Champaign schools referendum soundly defeated

Champaign schools referendum soundly defeated

CHAMPAIGN – Although Champaign schools may go back to voters in November seeking money for improvements, Superintendent Arthur Culver says officials will have to address requirements for north side space before then.

Voters Tuesday resoundingly defeated a building bond proposal to build three new schools in Champaign and make major improvements to most other elementary schools.The final votes: 4,006 in favor of the proposal and 7,079 against it.

Culver, who came back from his spring break vacation to see results come in, said the district is already behind schedule adding space north of University Avenue required by its consent decree. He said the board will have to talk about issuing working cash bonds to add space at an existing school or look at other options like freeing up space at another building and doing "some out-of-the-box thinking."

"We're really behind, and we can't wait for November for that," Culver said. "We're seeking a creative solution."

He said if district leaders decide to go back to voters in November, the proposal will probably look a lot different.

"This didn't have enough support," Culver said. "We'll regroup, talk to parents, board members, staff members, members of the community about what to do. Something needs to be done to improve our aging schools."

Board President Margie Skirvin said she was very disappointed to see the community's lack of support for the measure.

"I went to many PTA meetings because I thought it was important for people to feel like board members are listening to their concerns," Skirvin said. "To build trust, we need to keep listening."

She said she's not sure about the next step.

"Last time it took three tries to get a referendum passed," Skirvin said of proposals in the 1990s that resulted in the construction of Barkstall and Stratton schools. "The thing that was closest to my heart was fixing up those old buildings."

One of the three new schools to be built would have replaced Dr. Howard School with a two-story building on the same site. A second school would have been built on a donated site in Savoy, The third would have been built near the intersection of Staley Road and Bradley Avenue, a location announced March 13 that inflamed the black community it was supposed to benefit.

Facing that backlash, Superintendent Arthur Culver briefly backed off that location midweek but in a special meeting Friday, he said it was the only feasible site.

The work also would have included about $30 million worth of improvements, including air conditioning, to the eight older elementary schools – Bottenfield, Carrie Busey, Garden Hills, Kenwood, Robeson, South Side, Washington and Westview.

Champaign schools are legally bound by a consent decree to give an equal education to all students. That legal agreement was the driving force behind the ballot question, both because the district agreed to build more space north of University Avenue and because it needs to provide equal facilities for all students.

A key component of the agreement is the district's choice program. A family of an incoming kindergarten student must select three potential schools and a computer program that balances attendance racially at each school will assign the school that child will attend. However, preference is given to schools within 1.5 miles of the child's home.

Members of the black community say the northwest location violated the spirit of the consent decree because it would have been far from the heart of their north Champaign community and their children would have to take buses to attend it, continuing an integration practice in place since the 1950s.

Precinct tallies were telling. Only 10 of 52 precincts posted more yes votes than no votes, and only two of them were significant – Champaign 6 and 7, in the heart of Savoy. And even in that village, which stood to gain a school, it was close in one precinct.

In Champaign 6, 242 residents voted yes and 231 voted no. In Champaign 7, 316 voted yes and 172 voted no.

In northwest Champaign, where the site was so controversial, voters rejected the proposal. In City of Champaign 18, a precinct that surrounds Parkland College, 87 votes were cast in favor of the proposal and 151 were cast against. In City of Champaign 34, west and south of Parkland, 118 people voted for issuing the building bonds and 185 voted against it.

Culver thanked staff members like Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas for their hours of work talking to the public about the proposal and also members of the U4Excellence group that promoted the proposal.

Michael Miller, a Stratton parent who was one of the leaders of that group, said he hopes communications improve and the district finds answers to the issues it faces.

"I hope people listen to each other," Miller said. ""Only when we do that will we find the answers we need."

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NoSchool4U wrote on March 22, 2006 at 8:03 am

Isn't it interesting that Savoy would like to keep the buses of MTD out (for reasons that are probably a little more sinister than what is claimed) yet more than welcomes the tax dollars of the neighboring community to build a new school there ? No new schools in Savoy with outside tax money until it can resolve if it wants to be part of the larger community.

whome wrote on March 22, 2006 at 10:03 am

Thankfully this thing was soundly defeated. So what's the deal with Stratton? I keep hearing that school is only half to two thirds filled. Maybe now the district will actually go about filling that school.

willie06 wrote on March 22, 2006 at 10:03 am

You can take an underperforming black school, and move the gifted program into it. The school will perform better, and Mr. Culver will record the achievement onto his resume. But, will is help the black kids? Will it help the gifted kids? No! It is one example of the harm that this superintendent is causing to Champaign through his gaming of our system.

I did not vote against a school funding program, I voted against more busing for Champaign students. I voted against Arthur Culver and his racially divisive policies and attitude. When Mr. Culver is long gone to a bigger job at a large urban district, we will have to deal with the consequences of his actions. Greater racial animosity is bad for Champaign, even if it is good for superintendent Culver's career.

With 6 unused classrooms at Stratton, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to find room for more north side students.

brad wrote on March 22, 2006 at 1:03 pm

Does "noschool4u" think that Savoy residents don't pay taxes to the school district? This referendum was doomed from the beginning, but I hope other voters were more well-informed than this.

TimIL wrote on March 22, 2006 at 2:03 pm

Space isn't the only issue. Quality is also an issue. Champaign is well on its way to having 'inner-city' quality schools/busing because people aren't willing to adequately fund the school district. The state's system is broken, but locales can at least fund their schools through property taxes. But, no, the people have spoken and said, "we don't care about the children." What makes it worse is that the school district brought it on itself by totally screwing up the referendum by proposing totally awful ideas, then wavering on it. Who would support such a huge price tag without more information on where/what was going to be done!? Maybe some planning will be done and a solid proposal will be in place for November... "School of choice" should be available to every gradeschooler in an urban area, it is a shame that Champaign can't figure out a way to make it happen.

RL wrote on March 22, 2006 at 2:03 pm

We voted no because of the Staley Road School and the associated busing. And because the District did not seem ready for prime time. If necessary, give up the A/C and use the money to buy a nice intown piece of school property, or redo Washington. Let's hold to the spirit of the consent decree and stay in town, not out in the country.

NoSchool4U wrote on March 22, 2006 at 5:03 pm

yes brad, the issue is more complicated than that.....the taxes Savoy pays now does go to the education of its children presently, whichever school they attend, but building a school in Savoy and the related educational and economic benefits will mean that the taxes will be disproportionately distributed. Frankly I think we should be building schools and taking care of our children but I simply wanted to point out the irony with the MTD issue. It is almost always better to sacrifice for the greater good of our communities.

nomoney wrote on March 22, 2006 at 5:03 pm

When the county/city starts putting an explanation of why I have to pay 3% per year in property taxes (exponential growth), then perhaps I might be willing to pay more. Until then, I will vote down all ballot measures to raise taxes.

savymom wrote on March 22, 2006 at 6:03 pm

There are no empty classrooms at Stratton. I've been there. Check NCLB, you can't pad scores by adding gifted kids. If gifted kids do well, but low-income kids don't do well, the school is labeled failing. Champaign schools are improving, but if this community doesn't support them, we will all lose.

Truth wrote on March 22, 2006 at 9:03 pm

Why would the Board support a proposal that does little to even out bussing disparities between white and black students? A school in Savoy that white kids could walk to, another school in the midst of a white subdivision, two more opportunities for black families to be disenfranchised. Does anyone ever think of the disproportionately negative impact these policies will have on black families? Does anyone even care? The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. This proposed referendum was asbout as indifferent as you can get. Surely, we can do better.

savymom wrote on March 22, 2006 at 10:03 pm

The referendum would have really helped BTW, Garden Hills and Dr. Howard. BTW and Garden Hills have plenty of space for neighborhood students. To put another school near those schools would be crazy when the neighborhood can't fill them now. It is insulting to assume that no one cares about black students. I voted to spend millions to improve schools in the northeast and build a new school in the northwest that the school district said would give 150 African American kids a proximity A. Sounded like a good deal for black kids and white kids. Right now, I am considering private school for my daughter because I'm sick of the way the adults fight in Unit 4. I really like the diversity in the schools, but I don't like name calling and accusations like I've seen lately.

BigE wrote on March 23, 2006 at 7:03 am

Thank you, RL. Let's redevelop property in the heart of the north side of Champaign, giving the residents there a high quality facility IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD. The land will cost more than a comparable parcel on the fringe of the city, but that is the price we all have to pay for making the easy choice (fringe expansion) in the past.

Hopefully we send the consultants home and have some heart to heart discussion with the people who have to vote 'yes' on the next referendum.

Open note to Unit 4: Let's build 1 new school for $15 million which is actually in the city, and earmark another $10 - $20 million to take care of aging infrastructure needs which are pressing.

Truth wrote on March 23, 2006 at 8:03 am

If we really cared about black kids would we have consent decree ordering us to treat them equitably? Would we sit quietly as the Board fails to meet the terms of this consent decree? Would we ignore the disproportionate numbers of black students that are suspended, expelled, and dropout every year? I graduated from Champaign schools and readily admit that it is a system filled with hardworking, loving educators that care about ALL students, regardless of race, class, or color. However, we cannot continue to ignore and make exscuese for a history of systemic discrimination against black families in our city. We need a referendum that addresses this issue first. Savoy can wait--black kids have been bussed for decades, they can hold out for a few more years. AC can wait--we've sweated through August and September for over 100 years, five more won't kill us. More strands on the northside, that minimize the need for bussing within the black community, cannot wait--we have court orders to rectify this, and other equity issues, with all deliberate speed. Currently, we are woefully behind schedule. Let's do what we are supposed to do now, and work on the things we want to do later.

anothermom wrote on March 23, 2006 at 10:03 am

I agree with Truth, BigE, and RL. You all make very cogent points. To savymom, I would like to say that if we put a quality educational program in a school, the children will come. Do you remember when BTW was a magnet school? Parents would have (figuratively) killed to get their children in BTW. They had a waiting list. No one seemed to mind, at that time, sending their children to a school on the north side of town.

Also, some people feel like Stratton has more than enough space to house north side students. If we have an understanding of the consent decree then we would know that we are under racial fairness guidelines. If every north side student went to Stratton, the school would be racially identifiable. The whole reason we bus kids all over is so that schools are integrated and cannot be racially identifiable. That's why Stratton is not fully enrolled.

Our children deserve quality schools providing a quality education with quality staff and quality leadership. I think there were a multitude of reasons this referendum failed, but I believe that the idea that students who attend certain schools are still not getting the same education as others (in say, Barkstall) as well as the fact that black students would still end up being bused to unfamiliar far-away neighborhoods played a large role.

Hopefully the Board and the administration will learn some lessons from this failure and come back to the public with a fairer, more equitable, more informative referendum package that we can pass.

savymom wrote on March 23, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Another mom also misses my point. I want good schools for all children. I just think the demand for another school very close to BTW, Garden Hills and Stratton is ridiculous. No one will vote for it. I base that assumption on the fact that those schools, Garden Hills and BTW in particular are underenrolled. I understand racial fairness guidelines. I went to the web site and read the materials. But one thing that I'm thinking may be wrong. I assume that most African American children get their first choice of schools and that they are able to go to their neighborhood schools if they want to. If a large percentage of African American kids don't get their first choice school or can't get into their neighborhood school, then I agree with you. If not, we missed a great opportunity to help everyone. Maybe some of that vile stuff that I saw on tv is true. I will call the school about kids getting into neighborhood schoools and report back.

scaredparent wrote on March 23, 2006 at 4:03 pm

"Something needs to be done to improve our aging schools."

Really!? I think something needs to be done to improve the discipline problem our schools face. How about a referendum that allows our teachers to teach? Is that too far out of our grasp? I would fully support a referendum for improving our schools if I felt my child would receive a good education within those schools. Why am I going to let my tax dollars go to improving public schools when I'm going to have to pay for a private education so my kid can GET an education!?

Lotte wrote on March 24, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Truth writes:

'If we really cared about black kids would we have consent decree ordering us to treat them equitably? Would we sit quietly as the Board fails to meet the terms of this consent decree? Would we ignore the disproportionate numbers of black students that are suspended, expelled, and dropout every year?'

Would boarding school work for your concerns? It is perplexing that you think it is the job of schools to ultimately be responsible for a child's behavior. My kid goes to school READY TO LEARN. Disrespectful behavior is NOT tolerated at home or anywhere else. There are consequences for it. I take personal responsibiility for my child so that teachers can spend their time TEACHING. And if this is such a horrifyingly racist city, why not move to, say, Urbana. It's the same community, just a different outcome when it came to the courts.