The changing face of the school board (but what changes on the inside?)

There was quite a splash, for those that follow news about the school district and/or politics, when the school board appointed John Bambenek to be the next school board member, serving until the April 2015 elections. Just from reading several pages of commentary on BigDebbiesHouse, and even the online reel via the News-Gazette, it is obvious to me that some folks are entirely upset, flabbergasted and just a tad pissed off. But what does it all mean? At the end of the day, who really cares? Or rather, what are the real ramifications and consequences? So many times I have heard “time will tell”, but that is not good enough for me.

First, I am obligated to disclose my own perspective, to help you understand the framework from which I write this post. I have corresponded with Mr. John Bambenek (infrequently) since 2006; at the time, I was just coming up to speed on Unit 4 and the Consent Decree, and I had asked John what he thought some of the issues were surrounding the district and the board. In a January 2007 email, he pointed out the issue of a lack of trust:

“The biggest problem, and I think everything feeds into this, is that the current Board and Superintendent have lost the trust of the community. That’s ultimately why there is a consent decree and the problems that are there now.  I don’t want to come right out and say Culver has to go, but he certainly would have to come up with a real plan to win back that trust.” (quoted with Bambenek’s permission)

His second comment was about how much the district spends per child; not so much in the dollar amount, but the “bang” of each dollar – what are we getting out of the investment? At the time, he was worried that Unit 4 was spending way over the state average (per child), yet our results were not anything to write home about.

“The next budget is projected to spend about $10,700 per student.  I have heard both the statewide average being $7,000 and $8,500.  I need to review more, but if that holds, I’d be going over the finacials with a fine tooth comb.  Spending that money is fine, but we ought to be getting more results for our dollar.”

That was seven years ago. On a more recent occasion, 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 »

Quick review of the Feb 25th board meeting

Here is the video; I had to splice it in two because TiVo gave me a larger than 4gb file to work with. 😦

I have not made my way through all of them, yet. Board Member Phil Van Ness had some very direct words to share about how the board needs to work hard to earn the trust of the community, and how he is worried about that particular pursuit. I find it very interesting that no other board members echo this concern. I happen to very much agree with this line of thought; but what good does it do to agree?


Several questions and comments were directed towards the “research” done by Fallon Research and DeJong-Richter; even though I know some of the answers, I still want to find out how the board responded. Paul Fallon had a long segment and Stig was pretty adamant (at first) about Mr. Fallon’s presentation not being a “death by powerpoint”. Ironically, I thought that is exactly what we got, but Stig seemed pretty happy with it. I guess my powerpoint tolerance is rather low. I also have the correlations between questions 19A and 19B, and 20A and 20B – I tried to put this into a picture, but Excel is giving me fits and I just don’t have time to make a pretty picture right now (I’ll add it later). Here is the cross-tabulated data:

Q. 19A. Supposing for a moment that a 20-year bond issue for $206 million dollars was on the ballot to pay for construction to replace Central High School, build new schools for lower grades to accommodate growing enrollment, and make repairs…

Table Total








Q. 19B. Does knowing that it will cost homeowners $251 per year for each one hundred thousand dollars of property, make you more or less likely to vote for it, or does it make no difference in your decision? More likely





Less likely





No difference










Table Total





Q. 20A. Supposing for a moment that a 20-year bond issue for $80 million dollars was on the ballot to pay for construction to replace Central High School and make some basic repairs or renovations to other schools that are in poor condition…

Table Total








Q. 20B. Does knowing that it will cost homeowners $96 per year for each one hundred thousand dollars of property, make you more or less likely to vote for it, or does it make no difference in your decision? More likely





Less likely





No difference










Table Total





So in general, out of 400 phone surveys, most people want to dump more money into taxes for the schools. We have a lot of education (of the public) to be doing.


There were some other gems buried in the board meeting. Marc Changnon had a large number of folks up to talk about eToys and other cool things (lots of demos). Cathy Mannen got up a second time to talk about teacher evaluations, which I am very interested in hearing more about.


More later, as time allows.

Houlihans report

I am finally get caught up on what we have been talking about at Houlihans. Two weeks ago, Tommy Lockman dropped by to chat with Chuck and I, and then last week Kristine Chalifoux took a lunch with us. This week I was flying solo so had time to reflect a little and think about where things are at.

Obviously the negotiations with the CFT is a big topic, but there really isn’t much to say about it. Both board members had some interesting things to share from their own points of view and we all toss around our opinions. However when we get down to it, these are closed negotiations – we can speculate all we want. But what’s the point? There is still something that bugs me about that, but it is really difficult for me to put my finger on it.

I think it was Tom that first mentioned the then upcoming retreat (this past Monday, October 8th). If I recall correctly, there were still a few unknowns – while the doors were open to the public, there wasn’t much of an emphasis on bringing people in. Which become obvious on Monday evening. *grin* And last week, I believe Chuck asked Kristine rather point-blank what they are doing to increase engagement. We chatted a little about how board members are being asked to adopt schools and develop a stronger relationship and go to more events. Actually, I have to confess it is rather fascinating sitting at the same table with Chuck and Kristine – sometimes the gloves come off (in a good way), and I think we have some real conversations. I think it is good to practice being totally honest while at the same time exercising a respectful manner and not being overly abrasive.

Chuck and I had a moment to chat before Kristine showed up. One of the things we Read the rest of this entry »

Getting the story out

A few days ago, I sent the following to WCIA, WICD and Meg Dickinson at the NG:

Good day,

In light of the issues with Unit 4 and working cash bonds and the perceived mistrust between some members of the community and the School District officials, I would love to see a segment that highlighted the claims of Unit 4. For instance, they are asking $1.8 million to replace the Transportation Building. How bad is it? Most of the public has probably never seen it. Unit 4 wants $3.5 million each for Jefferson and Franklin because it gets so hot in September. How bad is it? Again, how many people in the community have first hand knowledge of those conditions?

As a community member, I would love to see more exposure into the truth of what our children see every day. My goal is to help the community see things from the District’s point of view, and then also provide an opportunity for the District to see things from the community’s point of view.

Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing what you think of this idea.


Amanda Porterfield with WCIA recently got back to me saying “We Hear You” and wants to do an interview. I told her that my concern is that I want to focus on truth and facts – I would want the community to see exactly how dilapidated the Transportation building is. Moreover, how our facilities compare to other districts that have higher taxes and properly take care of their facilities. I think it is also important for the District to hear that community members do not necessarily recognize the same sense of urgency, thus there is not the same level of priority on finding additional sources of funding for the District. It is my observation that the District thinks it has saved up “trust” currency in the bank (because they have been very fiscally responsible for the past 6 years or so), but the public is keeping a different ledger. These two accountings must be reconciled. And once they are reconciled, we can proceed together.


I am looking for others who are willing to be interviewed and help tell their story. Anyone?


PS – I also have a related post I am working on that details a meeting with Dr. Wiegand, Mr. Logas, Sue Grey, Tom Lockman and Don Kermath on the topic of working cash bonds. I hope to post that later today.

Tom Roger's of WILL interviews Unit4 interim Super Dr. Malito

On the Unit 4 Facebook page a link was made to the WILL interview of Dr. Malito. It is short (3:55) – for me, it serves as a teaser since I wanted to hear more. 🙂


Dr. Malito identified three points of interests, three questions:

  1. What to do with the two highschools?
  2. What to do with the three middle schools?
  3. How to increase academic “rigor”?


He mentioned that he had read “Tipping Point“, a book about “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. Having read that (along with “How We Decide“, which I found to have a surprising amount of conceptual overlap), I had a fair amount of appreciation for how Dr. Malito is concerned about the public’s perception of Unit 4 (particularly, the Board and the Administration). He stated that he wants to rebuild/increase relationships and improve communications with the community, citing a “lack of confidence” and in some cases, “a little lack of trust”. He recognizes the need of Unit 4 to earn that trust. I particularly found it interesting that “the Board” emphasized this point to him. I can only imagine that Sue Grey is behind that emphasis, and I am glad for it. 🙂 Note also how this point of building trust and relationships is not in the top three, however…. I found that a bit odd. Which is why I wanted to hear more. The “Top Three” were not talked about much, and the one topic that received the most attention (in the short just-shy-of 4 minutes) is not in the top three.


Go listen to it yourself and tell me what you think. And hopefully we will hear more about this as Dr. Malito engages in more talks.



In other news, the Unit 4 superintendent search page has not been updated for a while. On June 17th I asked the Board about specific timelines for goals identified on the search page, and I was given a vague “progress has been made”, but no specific dates or items of what that progress was. I was told that progress was difficult because the Board had not met over the summer. But they met on July 17th…. and I am not seeing what they did. 🙂 Sue Grey gave me a copy of the “Champaign Search Calendar“, and again, I am not finding that on the Unit 4 website.


I confess, I am chomping at the bit – I am anxious, eager. I want to see things happen! My observation is that:

  1. Folks get excited when change is in the air. Sometimes that is good excitement, sometimes that is bad.
  2. I personally, and several others, are excited in a good way about a new superintendent and have sincere hopes that good change is coming soon
  3. However. When the wheels of bureaucracy move this slow, excitement dies. The Board says they want feedback and they want to dialog with the community.  I have no doubt that individual members of the Board are meeting with lots of different people (I have met with several myself, and know they are very busy talking).
  4. I am not seeing a public accounting of how the Board is meeting the goals they have put forth on the search page. I grant that perhaps I am simply missing it. Maybe.


It is not my intent to poke holes and make the Board look bad. Rather, I really really want them to look good. So I am trying to hold them accountable to the things they said they are going to do. Sometimes it comes across as pestering or nagging, which means I need to work on my presentation. *grin* If they want to earn trust, in my opinion they need to go an extra mile and start walking the walk. Again, I fully acknowledge that various members are doing an awesome job as individuals. Kudos to them! Now let’s make it happen for the Board as an entity.