slow to pick up on that. 🙂 With the benefit of hindsight, I see it much more clearly now. It was almost as if this “high school siting” project had morphed into this ravenous beast. To be sure, we already knew that this project wasn’t going to be merely about siting the high school, no matter what the initial RFP said; there is simply no way we could just find a new lovely plot of land and bit-a-boom-bit-a-bang have a new facility. We have too much other crap to deal with, especially the middle schools that will require some attention in the very near future. But the elementary schools had not been on my personal radar in the context of DeJong-Richter. Somehow I missed that. And now as I look back at the information packets, I Read the rest of this entry »

Review of Feb 11 regular board meeting

I was shocked that David Hohman posted the vimeo video right after the meeting! 🙂 Kudos to his team. I am syndicating his video from my archive as well.

I had a brief chat with Scott Leopold prior to the meeting. He gave me an update on my request for the raw Fallon data, specifically to help answer the question of how many people surveyed changed their mind about wanting a $206 million “bond issue” once they heard their taxes would climb a bit. He mentioned that Mr. Fallon wants to delay in delivering that information until the February 25th special board meeting when he (Mr. Fallong) will be presenting and is able to deliver that information “in context.” Again, I don’t like that approach, but it is what it is.

Turns out it was a relatively short meeting – I think it clocked in at 53 minutes. The comments (both public and by the board) took up half that time. Since it is less than an hour, I highly recommend you watch it – the board members speak a bit and you can get a sense for where they are at and form your own opinion (as opposed to drinking my kool-aid *grin*).

The recognitions, as always, are a feel-good reminder of good things that are happening in our district. I wonder what it would be like if we also highlighted “challenge areas”. Right now, the folks that speak during public comment generally fulfill that role. But what if the district and/or the board had a running “leaderboard” of, say, the top 5 things they see as the issues of the month. Or year. They could even chart their progress against it; “Last month we identified and resolved these two issues, thus we are moving two more concerns onto the leaderboard for us to tackle this month.”

I gave the first public comment; I volunteered to deliver it since another representative was stuck at home with a sick child. I also sent this to the board and Kristine Chalifoux responded. So to qualify, I am not on the CB building council, and I do realize that the board has not made any official plans to expand CB – it’s all kinda up in the air at the moment.

Chuck Jackson spoke next about the need to be mindful and to intentionally “program” school for all kids. We have to pay attention (perhaps in different ways) especially to those who routinely are not well represented or spoken for.

The Board Read the rest of this entry »

The big push: Unit 4 hosts Community Dialogs on Tuesday, Feb 12th

There is a deluge of email, Facebook updates, tweets, radio spots (tv spots?), flyers and word of mouth about the Community Dialog this coming Tuesday at the I-Hotel. If you are one of the few folks who has not heard about it, I would be very curious how they missed you. 🙂 They have arranged bus rides from several schools, translators for three different languages, and even a literacy activity to keep the youngun’s occupied.

In every message I am seeing/hearing, the school district is emphasizing the importance of feedback and input from the community. There are two sides to this coin.

On the one side, I think this is totally awesome! For too long, the school district has given the impression of operating under the guise of its own expertise. That landed us with a costly Consent Decree, and now we have too many kids and not enough seats, not to mention buildings that are horribly behind on maintenance. Oh, and a selection of schools that, for the most part, has not tracked with the shift in demographics. So, kudos to the district for seeking the voice of the community. I have really appreciated how DeJong (via Scott Leopold) has been quite open about the data they have collected and has kept us generally up to date on what is happening in the Steering Team meetings (which are also open to the public). Scott has been really great about talking to people, even to the point of carving away some time to meet us at Houlihans (hard to knock that, eh?).

And now the other side. Scott and I have agreed to disagree on how to present the options to the community. For me, I think it would be best to put the current options up on the futurefacilities website now (actually, last week would have been better…), since the Steering Team has already discussed and pretty much voted on what we are going to see. Scott has argued that he wants unbiased and virgin thoughts during the big reveal at the I-Hotel on Tuesday, so that the options may be presented objectively and in context. Obviously, there are pros and cons both ways. Sine this is my blog (cue evil laughter), I am going to expand a little on some issues with this approach.

We as a community 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*

Jan 14th Reg Board Meeting: new school board members, new school attorney, lots of data


It was an interesting board meeting tonight, although I fear “interesting” does not do the meeting justice. I don’t have the energy to write about it all now, so here are some highlights:

  • Another bevy of recognitions, including plaques and commendations for Greg Novak and Gene Logas, presented to Donna Novak and Nina Logas respectively.
  • Scott Leopold presented a veritable plethora of data and information about the targeted phone surveys (I hate using the word “quantitative”) and the latest update about the research efforts of Dejong. Overwhelming in fact.
  • Agenda line-item 10.a was removed from the agenda and then put back on the agenda at 9:50 pm after basically everyone had already left (and the tv cameras had stopped rolling I am sure); Tom Lockman will be the new school district attorney. Vote was 4-1 – oh how I wish I could write more about that.
  • As reported by Meg, a new (permanent) program for emotional disabilities/mental health was approved – board members asked some good questions
  • Oh, also as Meg reported (*grin*), two new board members; Arlene Blank and Phil van Ness. A few other candidates were also in attendance and stuck around to the bitter end.

UPDATE: Meg wrote another article about Lockman:

Come join us at Houlihans with Scott Leopold and Stephanie Stuart: TUESDAY, Jan 15, 11:30

Just a reminder that we are meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan 15th at 11:30 at Houlihans. *NOT* Wednesday this week. 🙂

Scott presented some very interesting information at tonight’s board meeting – it was chock full of data and it would be easy to provoke questions. So if you are looking for answers, there is a really good chance you can find them at Houlihans tomorrow. If you are unable to make it, post a question here and I’ll act as a proxy for you. We may even have another special guest to help us talk high school siting.

I have my own questions from tonight’s meeting, not to mention comments and observations. I’ll have a more comprehensive write-up tomorrow (it’s late already), but here are a couple:

  • How does the birth-rate trend in Champaign correlate to the recession?
  • Scott mentioned on a couple occasions the need to annually review the data (as part of the “living” document); who is going to do that? How? What tools will we use?
  • I still want to see the data more palatable, maybe by visualizing it. For example how about a animated population density change year over year, ala Hans Rosling?

Demographics and the Jan 14th Regular School Board Meeting

In preparation for the Jan 14th board meeting, Dejong has posted a couple PDFs about their work to date:


Source: DeJong-Richter

Source: DeJong-Richter

Historical and projected growth trends

GIS summary of current population densities

As such, Dejong will be presenting more details at the Jan 14th board meeting. In addition, a reminder that Scott Leopold has agreed to meet with us at Houlihans on TUESDAY (Jan 15th, 11:30) (not Wednesday). Sorry, Laura B, I know this doesn’t work for you.

The Jan 14th board meeting is going to be kinda wild. At 5:pm, the board will conduct interviews with a small subset of the 13 vacancy candidates in closed session, and it looks like the two newly minted board members will be sitting for their first board meeting. Looks like we have a number of recognitions again, mild policy change suggestions (nothing seemed outrageous to me *grin*), the DeJong presentation, new school attorney (no details), a new emotional disabilities self-contained program, a Change Authorization for the Kenwood project, a request to renew board representation on a list of 12 committees (including the heretofore unmentioned Choice Committee), and a bunch of consent agenda items mostly made up of more money being requested to fix things. The whole thing with fixing the Mellon Center entrance has me confused – it is way overdue, and now I get the impression it is over budget (unconfirmed)? What happened? Also, the changes for Westview say that there is a “contingency” budget – what is that?

In some ways, I apologize for questioning relatively small expenses, but I firmly believe that each of us taxpayers (and by “taxpayers”, I very much mean district employees and board members as well) have the obligation to scrutinize where our money goes. Having said that, I see that there is a “treasurers report” that lists recent expenses in the form of a check register, and monies for attorneys (a majority of which goes to Flynn, Palmer and Tague for “Real Estate Matters”, whatever the heck that is) and investments; I heard a rumor that Dr. Wiegand and Dr. Joe Davis are working on a way to make financial information more accessible (ie, understandable) to the common man, but not sure if we will see that on Monday or not.

Houlihans: school board candidates and DeJong

This week I have made an open invitation to the school board candidates to come out and join us for informal conversations at Houlihans. At least two school board candidates will be in attendance, and unfortunately I know two others will not be able to attend. My goal is simply meet-and-greet style; I might have some questions I am curious about, but I am not going to grill candidates interview-style at all.


Next week (Tuesday or Wednesday, Jan 14 or 15, TBA) we are meeting with Scott Leopold again. Woot! 🙂