Friday, January 8, 2016

Preview of Board Meeting 1/11/16

Happy 2016!

Looking ahead to Monday's regular meeting of the Board:

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. (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

For those of you following Unit 4's ongoing facilities discussions, you will want to take note of an item of New Business: the formation of a Special Board Committee (as proposed before the December holiday break) that will assist us in developing our facility plan. The Administration will be bringing forward a draft of a proposed committee structure and agenda for the Board's comment and feedback at the meeting.

Perhaps the most revealing feature of the proposal as currently written is that the Committee will be tasked to make its final report at the May 9, 2016 Board Meeting. In other words -- fasten your seat belts, it's "go" time!

A draft of the Special Board Committee proposal is available with the agenda here. A few aspects I'd like to highlight:

WHAT -- The proposal encompasses facilities at the elementary and high school level. Specific buildings in the proposal include both Central and Centennial High Schools along with South Side and Dr. Howard Elementaries and the International Prep Academy. Middle school facility needs will be addressed with Champaign County Sales Tax revenue, when this funding stream can be accessed around 2025.

WHO -- The committee will have two tiers. Tier 1 will consist mostly of Unit 4 faculty/staff/students and will be charged with identifying capacity and programming needs and reporting that information to Tier 2. Tier 2 will consist of representatives from elected bodies of local government, the business community, and at-large community members. Their charge will be to discuss site options to best support capacity and programming needs, potential partnerships for shared facilities, financing, and referendum timeline.

HOW -- Tier 2 meetings will begin in March, with possible meeting topics and participants outlined in the proposal. As a Special Board Committee, their meetings will be subject to the Open Meetings Act. Meeting agendas, minutes and other documents discussed will be posted on the Champaign Unit School District’s website. A public comment section will be built into each meeting to allow for feedback from interested community members.

This proposal appears on Monday's agenda as New Business, so no official action will be taken. It will return on our Action Agenda at the January 25th meeting for a vote. We welcome your constructive feedback after Monday's discussion to help with the final draft; you may comment on this post or email the Board.


Other topics of interest on Monday's agenda include the following:

-- A video tour of Unit 4 from the air!

-- A presentation of Unit 4's 2015 Illinois District Report Card. These recent statistics are publicly available and contain a wealth of information; this presentation will provide some helpful context for interpreting them. (For you data geeks, another useful state website with Unit 4 statistics is here.)

-- A presentation from Chief Financial & Legal Officer Tom Lockman about applying for Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs), which will allow Unit 4 to issue bonds and borrow funds through the Illinois State Board of Education to complete Health Life Safety projects with little to no interest cost.


See you on Monday, and thank you for your continued interest in our schools.


  1. Comments about the Report Card:

    1. On page one, about the middle of the page, there is a little box labeled "Racial/Ethnic Background and Other Information". But it has absolutely nothing to do with Race nor ethnicity. Was it perhaps mislabeled?

    2. I am concerned about the information in that "racial/ethnic/other" box on page 1; to me, these show areas of improvement. Granted, "Mobility Rate" is just a statistic that we can't really do anything about, I get that. But the others we sure can. I would tie this into the district's emphasis on homelessness and the fact that 57.9% are labeled as "low-income" as well (not as a "problem", but as something that needs to be addressed in context).

    3. Still on page 1 - we have 100% parental contact? I mean, that would be totally awesome if that communicated the information I thought it did, but I somehow doubt my idea of "parental contact" is the same one you guys are using. :) So what does that mean exactly? Every single parent attended parent-teacher conferences? :)

    4. Page 2 lists "time devoted to teaching core subjects". I am curious, if teachers were honest, how much time is spent preparing for tests? Also, those times are a bit inflated I think. If a typical period is 47 minutes, you don't spend 47 teaching the subject. Come on. :)

    5. Page 3: The financial information seems a little wonky. For starters, we had $159M come in but only $132M going out? The other $27 million is not listed that I can see. Another issue I have is that when I looked at previous budgets, we actually spend more on Services than on Instruction, at least according to the way funds were classified. Also, that annual $8.6 million Debt Service is a red flag for me; I don't care that, according to the numbers on this page, our Debt Service is lower than the State average, that's still a lot of property tax dollars paying off debt (and related fees like interest).

    6. Page 4: What is the "High School 5-year graduation rate"? We have 5-year high schools? *snicker* I realize we have some freshmen held back a year because of "social promotion" and that we have a number of students who wind up in 9th grade not ready for 9th grade. But what are the raw numbers? How many students are we talking about? Again, comparing to the state average doesn't mean diddly to me.

    7. Starting on page 6 we see a lot of PARCC charts. This is telling me that basically every school in Illinois is, on average, failing? If you have only some 35% or 40% "meeting or exceeding expectations", then 65% - 60% are not meeting those expectations? That is not acceptable at all! Of course, I have a huge personal bias about the way PARCC is implemented, so I am taking those numbers with a giganormous grain of salt. So what does this information in fact tell me?

    8. Wrapping it all up. Now that you (generic, plural) told me how the district is doing, what are you going to do about it? What has Unit 4 identified as the challenge areas? What are we working on this coming year?

    1. I encourage you and anyone else interested in our District Report Card from 2015 to read Dr. Wiegand's introduction here:
      She reminds us that baseline data from a new test (such as PARCC) by definition must be taken with a giganormous grain of salt, as you put it. No matter what you think of testing in general, the first year's results will have very little meaning in and of themselves. Yet here they are, reported in the state's format, and I look forward to hearing what clarifying information and helpful context the district leadership will provide on Monday.

    2. Addressing some of the other questions you raised here: the document titled "2014 Report Card Definitions and Sources of Data" is now available on BoardDocs along with the 2014 Report Card itself. I think it clarifies some of the peculiarities in the way Illinois has chosen to report these numbers.

    3. I wanted to express my thanks to the Dr. Wiegand, Mr. Lockman, Dr. Taylor and others for responding to these questions at the Jan 11th board meeeting:

  2. Comments about the "Special Board Committee to Develop Facility Plan".

    First, kudos for going out of way to explicitly state that this is a Board Committee. :)

    So I see that there are two tiers of participants; first tier comprised of Unit 4 staff forming all the assumptions for the first two months, the second tier comprised of community people using those assumptions for the next few months. How will this be substantially different than the Facility Committees (plural) we have had in the past?

    My biggest fear is that there is no wide-spread community engagement. You essentially have a small group of people who will be making a series of decisions, and then the expectation that these decisions will be sold to the public in some fashion.

    From where I sit, I think one of the best ways to get community engagement is to ask them what they want and what they need. This takes time and effort. But the long-term benefits are more than worth it. In my opinion, focusing on short-term methods is going to be a mixed-blessing. And the school district doesn't really have a great track-record with this approach.

    1. Thanks for raising the point about community engagement, Charles; we will talk about that on Monday. My view is that we are charging this Special Committee to advise the board on the issues listed, not to take the lead on community engagement. In other words, community engagement is too fundamental a responsibility to delegate to a committee. It will be interesting to hear what others have to say about this question.


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