Governance and civic responsibility, take 2

I recently talked to representatives of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB). As mentioned previously, I really like their mission statement and the ideals they lay out for board members of all school boards. After a wonderful and in-depth chat with Cathy Talbert (Associate Executive Director of Field and Policy Services), I came to learn that the IASB is going “all in” with John Carver’s “Policy Governance model“. This is reflected primarily in how the IASB has recently re-architected its own policies, and further trickles down to how the IASB will be training new board members. It is a model that utilizes servant-leadership and clearly states organizational purposes with the sole intent of having those purposes fulfilled. Again, the word “accountability” comes up – not with the intent of going on a witch hunt, but rather, for the good of us all, seeking out mutually beneficial solutions.

This is the kind of mindset I have when I ask various city managers/planners and the school district Business office about Tax Incremental Financing (TIF). TIF, and it’s brother “Enterprise Zones”, have a very strong focus on “economic development”. Which sounds all good and dandy. What really concerns me is that 1) the public is largely uneducated on these issues and 2) a significant lack of accountability on promises and goals. I believe city managers and planners have good intentions at heart. I think there is a systemic mentality about meeting the letter of the law but not really addressing the intent of the law (another example of normalized deviance).

Let’s take another example – the district’s Promises Made Promises Kept (PMPK) committee. I have harped on this before, and I will probably do so again. Back in June of 2010, I attended a PMPK meeting and personally asked Mr. Gene Logas if he could post online some of the awesome documents that they share at PMPK meetings. Again in March of 2012, I formally asked Mr. Logas, the Board and Dr. Wiegand the same thing, to post all informational documents on the committee website. In October of 2012, I again made the request that documents be posted online for Unit 4 committees.  In February of 2013 I made a post of documents I had personally received. Another post in March of 2013, with a little bit of delicious irony (Agenda Item V: How to Effectively Share with the Community the Work and Oversight of the Committee). At various times throughout 2012, 2013 and even this year, I asked individual committee members for relevant documents, and asked them to convey my wish that documents be posted online. On Feb 10th of this year (almost three weeks ago), I asked the Board (again) to have these documents posted on the PMPK committee page. I was told by the Board that these documents are indeed online. Imagine my surprise! So I asked where.

Silence.

Why am I so anal about this? Why am I “wasting” the time of various administrators and board members? Why am I making a big deal about this?

I hope to make it a point that I am not shaking my finger at individuals; entire Administrations have come and gone, and the Board has changed many times since 2010. The problem is that nobody else really cares (from my point of view), we have all come to expect that the PMPK committee (and other Unit 4 committees) have a standard way of operating, and that’s how it is done. Yes, I get it that the public is invited to attend any and all committee meetings (with the rare exception). I get it that information is freely shared at these meetings. Good job, keep it up! But sharing information at meetings does not equal engaging the community, nor engendering a sense of ownership. I realize posting informational documents isn’t a silver bullet either – it will not magically, instantly make all the stakeholders suddenly enjoy all the sunshine and transparency. This is just one step among many.

The exact same thing applies for the City of Champaign and TIF. The same thing applies in many areas of “governance” in our lives. We have lost the art of being informed and holding each other accountable.

The solution? Society itself must change. We have to think about others.

In Lisa Delpit’s insightful and enlightening “Other People’s Children”, she quotes a Native Alaskan teacher she had the honor of befriending; “In order to teach you, I must know you.” We must allow our walls to break down and get to know each other.

this might pinch a little

Whenever my ex-dentist used to say that, I cringed and prepared for an excruciating pain. And oh did it hurt! I learned later, after that dentist had left for “other opportunities”, that he had been doing the procedure wrong the entire time, and the new dentist demonstrated the same procedure with me hardly noticing anything. Still I was scarred, and those false words of promise buried themselves deep inside me.

You can hear the same empty mantra from elected officials. Taxes go up and “its for the kids”. Surely every single tax dollar that is sucked out of our wallets is used for mutually beneficial and good things. Right? Why are you looking at me like that?

While I will focus mostly on the schools, I am going to blame two distinct groups of people; 1) officials, leaders, legislators, policy-makers and every other cherry chum that sees taxes as free money, and 2) you and me and everyone else who lets them get away with this inexcusable atrocity.

Let us take a little spin down TIF lane. TIF, Tax-Increment Financing, sounds innocuous enough – or perhaps, more realistically, vapid and vacuous, as it doesn’t really say much of what it is doing. Read the rest of this entry »

Gathering information

I was hoping to have more time to go over these resources in more detail, but here is the gist of where I am going.

CTAB points out the unfortunate news of how poorly some school districts are funded. However, it makes no attempt to offer a resolution or any help based on the facts. In fact, I come to find out via a thread on IlliniPundit that nobody is really doing much about these particular findings. Worse, I hear that the politics in Chicago are so bad that the people we elect in good faith are hurting us by using TIF (Tax Incremental Funding) projects to bolster special programs; it sounds like they are catering to special-interest groups at the cost of the rest of the state. How is this a good thing?

The Unit 4 Demographic Study has a lot of interesting facts in it. Keep in mind that the Consent Decree focuses on African-Americans, classifying all other races as “non-black”. Page 8 shows that Black student population has creeped up 5.98% over the past 3 years; however, the Hispanic population has almost exploded (up a whopping 36%), while the number of white students has steadily declined 10.37%. The pictures starting on page 13 paint a very interesting picture of the current student population, and how it has changed over the past few years. It becomes immediately obvious that the outlying areas have grown substantially – areas with no nearby school. How will those areas be serviced by the school district? I am still trying to find the bottomline in that huge document. Lots of pretty pictures and fascinating numbers, though.

I also found out that Savoy is technically divided into 4 different districts (sadly, I do not know what kind of district these are, but they are have State Representatives). I had been talking to Chapin Rose, thinking that we were in his district. Apparently, he only does south of Old Church road, so our part of Savoy is in Shane Cultra’s district. I called him up twice last week to set up an appointment, but never heard back from him.

Had some great talks with Jodi Heckel (News-Gazette) and Crystal Ligon (Savoy Star). I would really love to see one of them take an investigative angle on this whole thing. Publish the findings from CTAB, and encourage readers to contact their representative to find out why we are loosing out on funding. I would have them travel to all the schools and take pictures of anything that is in disrepair. I would have them document how all the schools are very much not equal, and the “Controlled Choice” is rather broken for that reason alone.

More later. We are having two community (Prairie Fields) discussions coming up, one on November 17th, and another on December 1st. I am excited about these opportunities. I just hope we have enough room in the hosue. =)