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:

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:

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.