Resident organizing challenge to Champaign district's working-cash bonds

Resident organizing challenge to Champaign district's working-cash bonds

CHAMPAIGN — After the Champaign school board approved issuing $14.5 million in working-cash bonds earlier this week, at least one taxpayer is ready to challenge that decision.

The bond issue would raise property taxes about $25 a year for the owner of a $150,000 house for the next 20 years, and the school district would use the money for building improvements around the district.

The school board voted 7-0 at its Monday meeting to approve the bond issue.

But Champaign resident Don Kermath told the board during public comment that he had 71 volunteers lined up to gather enough signatures to put the issue to a vote.

Working-cash bonds allow school districts to raise property taxes without taxpayer approval.

However, if 10 percent of registered voters in the school district sign a petition in the 30 days after the school district takes out an ad in the newspaper, it will become a question on the ballot in the November election. That ad is expected to run sometime this week, said Gene Logas, the district's chief operating officer.

In the Champaign school district, more than 5,900 people would need to sign a petition to make that happen.

Kermath said Tuesday that he was gathering with "a small group of activists to formulate a plan."

"It's not rocket science, however," he said. "We have to get about 200 signatures a day to meet the minimum of 5,918 in 30 days. We've created petitions already with 20 signatures each. So we have to fill 10 of them a day."

The board's vote means $14.5 million is the maximum the school district can issue in working-cash bonds, but Logas said the board could decide on a smaller amount.

The school district would spend the money on improvements on various buildings, including:

— About $3.5 million for a geothermal system and electrical upgrade at Franklin Middle School.

— About $3.5 million for a geothermal system and electrical upgrade at Jefferson Middle School.

— About $868,000 total for new energy-efficient lights at Franklin, Jefferson and Edison middle schools and Central High School.

— About $2.3 million for wireless technology in all buildings.

— About $1.3 million for a new transportation facility.

The school board could also decide to buy new windows for Franklin Middle School, for about $973,000, and Jefferson Middle School, for about $947,000.

That became a more viable option when Logas told the board Monday that the school district would not buy laptop computers with money from working-cash bonds. Instead, Unit 4 will use its savings to purchase laptops that administrators decide on after studying the school district's needs.

There will also be a cost to the district to issue the bonds.

Logas said the district won't start any work during the 30-day petition period, and if enough voters sign petitions, the question would appear on the ballot in the November election.

Or, he said Monday, the school board could decide to drop the bond issue altogether.

Kermath asked the school board Monday why the school district couldn't use money from the 1 percent facilities sales tax to pay for the improvements.

But that money is budgeted — the district sold $83 million in bonds to pay for construction of the new Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, the Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy and remodeling of some of its elementary schools. It also plans to pay for the land for a new high school with this money.

It also uses sales tax money to catch up on deferred maintenance of its buildings and to pay off construction debt from Barkstall and Stratton elementary schools, Logas said.

That has resulted in a savings of $40 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $150,000 house, said district spokeswoman Lynn Peisker.

Kermath said that while he found the projects on the district's list of improvements to be "mostly worthwhile," he told the board he was concerned about the way the district is going about getting the money to pay for them.

"I would like to see this go to a proper referendum on the November ballot," he said.

Board President Sue Grey said she thinks now is the time to complete the improvements.

"I think we have put off long enough the things our kids need," Grey said, especially because the adults in the school district are in a position to provide for those needs.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Champaignite wrote on February 29, 2012 at 7:02 am

For the relatively small cost per homeowner, I would much rather that the school district get going on these projects sooner rather than later while prices are still ddown on construction-type projects.  As the economy starts to pick up, if the money will stretch further now than later, get the stuff done now before prices start to rise.  It sounds like some of this stuff is long overdue anyway.  It seems like the district is finally getting its act together on facilities and bringing them up to date.  Although this will definitely cost me more money (and with no direct benefit to me at all), it sounds like it's good for the community as a whole.

SPFZero wrote on February 29, 2012 at 9:02 am

The cost of the bonds, paid in interest, will most likely be greater than the cost of construction inflation. Otherwise no one would buy the bonds. In the end the People will pay much more if the District borrows more money -  money the People don't have.

dickson wrote on February 29, 2012 at 8:02 am

Most of the time the plans are lofty at the expense of the taxpayers and property owners, while the property values are going down all the time.

Reg: The most expensive item: The expected savings in the  geothermal system are only the estimator's version, reality may be much off the target. Is there any guaranteed performance from the contractor/and pay penalty, if annual savings are not achieved

Can the city council, in stead, find ways how to reduce the property tax by say $100 per house instead? and implement in the next collection period? before asking for $25 contribution per household.

SPFZero wrote on February 29, 2012 at 9:02 am

If I were King I would move money from other areas of government in order to spend much more on education - education should be our priority. But I'm not King and we live in a constitutional democracy. Is it too much to ask the voters if they want to borrow more money and pay higher taxes?

Himiko wrote on February 29, 2012 at 10:02 am

Where do we go to sign the petitions?

sacrophyte wrote on February 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Don is assembling a team to go get signatures, and they met last night to discuss this (I believe). I know we have to go to the Mellon Center to pick up an official Petition form, but I do not know more details at this point in time. I have asked Don about getting a public, central website up to coordinate.


@SPFZero: do people know your real name?

-- charles schultz

just_wondering wrote on February 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm

The 1% sales tax was intended to pay for such things. That money has apparently all been used up to pay back the bonds over the next many years that paid for the other recent construction projects such as the much-needed addition to Garden Hills. To garner support to pass the referendum for the 1% sales tax, taxpayers were promised, and subsequently provided, a property tax break. So the money has been spent. That's it. End of story, right? Not so fast. Let's reach back into the taxpayer pocket and get that money back from the property tax relief for more "much-needed" projects. When does it end?

And don't forget that Gov Quinn is trying to push the State's share of pension funding back to the local school districts which will be an 8% increase in the personnel budget. That will also require funding and additional property taxes - unless you want to see an 8% staff reduction that results in loss of programs/curriculum at the high school level and increases in elementary class sizes. Do you want new windows or do you want your child to be in a reasonable size class so they can actually learn?

sacrophyte wrote on February 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm


I had an early comment that appears to have been removed. @just_wondering, that is the question. We have a number of "big things" that we as a district and community are going to have to tackle, but right now only the district is really tackling it - I am not seeing the community involvement. I would put a question to the community as a whole along the lines of "Given that the state is pretty much bailing on public education, what are some creative ways that we can use local resources to fulfill the needs of public education?"


Rich, broad-spectrum attempts have been made in the past to do this exact same thing (Great Campus, Great Schools Together, Big.Small.All, etc) and yet we still have these problems. We can point fingers at Administrators or other groups, yet how do we go beyond pointing fingers and start walking down the path of solutions?

bluegrass wrote on February 29, 2012 at 9:02 pm

When does it end?  It doesn't end.  This situation is what Barack Hussein refers to as a "teachable moment."  Give the schools a million, they will sell issue bonds for tens of millions, then come back with hat in hand asking for more just a short 2 years later.

Mark Taylor wrote on March 01, 2012 at 10:03 am

That's right. That SNOB, B. HUSSEIN Obama, wants to indoctrinate our kids with his teachable moment government madrasahs. JUST SAY NO to educating the young.

Mark Taylor wrote on February 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm

500 dollars over twenty years just to educate kids?!?! That's just completely outrageous. Why should I have to pay for their education? We need to do as Newt suggests and put these kids to work scrubbing richer kids' toilets. That'll teach them the value of a nickel. Just say no to funding education. After all, as Santorum says, schools are just commie hippie indoctrination mills anyway. We need to do away with these silly child labor laws (as Newt also argued), only let certain kids go to school, and put the rest to work starting at age five.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 29, 2012 at 9:02 pm

@Mark Taylor;  wink, wink... ;)

mankind wrote on February 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm

That's right. And when you sign the petition you get a "STAY OFF MY LAWN" sign for free.

sacrophyte wrote on March 01, 2012 at 9:03 am

Don's petition website:

serf wrote on March 04, 2012 at 12:03 pm

What a disingenuous slogan.  'A voice for our children.'  


I support people having a say in the matter, but let's not lie about the real reasons we're ticked off about it.  It's not about our children, it's about our pocketbooks.