Champaign school board to consider high school possibilities, issuing cash bonds
CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board will discuss narrowing the list of possibilities for replacing Central High School and the idea of issuing working cash bonds to pay for building improvements and technology upgrades.
The school board will meet at 6 p.m. today at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C.
District Chief Operating Officer Gene Logas presented the idea of issuing working cash bonds at the board's Jan. 9 meeting, and will present an updated version tonight.
The district would use up to $15 million from the bonds to pay for geothermal systems at Franklin and Jefferson middle schools, energy-efficient lighting at Central High School, Franklin, Jefferson and Edison middle schools, wireless technology in all buildings, laptops for students and a new transportation facility.
Working cash bonds allow the district to raise property taxes, which are used to pay off the bonds, without putting the question on a ballot in an election.
But if 10 percent of registered voters in the district sign a petition within 30 days of the district announcing it will issue the bonds, it would require a vote in the next election.
Logas will propose issuing the bonds in stages in order to make sure the laptop computers are paid off in five years.
"What we're looking for is the board to approve the maximum that the two (bond issues) could equal," Logas said.
The effects on property taxes vary, as a result. For a person owning a $150,000 home, taxes will go up:
— $19 the first year.
— $41.50 the second through sixth year (to pay off the laptop purchases).
— $21.50 the seventh through 20th years, when the district pays off the bonds.
Logas said it's possible that the school board won't approve issuing all of the bonds. And right now, the district is budgeting $3.4 million for laptops in 2013, but Logas said that's a high estimate.
Superintendent Judy Wiegand and Centennial Principal Greg Johnson are studying exactly what kind and how many laptops the district needs to buy.
"They're making sure that's exactly what we need to spend," Logas said, and making sure the technology will be integrated will into the curriculum.
Also Monday, Wiegand will share community feedback on former Interim Superintendent Robert Malito's nine options for what to do with Central High School, to either replace it or combine it with Centennial High School.
The board will discuss narrowing that list.
Malito's options include combining the high schools at an expanded Centennial. That would require the demolition of Jefferson High School.
Malito also listed as an option demolishing Franklin Middle School and buying Judah Christian School's nearby building. The district could demolish those for a new district facility if board members choose that option.
Several outlined moving Edison Middle School to the vacated Central High School building and selling the Edison building.
Those options are directly related to the issue of working cash bonds, because Logas' plan for the working cash bond money includes adding geothermal systems and electrical upgrades to Jefferson and Franklin middle schools.
He's also proposing buying window air conditioners for Edison Middle School using school facilities sales tax money.
But the district plans to fund this round of improvements with working cash bond money. That's because much of the $83 million in bonds, to be repaid with money from the sales tax, is already budgeted for other projects.
It's being used for paying off existing construction debt, remodeling elementary schools and building the new Booker T. Washington STEM Academy and new Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy. The district also plans to buy land for a new Central high school (or another building, depending how the board proceeds) with sales tax money.
"All we ask for is that the taxpayers examine the list" of things the district would like to do with the working cash bond issue money, Logas said. "If you look at the list of improvements and you think it's money well-spent, then hopefully, you'll support us."
District spokeswoman Lynn Peisker said the improvements are all dedicated to updating schools and making them more comfortable. Plus, she said, the building updates will include energy efficiencies that will save taxpayer money in the future.
Board member Kristine Chalifoux said she's more comfortable issuing working cash bonds for building improvements than for emergency measures, as the district did in 2006 to cover operational costs. It paid those back in five years.
"I wish we just had all the money in the world to do the things we need to do," Chalifoux said. "However, we don't. Working cash bonds, to me, need to be used for investments so it has a payoff."
Chalifoux, an architect who has a special interest in energy efficiency, said she's heard from teachers who have newly air-conditioned classrooms. The district finished air conditioning all its elementary schools this summer.
"They said they were getting about two extra weeks of teaching in. That's huge," Chalifoux said. "You don't know how many parents have said, 'we want a longer school year.' We just did it without any other expense than air conditioning the schools."
Adding geothermal systems to Franklin and Jefferson middle schools would mean they'd be air conditioned, too.
Chalifoux said the district needs to look at adding window units at Central, too, because even if the district does something different with the building, students will still be there for the next five years. That's about the life expectancy for window units, she said, adding that they're relatively inexpensive.
"My point is, getting air conditioning in the schools is the first step to improving our schools as a whole, so we can provide the education the students need to succeed," Chalifoux said.