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!


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.)