Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Board Road Trip


In Chicago on November 18-20, Unit 4 School Board members joined Dr. Wiegand, her administrative team, and almost 10,000 other public school leaders at the 2016 Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), and Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO).

Those of you who have attended any sort of professional conference might have some idea how this sort of gathering works: sessions on various school-related topics, networking opportunities, and vendor presentations. Other less typical conference elements include the Exhibition of Educational Environments and the Delegate Assembly.

Skyline on Cloud Gate, complete with tiny skaters

First, the sessions. Here are just some of the sessions and panels that your Board members chose to attend:
  • Policy & Procedures: The Board's Role
  • Creating Governance Policies, Practices, and Protocols
  • Board Presidents' Round Table
  • Community School: Meeting Needs of At-Risk Students
  • Building Collaborative Relationships with Your Union
  • Can We Expel? A Discipline Boot Camp for Board Members
  • Top School Construction Problems and Solutions
  • School Safety: Role of Law Enforcement
  • School Safety: Lessons Learned and Prevention Techniques
  • Board Member/Parent: What Hat to Wear When
  • A Courageous Conversation About Race and its Impact
  • Perspectives of Parents of Black Children
  • The Board and its Superintendent: Developing and Maintaining an Effective Relationship.
  • Superintendent Employment Contracts
  • Superintendent Evaluation: Getting it Right

This conference allows us to learn from other districts about issues we face in common -- for instance, this year several of us sought out sessions about hiring, working with, and evaluating a new superintendent. We noticed that almost every session that involved race was heavily attended. And we were reminded once again of the vast range of issues faced by our fellow elected officials, and how much those issues are tied to the size and demographics of each individual district.

Fall in Chicago

Second, the networking. As cheesy as it might sound, it's invigorating to be around so many people who are excited about public education in Illinois. In today's busy world, it's a luxury to step away from the unending tasks of *doing* public education in order to *think* and *talk* about it. I had a great conversation one evening in the bar of the conference hotel with a Board member from the Chicago suburbs who wanted to follow up on a question I had asked at a session earlier that day. Based purely on my own observations, people attending the conference were both younger and more racially diverse than I expected. These are the educators of color that every Illinois district interested in diversity wants to recruit, and the board members of color who lead and inspire -- but they largely live and work in Chicagoland. What can Champaign offer, as a school district and as a city, in order to compete?

Overlooking the Michigan Ave. Bridge... um, Abe?

Third, the vendors. I was frankly unprepared for the extent to which this conference attracts people wanting to sell their products to school districts, ranging from liability insurance to security equipment to nutrition software to bleacher construction to drug testing to teacher evaluation apps to school greenhouse maintenance. Sales presentations should be aimed at the school administrators, not board members (who should be primarily concerned with policy), but salespeople are not interested in maintaining boundaries between governance and operations. Some of the selling even bleeds over into the sessions themselves. I would advise new Board members to be properly wary of presenters' commercial ties.

Navy Pier viewed from conference hotel

Finally, two elements of the conference stood out for me. The 2016 Invitational Exhibition of Educational Environments was a juried school design competition on display throughout the conference, providing a snapshot of what's current in school facility construction. In these projects I recognized the work of at least two architectural firms who had applied to work with Unit 4 in our Tier Two planning process, but I was even more pleased to note that two of our eventual Tier Two partners -- Mark Jolicoeur (Perkins + Will) and Scot Wachter (IGW) -- served on the panel of judges.

At the Delegate Assembly, the Unit 4 School Board was capably represented by Dr. Gianina Baker. "Composed of one voting delegate from each member board of education, the Delegate Assembly is the policy-making body of the Association. Through its actions upon resolutions presented by member boards and other matters placed before it, it communicates Association direction to the officers and staff. It is the source from which all Association activity emanates." In other words, through this somewhat clunky vehicle, the IASB can lobby legislators in Springfield: democracy in action! For more details on some of this year's discussions, see here.

Until next year, Chicago!

***

Don't forget all the ways you can connect online with Unit 4:




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Video FAQs about the Referendum

It takes a village...

Thanks to the video production staff of the Matt Difanis Team at RE/MAX, who volunteered their time to help Unit 4 Board members create video answers to frequently asked questions about this Tuesday's facilities referendum. The 12 "bite-sized" videos can be seen on Unit 4's Vimeo channel; you can browse individual videos from the links that follow.

Please share with your friends and neighbors, and don't forget to vote November 8!

***

How did the Board of Education arrive at this plan?

Why is the Board using reserves to pay for the referendum?

What is the Board of Education's plan for the land purchased on Interstate Drive?

What kind of oversight measures will be in place so I know the Board of Education will use our tax money as promised?

How specifically will the money be used?

How has the Board been working to keep the community informed?

How much will the referendum impact my property taxes if it passes?

How were the funds from the 1% sales tax used and why can’t this revenue stream fund the projects included in the schools referendum?

What is the International Prep Academy (IPA) and why are improvements needed at that school?

Why is Centennial included in the referendum if it's newer than Central?

What does the referendum contain?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Preview of Board Meeting 10/24/16

10/24/16 Board Meeting, 6:00pm

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the meeting agenda here on BoardDocs by navigating to the "Meetings" tab, clicking on the meeting date, and then clicking "View the Agenda." (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

Much of this meeting will be devoted to Unit 4's search for a new superintendent. Jim Helton, from the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), and Board President Chris Kloeppel will give an update regarding the search.

Other highlights of Monday's agenda: We will have the pleasure of recognizing our October 2016 Staff Spotlight winner -- Claire Vail, Special Education Teacher at Centennial High School. In addition, those in attendance can get a preview of school board issues that are addressed at the state level, when our Unit 4 Board members review the proposed revisions to the 2016 IASB Resolutions Committee Report prior to the Delegate Assembly meeting on November 19th in Chicago, IL.

***

Remember to check the FAQ page on the portion of Unit 4's website, (facilityplanning.champaignschools.org) that has been dedicated to educating the public about the upcoming referendum. Please let us know if there are other questions you think should be answered there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Unit 4 Recognized at 2016 NAACP Champaign County Freedom Fund Banquet

At the annual NAACP Champaign County Freedom Fund Banquet this past weekend, two Unit 4 administrators were honored for their service to the community and commitment to equity in education.

Mr. Tony Maltbia, Executive Director of Student, Family, and Community Supports, was selected as the recipient of the 2016 NAACP Freedom Fund 'Yes, We Can' Education Award. This award has been given for his work in the community to advance and improve the quality of equity, diversity, and the access of education.

Dr. Judy Wiegand
also received a special recognition that evening for her dedication to equity and excellence in education throughout her career in Unit 4 and service as Superintendent.

Usually I provide links in my blog posts to local media coverage of events I discuss, but I have yet to see any coverage of this year's event or its honorees. That's unfortunate; I think such community recognition of Unit 4's work around equity and excellence in education should be shouted from the rooftops.

(UPDATE 10/20/16: 2 photos added, provided by Patricia Avery)
(L-R) Minnie Pearson, Judy Wiegand, Patricia Avery

(L-R) Minnie Pearson, Tony Maltbia, Patricia Avery

Congratulations, Mr. Maltbia and Dr. Wiegand! Enjoy more photos from this event here and here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Curriculum and Capacity at Central and Centennial

Numbers are a decision-maker's best friend. Except when they're not.

Some community members have been asking why so much work is needed on Unit 4's buildings when our enrollment numbers (in the opinion of the questioners) don't seem to justify that need.

Anyone can go to illinoisreportcard.com to find current and past student enrollment figures for any district in the state. These numbers are but one part of the ongoing story of that particular district, which is inextricably bound up with the story of its community – not only its demographic ebbs and flows, but also its changing goals and values.

In last week's News-Gazette, the online edition of "Tom's Mailbag" included correspondence from Unit 4 high school principals Joe Williams (Central) and Greg Johnson (Centennial), intended to answer several reader questions about building capacity and enrollment numbers. After I share a few thoughts about capacity, I'm going to reprint here what they wrote (along with an excerpt from Director of Communications & Community Relations Stephanie Stuart's introduction). In different ways, Williams and Johnson give specific and concrete examples of how changes in curriculum over the years have impacted our high school spaces.

Curriculum and capacity – the two driving forces behind the current Unit 4 facilities referendum – do not exist separately from each other. Furthermore, the capacity of a given school building depends on more than just its enrollment (the number of students in the building). If you rely on enrollment numbers to draw conclusions about capacity, you are seeing only part of the big picture.

***

Statistics about school operating capacity are derived from state and national best-practice standards for K-12 education. The standard recommended square footage per student is considered the minimum size required to carry out a school's educational mission. In this way, the capacity of any given building can change over time, independent of enrollment.

Why might necessary square footage per student change over time? Because the requirements of the curriculum change – and as a result, different or additional spaces may be required.

Here's a simple example of such a change for one school space: the gymnasium. When the 6 buildings named in the current referendum were built, only boys played school sports, and daily PE was not required by the state. Today's schools use that same gym space to accommodate athletes of both genders and provide far more instruction in PE, and our state legislators might soon make that space even tighter if it decides to end PE exemptions for high school athletes.  The same gyms that once served their schools well are no longer meeting current needs.

Try to put each piece of information below that Stuart, Williams, and Johnson communicate about facilities inadequacy into one of these three categories:

  • Current space is not functional (for example, Central's classrooms need more than 1 or 2 working electrical outlets)
  • Curriculum requires different and/or additional spaces (for example, current policy of open access to rigorous classes requires additional classroom space for academic support sessions)
  • Enrollment is straining capacity (for example, students are being turned away from career tech classes)

Much of what you will read below from the Mailbag fits into more than one of these three categories. I think this exercise will show that the work needed at our high schools does not fit neatly into a single category, and cannot be accounted for using a single metric.

***

(from Stuart's Mailbag introduction)

This report from 10/26/15 summarizes the past 5 years of student enrollment in Unit 4. (Benchmark numbers for this school year will not be official until reported to the Board later this fall, but preliminary numbers show total enrollment exceeding 10,000 students.) Our high schools are currently at 103% capacity and, based on current enrollment at the lower grades, we anticipate enrollment to be at 120% capacity by 2022. Throughout our District's history we have seen enrollment increases and decreases, including some times in the 60s/70s and early 2000s when high school student enrollment was higher than our current numbers. In the early 2000s, for example, the District utilized two portable classrooms at Centennial to accommodate this growth. The difference between then and now, however, is that the District has expanded programming as needs have arisen in our student population and as our educational standards have demanded it.

***

(from Williams on Central)

Here are some thoughts regarding space which fall into some of overcrowding and others of types of space -- both of which can only be addressed through extensive remodeling of the current Central High School.

Schools are providing for more specialized needs.

English Language Learners. The population of students coming to our schools from places where their primary language is not English has increased dramatically in the last ten years. Most recently, we also have immigrants who know no/very little English and are from areas of the world that do not use a literate language and have not consistently had access to formal education. In order to provide the best learning experiences for ELL students, we must attend to their English language learning and their content learning simultaneously. This requires a mix of courses specific to content and courses specific to language acquisition. Last year, Central became the host school for a new District ELL program specifically for immigrant students with interrupted formal education.

Special Education. Mainstreaming into as many general education courses as possible for students with disabilities has been a hallmark of Unit 4 for a very long time. We strive to continue to increase possibilities for all students with disabilities. Depending on the disability, though, it is possible the needs of the individual students can only be met by including self-contained special education environments during some or all of their school day. In addition, students with the most profound disabilities at the secondary level have been added to Central in a self-contained District Essential Skills classroom.

Curriculum and pedagogy also impact space needs.

Educational research over the course of the last two decades consistently points to collaborative investigatory learning as essential pedagogy. Rooms that were created to hold 32 or more desks in rows cannot accommodate as many desks when they are grouped. The research-based instructional framework for Unit 4, Gradual Release of Responsibility, and the research-based Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching both rely heavily on instructional practices that can move between whole-class, group, and individual modes of instruction and learning.

Traditional vocational education spaces were designed for specific instruction in basic components of trades-related courses. Student requests for industrial technology courses are denied each year simply due to capacity issues. Research over the last decade or so indicates an increased need for vocational education to more truly relate to experiences outside of the traditional high school setting. This impacts industrial technology, family consumer science, and business education areas; career and technology education (CTE) standards for curriculum and instructional pedagogy is on the cusp of transformation in answer to industry and business needs expressed through collaboration at the federal, state, and local levels. Space design and utilization, along with specialization of equipment, are necessary to begin answering to the demands set forth by new guidelines.

The new Next Generation Science Standards require extensive changes to science curriculum and pedagogy. In order to support those requirements and ensure our students are receiving the best we possibly can provide in STEM areas, funding must be added for infrastructure and equipment needs. In addition, due to an increase in science elective course offerings a few years ago, we have more students in science courses beyond the typical first two years of high school. We are out of science classroom space at this point.

Physical Education standards and goals have changed over the course of the last several years to support the need for graduates to have an understanding of physical fitness and how that can be achieved without necessarily engaging in organized athletics. As such, modern PE programs include spaces for dance, yoga, and equipment training typically found in current "gyms" in the community.

Student services are key to supporting social/emotional needs and learning.

With increased demands on administration for instructional leadership involving frequent and direct work with teachers, the typical assistant principal role has changed. In order to provide the necessary time for assistant principals to engage fully in instructional leadership, routine student attendance and discipline matters have been shifted to a dean of students.  That required an additional office space.

For many years, the District was lacking in necessary support of school nurses for our students. A few years ago, the District answered this need by hiring nurses to cover multiple buildings. Nurses must have a private space where they can work directly with students. That required an additional office space.

As the social/emotional needs of students increase, our availability to meet those needs is stretched further and further. In the very near future, additional social workers will be needed and that, too, will require additional office space.

Academic supports for students.

Prior to ten years ago, all students had open campus lunch. Through work with research-based models of Professional Learning Communities, and through our work with the Consent Decree and No Child Left Behind, it became very clear general supports for academics needed to be added during the school day. Closing lunch for freshmen and sophomore students and simultaneously adding academic support for them led to cafeteria space needs and classroom space needs for the supports. - As we continue to provide for open access to our most rigorous upper level courses such as Advanced Placement courses, we also continue to determine the best supports for students in those classes. Academic support for science, math, and literacy were made available several years ago for junior and senior students during their open lunch period. Many juniors and seniors eat lunch and attend those supports.

More obvious space needs at Central that have been repeatedly referenced:

Central is proud of the accomplishments of students in the arts:  music, visual, and dramatic. We have two art rooms for three full-time art teachers, one of whom teaches graphic arts so that room includes a large number of computers. We also have a tiny ceramic studio with no windows built around our boiler room. Our award-winning instrumental music program has 401 students enrolled in Concert Band, Guitar, Orchestra, Marching Band, Symphonic Band, and Wind Symphony. The largest is, of course, Marching Band in the fall and that enrollment is nearly 200 students. The band room is not designed to comfortably fit 200 students, of course, but it is even inadequate for the courses enrolling nearly 60 students. In addition, acoustics are not ideal and, over time, are harmful to hearing. Finally, there have been many instances of orchestral instrument damage due to large fluctuations in heat/humidity/cold. Equipment storage is entirely inadequate and includes two closets, trailers, and a basement under the stage in our main gym that floods during heavy rains. Central's drama program produces seven shows per year on average, way beyond that of a typical high school. There is no backstage, the scene shop is very small, and storage for costumes and set pieces is very limited. Despite many attempts, the ceiling and walls continue to fail, leaving peeling plaster and dropping tiles.

High school students at both high schools lose educational opportunities when the weather is too hot. Early dismissals due to lack of air conditioning at Central obviously affect Central's students in Central's classes. However, those days also affect students from both high schools because shared classes for which students are typically shuttled between the two campuses are affected as shuttles can't run due to the difference in period times.

Locker room space is limited for PE students and reached capacity last spring.

Most classrooms only have two working electrical outlets.

Restrooms are in need of refurbishing.

The library is the only large space for student collaborative learning. There is no student commons available.

There is only one elevator that accesses all four floors and it is located at the far west end of the building.

The security camera system is outdated and cannot be expanded. Replacements for parts are difficult to find.

There is no parking for students and there aren't enough spaces for staff.

Students travel all over town to practice/play athletics.

***

(from Johnson on Centennial)

In addition to the instructional and curricular shifts that Joe detailed, here's an account of how use of space has evolved at Centennial over the past 10 years or so. These changes make a strict comparison between enrollment numbers from 2000 to 2016 an incomplete method of detailing how classroom space is needed and utilized at Centennial. All told, we have lost a total of 46 periods of classroom space over the past 10 school years. This figure includes an accounting of the addition of the two portables we have added over the past 3 years.

Over the past few years, we've had a number of stressors on our room usage that have decreased available space.

New Programs

1. Autism program (added 2007-2008)
Space Used: 8 periods of classroom space

2. Closed lunch for all freshmen (added 2009-2010) and all sophomores (added 2010-2011)
Space Used: 20 periods of classroom space (10 for both periods 4 and 5).

3. English Language Learners (ELL) program (added 2012-2013)
Space Used: 10 periods of classroom space

4. Emotional Disabilities (ED) program (added 2010-2011)
Space Used: 8 periods of classroom space

Space Renovation and Repurposing

1. College Career Center changes
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

2. Attendance Office created
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

3. Dean of Students office added
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

4. Sustained Study Room moved (for safety and storage needs)
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

Classroom Space Additions

1. Portable 1 (added 2014-2015)
Space Added: 16 periods of classroom space
2. Portable 2 (added 2016-2017)
Space Added: 16 periods of classroom space

Summary
-78: Periods of classroom spaces either changed or removed
+32: Periods of classroom spaces added
Total net change of classroom spaces during past 10 years:

-46 Periods of classroom space FEWER

Friday, September 30, 2016

Site Plans for Referendum Projects

Site plans are now available on the Unit 4 website for facilities projects as they are specified in the upcoming referendum on November 8, 2016. Our team of architects updated these graphics to illustrate the text descriptions agreed upon when the Board finalized the referendum on August 18. Check the plans out here and below in this post.

The referendum calls for significant work on 6 school buildings, as well as consolidating Central's athletic facilities at 3 sites. See the text of the referendum as it will appear on November's ballot.

These site plans were created by Perkins + Will and IGW Architecture and O'Shea Builders, the architect and construction management team that has worked since January with Unit 4 and with the Tier Two committee to help everyone understand how we are proposing to stretch the taxpayers' dollars to address curriculum and capacity deficits in these 6 buildings.

For a review of the Tier Two Committee on Facilities, its membership of community stakeholders, and its collaborative process, click here (from Unit 4). And here (from Board Corner).

And for an important reminder about how all of these site plans represent planning work as opposed to design work -- to ease the fears of any neighbors, staff, or students worried that the designs of these buildings have already been finalized -- see here (from Board Corner).

Finally, I've included links to past Board Corner posts and News-Gazette articles to help you review the discussions specific to each school. (Keep in mind that the site plans presented in these past posts were works in progress; the plans and their associated costs may differ slightly or significantly from the final proposals that made it onto the referendum.)


Dr. Howard Elementary School

Discussions about Dr. Howard:


South Side Elementary School

Discussions about South Side:


International Prep Academy (IPA; elementary school)

Discussions about IPA:


Edison Middle School

Discussions about Edison:


Centennial High School


Discussions about Centennial:


Central High School




Discussions about Central:

***

I had the pleasure of visiting South Side's Open House on Thursday night, where I was available to answer questions from parents (and a few enterprising students!) about the referendum. Almost everyone asked me, "What is the timeline for these projects?" I had several of these conversations before I realized that what most people meant by that question was, "Will my child currently enrolled at South Side enjoy any of the benefits of a remodeled, expanded, and accessible school?"

To each questioner, I gave the same informative but unsatisfactory answer. No overall timeline can exist yet -- because in order for bonds to be issued, for architectural designs to be produced, for projects to be bid out, and for planning to sequence the work around student attendance, the funding must first be approved by the voters of Unit 4. Believe me when I say that we *all* hope our own kids see the results of our tax dollars at work; people like me, who have students attending one or more of these 6 schools, are among the best informed about these facilities' shortcomings.

Making a difference not necessarily for our own kids, but for the long-term health of our community... it's an exercise in vision and in delayed gratification.










Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Referendum FAQ, Part 2

Check out the second installment of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about November's referendum, which appear along with the first set on Unit 4's webpage:

http://facilityplanning.champaignschools.org/faqs

Keep an eye on this space for additional questions and answers. If you have a question relating to the referendum that is not yet answered here, please leave a comment on this post or contact a Board member. We will work on finding and sharing an answer.

We have enjoyed our recent conversations with parents and students alike as we have been attending open houses and PTA/PTSA meetings at different campuses. Please let us know if your group -- school or community -- is interested in discussing the referendum with a Board member.

***

At our Board Meeting last night, we held the required public hearing on our budget before voting to approve the budget for Fiscal Year 2016-17. It will be amended with the wages and benefits tentatively agreed upon with the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) on 9/21/16, as soon as that agreement is ratified by CFT membership and then approved by the Board.

No school budget discussion can be complete without considering the possibility that funding changes will be handed down from Springfield. Many Illinois districts besides our own have been working hard during the past decade (or longer) to build a financial cushion in the event that our legislators change the formula for General State Aid to public schools, or shift the responsibility for funding pensions to the districts. As one of our Board members is fond of saying, we might as well consult The Magic 8-Ball to learn when or how the state will act.

Imagine a future scenario in which Springfield might require school districts to pay into a pension fund accessed by all downstate teachers, or even all teachers in Illinois. Suddenly our district's reserve funds, built from the taxes of Unit 4 residents, could be siphoned out of our district.

Weighing the need to save for an uncertain future against the concrete needs that exist in our district today, and realizing our responsibility to the community to keep our tax dollars here in Unit 4, the Board asked our administrators (and financial advisors) to consider how much of our fund balance we could responsibly commit to the facilities projects outlined in the November referendum. $25 million was their answer. The decision to spend this money was not made lightly.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Referendum FAQ, Part 1

Check out the first installment of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about November's referendum on Unit 4's webpage:

http://facilityplanning.champaignschools.org/faqs

Keep an eye on this space for new questions and answers. If you have a question relating to the referendum that is not yet answered here, please leave a comment on this post or contact a Board member. We will work on finding and sharing an answer.

In addition, watch for members of the Tier Two Facilities Committee, the Board, and district administrators out and about in the community. Earlier this week, Board representatives spoke with the Kiwanis. We staffed informational booths at Open Houses for both Central and Centennial. Tonight -- weather permitting -- some of us will be available to chat with you at the Centennial vs. Central football game at Tommy Stewart Field. And in the weeks to come, look for us at PTA meetings and Open Houses and wherever else you would like to invite us.

We want to make sure you get your referendum questions answered.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Unit 4 on Parade

Saturday was a beautiful day for a parade.

The 7th Annual CU Pride Festival and Parade, sponsored by the UP (Uniting Pride) Center of Champaign County, took place this weekend. Saturday's parade included over 60 float entries -- from corporations to politicians, from Chambanamoms to the Chester Street Bar, from churches to the Twin City Derby Girls. Hundreds of participants marched along the route, with an audience estimated by the News-Gazette as numbering in the thousands.

Why am I discussing this event on Board Corner? Keep reading.

According to the UP Center's website:
The UP Center was formed in December 2009 as a multi-service agency for youth and adults, with a purpose to support and promote human care, education, and community-building activities directed at furthering the well-being and development of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and ally community of Champaign County.*
Also according to its website:
  • 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school.*
  • LGBT teens are bullied 2 to 3 times as much as straight teens.
  • More than 1/3 of LGBT kids have attempted suicide.
  • LGBT kids are 4 times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

On Unit 4's website, here is the very first of our District Goals:
GOAL #1: The Superintendent will foster high academic achievement, wellness, and well-being among all learners in a safe, supportive environment.*
There was no better party combining youth and education this weekend than the Pride Parade. And Unit 4 schools were well represented, along with delegations from Urbana Middle, Urbana High, Uni High, and even students who traveled here from Rantoul and Danville.

Here's a glimpse of the 30-some Unit 4 teachers who marched to celebrate diversity among the students they mentor:
Unit 4 Teachers marching with Pride

See some of our high school students, who have led efforts to create a more accepting atmosphere in our schools for over a decade:
Centennial's GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) on parade
(My sources tell me that if it weren't for an out-of-town marching band competition, members of Central's GSA would have swelled Unit 4 attendance numbers above the 40-some students already participating.)

And finally, check out this absolutely joyous bunch of middle school students, from all 3 of our middle schools:
Middle School GSAs: "Love > Hate"

Click here if you are interested in learning more about Unit 4's LGBTQ Task Force, or any of our District's other Social Justice initiatives.

And if you would like to see more pictures of the parade (from actual professional photographers instead of an amateur blogger), click here.

_________
*All bolded emphasis in each quote is mine.



Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Referendum Details, Tax Impact, and Bonus Graphics

What projects are included in the referendum and how much do they cost? How do I calculate my tax impact if the referendum passes? Get the facts here.
With these words, Unit 4 released the following documents:
More referendum information will be forthcoming from the District, such as individual site plans for referendum projects and a FAQ page. Keep checking the Unit 4 webpage, and please direct others there as well.

***

Thanks for all your questions about the referendum! They are coming to us on social media, through Tom Kasich's News-Gazette Mailbag, and in person, as well as on this blog or by email. (See here for two recently posted answers to questions asked on a previous blog post.) We are in the process of consolidating answers to these questions on a FAQ page. Keep in mind that questions asked directly to Unit 4 will result in the most accurate answers.

***

I asked Tom Lockman for additional information on tax rates in Unit 4 and in our peer downstate districts, along the lines of what he provided in his 6/2/16 financial presentation to the Tier Two committee (discussed here).

The two charts included below look at Champaign Unit 4, Urbana 116, and six peer downstate districts -- they compare the rate in each district that an individual property owner would pay to that school district relative to their property’s assessed value.

Rate Chart 1
Chart 1 shows Unit 4's actual tax rate in levy year 2015 (4.4117) -- the lowest rate of property tax money paid to schools in all 8 school districts.


Rate Chart 2
Chart 2 shows what Unit 4's tax rate would have been in levy year 2015 with a $183.4 million referendum (5.0487). Our rate would still be lower than all other districts' rates except Decatur.

***

A complaint heard for many years in our community is that Central is the only high school in the Big 12 without onsite access to its athletic facilities. This is more than a matter of convenience; if extracurricular activities are available on-site, all students have greater access to those opportunities that deepen the connection to school and enrich the high school experience.

Part of the compromise represented by keeping Central at its current site involves continued sharing of our most costly high school athletic facilities -- Tommy Stewart Field for Friday night football, and a renovated shared pool at Centennial. The rest of the compromise involves consolidating the remaining Central athletic facilities (except cross country and golf) within walking distance of the school.

Compare the two images below to understand the referendum's impact on Central's athletes and their families:
Site Graphic 1: Current sites for Central athletics
(from p. 23 of District presentation to Tier Two, 4/7/16)

I asked our architect team for a graphic that would represent the proposed consolidation of athletic facilities for Central students, putting them within a half-mile radius of the school. (I can walk a half-mile in under 10 minutes.)

Site Graphic 2: Proposed sites for Central athletics
(on optioned properties, McKinley Field, Spalding/Franklin)

***

Keep checking here for the most up-to-date referendum information.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Referendum Finalized for November Election and Preview of Board Meeting 8/22/16

It's on! (The ballot, that is.)

November 8, 2016 election.
$183.4 million requested.
6 school buildings.
3 additional locations for Central athletics.
$25 million from District funds.

10 portable classrooms for 2016-2017.

These numbers summarize the collaborative facilities planning process of 2016. On August 18, 2016, the Unit 4 Board of Education voted to put forward a $183.4 million referendum in November's general election, in order to better support our curriculum and capacity through $208.4 million in facilities improvements. For more information:

  • Watch the August 18 Board meeting here.
  • Read the most recent referendum details from Unit 4 here.
  • Read Nicole Lafond's 8/19/16 report in the News-Gazette here. (8/9/16 here; 8/15/16 here.)

Now that the referendum is officially on the ballot, the roles played by Board members (and bloggers) and District staff (and website) will change. Instead of gathering public input for planning and referendum development, we will be shifting toward education about the referendum and the projects it will support. Watch the Unit 4 website in the coming days and weeks; new information about the referendum -- such as updated site plans, tax numbers, and a FAQ page -- will all be forthcoming.

I encourage you to continue to communicate with your Board members in whatever way works for you (social media, email, telephone, at the grocery store, etc.), but know that we will be consolidating answers to referendum questions on a Unit 4 FAQ page so that these answers can be found in a centralized location.

Don't forget the important distinction between information put out directly by Unit 4, and the *reporting* of that information by media outlets or citizen groups. Our district controls the former; it does not and should not control the latter. I am grateful to live in a community where people can access multiple sources of information, provided that we remember to consider the source of everything we learn -- a skill that our teachers work on with our students every day!

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What else have we been working on this summer?

Contract negotiations with both unions -- CFT (Champaign Federation of Teachers) and CESP (Champaign Educational Support Professionals) -- began several weeks before the end of the 2015-16 school year and have continued throughout the summer. Each union's negotiating team has met with District representatives (including Board members) on seven different occasions.

Many of you already know that the Superintendent of Unit 4, Dr. Judy Wiegand, will retire at the end of the 2016-17 school year. (See a recent profile of Dr. Wiegand here, and a discussion of issues around replacing area superintendents here.) The Board will hold a Special Meeting at 6:00pm* on Monday, August 22, 2016, in order to decide whether to work with the IASB (Illinois Association of School Boards) in our search for a new superintendent.

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School). Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the meeting agenda here. (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

*Note that we do not expect to have any business on 8/22/16 that requires an Executive Session, so the Open Session of our meeting will begin directly at 6:00pm.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Countdown to a Referendum and Preview of Board Meeting 8/8/16

Let's look back at 2016 so far, from a Facilities perspective:

Your Unit 4 School Board has held its public meetings, as usual, at which any member of the public may speak. In addition, we created a public committee on facilities, advertised its meetings, incorporated public input into its meetings, shared recordings of its meetings, shared copies of documents and correspondence, maintained a blog and a social media presence, held two open-house town halls, and conducted a public survey (which is open here until 8/11 if you live in the District and have not yet taken it).

Just in the past couple of weeks, representatives from the Board have met or corresponded with the Champaign City Council, the Savoy Village Board, the Champaign Park District, Unit 4 high school teachers, and multiple community groups (such as Rotary West, Lions, Keep Central Central, Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, and a neighborhood group). Board President Chris Kloeppel has been repeatedly interviewed by local television, radio, and print media outlets, and has even appeared on call-in shows. We hope this list illustrates that Board members are willing to come talk to any group that would like to have a conversation. All of us are grateful for our community's interest in and support of our efforts!

In short, with the help of outside professionals (architects, construction management, PR firm) as well as many Unit 4 staff members and community volunteers, we have put a lot of information out there and received a great deal of input. We want to channel all of that effort to discuss referendum possibilities at our August 8 Regular Board Meeting and then finalize referendum language at a Special Board Meeting on August 15.** Our ultimate goal? A referendum that will not only pass in November, but that will unite as much of our community as possible in support of our schools.

But what if you still have questions? Now is a great time to ask.

Please feel free to post questions here in the blog comments, on the Unit 4 facilities page, or by emailing Board members. We love the easy questions -- especially when we can correct misinformation or dispel rumors -- but we are willing to tackle the hard ones too.

I'll share here just two community questions that Kathy Shannon and I recently responded to on Facebook (minor edits for length):

Q: Why is a referendum needed? Can't the district use the 1% sales tax that was used to renovate the other schools? (7/15/16, on KR's Unit 4 Facebook page)
A: When revenue from the 1% sales tax became available to Unit 4, the district issued bonds in 2010 to address the following: pay off existing construction debt; renovate and/or expand Garden Hills, Booker T. Washington, Westview, Bottenfield, Robeson, and Kenwood; build a new Carrie Busey building in Savoy; and acquire land for a new Central High School. Since 2010, most of our 1% funds go toward paying off those bonds, with the remainder funding the district's 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan projects (new roofs, tuck pointing, etc.) as promised. Unless revenue from the 1% sales tax increases substantially beyond projections, it is unlikely that the district will be able to issue new bonds from the 1% money until 2036, when the 2010 bonds are paid off. (See here for more info.)

Q: Has any thought been given to selling the farm land that the previous school board purchased and applying those funds towards paying for one of these options? OR, I know the Board paid double the market value for the land - can the land be farmed and that money be used toward these options? Will this be a temporary tax to fund the construction and once schools are built, it will be lowered or will the school board then need these funds to operate the buildings? (8/2/16, on KS's Unit 4 Facebook page)
A: I'm only speaking for myself [Kathy Shannon], and not for the whole board, but I'm not willing to sell the farmland until we know for sure that the community will support a high school at Central. Even if we could get back the entire purchase price, it wouldn't be enough to make a substantial difference in terms of the referendum amount we may be looking at. Another consideration is that I've heard considerable feedback that the school district should be thinking about land banking for the future. Unfortunately, according to the sale contract on 40 of those 80 acres, we are not allowed to sell. The contract states that if a high school is not built on that land within 10 years, the seller has the right to repurchase the land at the original price. In the meantime, the board has been leasing part of the land to United Way (more info here). The rest of the land is still being farmed by the same farmer who was using it before we purchased it, under the same arrangement.

We have not yet proposed specific language for the referendum, but what we are considering is a bond referendum. We would ask for the authority to borrow an amount of money (yet to be decided), over a specific period of time. That tax increase would expire once those bonds were paid off, which would probably be over the next 20-25 years. We should actually see some small savings after renovating these buildings, from improvements in energy efficiency. If we don't end up including all the buildings in this referendum, there will likely be another one down the line to fund additional buildings. That would mean a lower increase in taxes, but over a longer period of time since we'd have to do it twice, and it would mean that some buildings would wait longer for increased capacity and better facilities.


What's your question?

**UPDATE 8/12/16 There are now two Special Board Meetings scheduled for next week: August 15, 2016 at 5:30pm and August 18, 2016, at 6:00pm. The meeting on August 15 will have an additional opportunity for public comment at the end of the meeting. Referendum language will be finalized at the second meeting of the week, on August 18.

***

8/8/16 Board Meeting, 6:00pm (tonight)

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the meeting agenda here by clicking first on the meeting date and then clicking "View the Agenda." (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)