Farm Bureau, Chamber urge members to look into vote on Champaign schools bond issue

CHAMPAIGN — As Champaign resident Don Kermath works to put the school district's intent to raise property taxes by issuing working-cash bonds on a ballot, two community groups are also getting involved in the effort.

The Champaign County Farm Bureau has endorsed Kermath's website, http://www.avoiceforschools.com, and encouraged its members in the school district to learn more about the issue and sign or circulate petitions, said farm bureau Director Brad Uken.

Kermath believes the Champaign school district should have to ask voters on a ballot before issuing working-cash bonds. The school district may issue up at $14.5 million in bonds, which would raise annual property taxes about $25 for the owner of a $150,000 house. It would use the money for building improvements around the school district.

To put the question on the November ballot, it would take 10 percent of registered voters in the school district signing a petition in the 30 days since the district advertised its intent to issue the bonds. That's more than 5,900 signatures. The official deadline is March 30.

Uken said the issue was discussed both with the farm bureau's legislative committee and board of directors before deciding to encourage more than 3,000 members to sign petitions.

He said the farm bureau supported the school facilities sales tax and the schools in general, but had hoped it would take longer before the school district started raising property taxes again.

"We just think ... the voters should have input on it, rather than the school board, in this instance," Uken said.

He said the letter the farm bureau sent to its members in the school district encouraged them to contact the district for more information, then go to Kermath's website to learn more about signing and circulating petitions.

"The number-one thing we encouraged our members to do is become educated," Uken said.

He said the farm bureau's board is not opposed to the proposed improvements the school district would make with the working-cash bond money, which include:

— Installing a new geothermal system and upgrading the electrical work at Franklin Middle School.

— Installing a new geothermal system and upgrading the electrical work at Jefferson Middle School.

— New energy-efficient lights at Franklin, Jefferson, Central High School and Edison Middle School.

— Wireless technology in all buildings.

— A new transportation facility.

— New windows at Franklin and Jefferson, possibly.

The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce also released a statement saying 70 percent of members who took a poll on the subject said they'd like to see the bond issue on a ballot. The email also included links to Kermath's website, where members could see where to sign a petition or sign up to have one in their place of business.

Chamber Director Laura Weis was out of the office Wednesday and not available for comment, and it's not clear how many people took the survey.

Kermath said he's set a personal deadline of March 26 to collect the petitions and count the signatures.

As he gathers notarized petitions, he posts the number of signatures they include on his website. As of Wednesday afternoon, his website tallied 941 votes.

Kermath said the farm bureau's letter has increased the number of signatures collected. Those interested in signing can now do so at 25 locations around town, listed on Kermath's website, including three Next Generation School locations.

"Every day we get more in than we got the day before," Kermath said. "Lately, we're starting to build some momentum. Hopefully, we will have enough time to complete the task."

Champaign Superintendent Judy Wiegand said the school district understands the farm bureau's concerns.

"We certainly appreciate the assistance given during both 1 percent (facilities schools tax) campaigns and understand their concern is not how the money is spent but on the process for obtaining it," Wiegand said. "The petition option certainly exists for the public to have input on the process. We just want to be sure citizens have the facts before they make a decision to sign."

She shared a letter that district Chief Operating Officer Gene Logas sent to Farm Bureau Board President Lin Warfel. In it, Logas outlined the reasons the school district hopes to issue the bonds.

"Since Centennial High School was built in 1967, only about $26 million in voter-approved debt was invested in the capital needs of the district," Logas wrote. "Meanwhile, buildings aged, teaching techniques changed and technology needs in the classroom grew dramatically. Our middle schools and high schools, for example, are on average 70 and 60 years old.

"The Board of Education decided to use the $80 million (in bonds sold and to be repaid using money from the school facilities sales tax) primarily at the elementary level, so now we must tend to the needs at our middle or high school levels," he wrote. "Unfortunately, because of the backlog of building deficiencies, (money from the facilities sales tax) wasn't enough to take care of all of the needs in our 18 buildings."

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bremax wrote on March 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Unit 4 schools are on Academic Watch Status, the lowest possible rating for a school district in the state of Illinois.  Unit 4 has been on AWS for many years.

 

However, over these many years, Unit 4 has spent tens of milions of dollars on school buildings and school building improvements.  Beautiful steel and brick palaces of educational deficiency.

 

Why should we believe that spending additional tens of millions on school buildings is going to improve the quality of education? 

 

Students are still going to receive the same sub-standard education that Unit 4 has been dishing up for years, but with higher taxes for us all.

bremax wrote on March 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

If they put half the thought into educating kids that they put into their buildings...

 

Beautiful steel and brick palaces of educational deficiency.

sacrophyte wrote on March 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm

@bremax

Personally I do not put a lot of value on the standardized test scores. Looking at IIRC, there are a total of 153 Districts on AWS (another 175 on AEWS) in 2011. I do not have the tools necessary to go back in time to analyze a trend state-wide. I do not believe AWS is a problem isolated to Champaign.

 

How does one calculate what a "standard education" actually is? I for one have a problem with the way modern education is delivered, getting worse as one progresses through the system, all the way through college. I am not certain that calling the education "dished up" by Unit 4 can be objectively called "sub-standard". If you can put hard facts and numbers behind that, I would like to see it.

 

I would love to see a constructive critique of our local schools. Yes, there are problems. But there are also <em>perceptions</em> of problems, some of which is not based on reality. For those problems that are realistic, what can we as a community do about them? Don't complain about the dirty water without suggesting a course of action to clean it up. For example, early childhood literarcy; Unit 4 is quite aware of this problem and there are several different efforts underway with the University of Illinois, in additional to the Illinois Voices "Great at 8" Initiative, an event for which was held in Champaign in November, 2011.

 

Another thought; how about a metric to see how the educational quality (environment, morale, etc) has been altered at schools like Garden Hills and BTW? What about using the same metric against relatively recent schools like Stratton and Barkstall? Have we asked the students what they think?

bremax wrote on March 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

You have asked for hard numbers, so I will oblige:

There are a total of 153 districts on Academic Watch Status along with us.  153 districts in Illinois that join us at the bottom of the pile.  It sounds like we have a lot of company, right?  But, there are currently 869 districts in the state of Illinois.  That means that there are 716 districts in the state that are rated above Unit 4.  Yes, that puts us in the bottom fifth of school districts in Illinois.  To be more exact, we are at or below the 18th percentile of school districts in Illinois.

 

Despite many tens of milions in recent construction and facility upgrade...  Unit 4 is still in the bottom quintile of school districts in Ilinois....  Let that sink in for a minute....

 

I'm not being paid one of your enormous administrator salaries to figure this stuff out for you.   But, it seems obvious that what you have been doing is not working.  So, here is a constructive suggestion:

 

Stop spending so much money on buildings, and try something else.

 

When you take on debt and spend it on something that fails to improve academic performance, you have done more than fail in the current time period.  You have also limited your options to do anything in the future.  You will have debt payments that pile up, and prevent you from spending any new money on things that actually can improve academic performance.  A generation or more can be lost to a bad decision in the realm of 30 year bond issuance.

 

 

sacrophyte wrote on March 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Thanks for obliging. :) And BTW, when you say "you", I am going to assume you mean Unit 4. Or "you" in the general sense.

 

What should money be spent on? I am in partial agreement with you about building buildings; my family is involved at Carrie Busey and believe you me, living in Prairie Fields I am excited about next year! But for the life of me I cannot figure out why Unit 4 decided to build a new school. In Savoy. Again, I am way excited about it, but am very much scratching my head. And I mentioned Barkstall and Stratton in my first response - it is very strange that we have lots and lots of deferred maintenance ($110+ million according to BLDD), but yet have a budget for new buildings. If the plan were to raze old buildings as they became unworthy, then this plan kinda makes sense. But I don't see that in the plan (with the exception of the talks about the high school options).

 

My take on this working cash bond issue is that it is more of a communication issue and how the public perceives the Board and the Administration. From the few non-Unit 4 people that I have talked to, their perception of Unit 4 is not high. It is my opinion that the current Unit 4 Board and Administration has tried hard, with good intent, to do their job to the best of their abilities, but the public has not been along for the ride (especially given previous Administrations and Boards). I think, and I could be wrong, that in order to rectify that particular problem the Board should go into overkill mode in being transparent and overly communicative.

 

But I still want to know what "we" can spend on money on to actually improve education. There are a lot of theories out there - what actually, really works for Champaign?

 

-- charles

bremax wrote on March 23, 2012 at 9:03 am

It is true that the current leadership has inherited a lot of animosity.  Arthur Culver was an awful leader, and the board that hired him and renewed his contract is deserving of some level of contempt.  Now we have new leadership, and I think that hopes are very high for a better outcome.

I've been hearing a lot about early childhood literacy recently.  Among other things, I am impressed by the documented inverse correlation with imprisonment rates later in life.  So, beefing up those offerings seems like a good approach.  But, that only scoops up some of the bottom students who are not prepared.


If you want to improve education for every student, then academics must be the primary focus.  From my reading, the big variable is hours per year spent in the classroom.  More hours is highly correlated with better education outcomes.  

 

The fancy buildings are all just decoration.

Feltrino wrote on March 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

"We just want to be sure citizens have the facts before they make a decision to sign."

If, Dr. Weigand, you understand that the concern is not how the money is spent but on the process for obtaining it, what facts do we need before we decide to sign the petition?

The facts, from where I sit, appear to be that the school board has found a way to raise taxes without asking the tax payers first.  It would also seem that the school board understood that a tax hike put to a vote would not likely be approved, regardless of the merits.

If the need is as great as is portrayed by the school board, put it to a vote.  Convince the taxpayers of the merits of this tax.  The David and Goliath battle that has been created by this poor decision on the school board's part has completely overshadowed why the money is needed.  At this point, who cares?  It is a matter of principle. 

This board has demonstrated such poor decision making that they probably couldn't get a tax reduction passed if put to a vote.  If the school board won't let me vote on this tax hike, I will have a vote when they are on the ballot next.  Their campaigning will coincide nicely with when I have to make property tax payments.

Sign the petition. 

Mark Taylor wrote on March 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Ya. I want a chance to vote against this money grabbing $25 per year tax just to wastefully educate children. Those layabouts need to get jobs scrubbing toilets, like Gingrich said, if they think they deserve a quality education and buildings that don't leak. I'm tired of paying the way of the free loading moocher children.

Sign the petition indeed.

bremax wrote on March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Mark, your comment is irrelevant to the issue at hand, but still manages to be inflamatory.  Well done!

rsp wrote on March 22, 2012 at 10:03 pm

My problem with it is I never heard any discussion of it until the decided to do it, and they say it's for things they haven't even commited to using the money for. If my child came to me and asked for the money and said "it's for education I may buy this with it I may not" do you think I would hand it over? What kind of parent would I be? What kind of fiscal stewardship is that? How about leadership, integrity?

Mark Taylor wrote on March 23, 2012 at 3:03 am

Absolutely right. Fiscal stewardship means saying "no" when your child wants tools and buildings to help them learn. Let them learn on their own dime, darnit!

dw wrote on March 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Ditch the homework, it's ineffective -- http://www.edutopia.org/homework-no-proven-benefits.  Do you really enjoy comming home from work and having to do MORE work for somebody else, or do you value your "playtime". 

Playtime is creativity development time when you're a kid.

Spend MORE time focused on creativity instead of teaching to the ISAT/tests -- there is no possible way that we can teach someone in Kindergarten how to solve the problems they'll see 20 years later -- BUT if we teach them how to creatively recombine the knowledge learned in school...

Physical activity has be documented to increase brain activity and have a positive impact on learning.

Music has been shown to be a backdoor to learning fractions and other forms of math.

Sadly, PE, Art, and music education in Unit 4 has been regulated to "specials" status, which means, in fact, they're not special at all! -- you get to do them every other day or some other thing like that.  But a picture is worth a thousand words -- http://mmsdamps.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/nclb-cartoon.gif

My DD in 5th grade at BTW likes to be driven to school.  Why?  Because she gets to hang out in the ART room.  This is at a STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) school.  She's in the gifted program there.  Her favorite subjects?  Art and Music. 

We just got to see her 4th grade ISAT results two weeks ago at a P-T conference.  Holy Crabcakes batman!  That information is useless to us now!  All this money and stress spent and the results come back the next school year?!?  Worse than useless as a parent/taxpayer with knowledge of online test scoring and former Pearson employee (the company who contracts out for the ISAT)

Less grade-based work and more competancy based work-at-your-own-pace curricula (google Albanesi Math) and no more Everyday Math.  It does no good to pass a kiddo with a 'C' in algebra I on to Algebra II if indeed Algebra II builds on Algebra I.  It stands to reason they will have a very hard time in Algebra II if their Algebra I skills are not competent.  Likewise, ax the repetitive work that the students already know by pretesting each math unit (see Albanesi/NovaNET).  Do not waste their precious educational time reteaching them stuff they already know.  THAT is why there's a lot of boredom in schools -- there's a significant amount of wasted time teaching stuff to kids they've already learned...

Less stand-and-deliver lecturing style, also shown to be ineffective --

http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/university-students-fare-bett...

No. More. Reading. Logs.  Let's take something most adults do for pleasure and suck the joy out of it by forcing it.  Instead, incentivize it like MeatHeads (where your kiddo gets a free meal for reading 5 books signed off by parents).  At the same time, why are there not math/science logs like there are reading logs?  Kiddos need to see that they use math everyday...  math books are boring because they don't ask questions kiddos are interested in solving.  See Schoolhouse Rock as far as learning your multiplication tables.  Again, music teaching math.

More emphasis on the fact that it's all interconnected:  Math is used in Biology, Geometry used in automechanics (gears), language arts in technology (a lot of the higher tech comes from Germany/Japan).  Separating them gives a false sense that you can survive on the strength of one without the others.  You can't.

Put the fun back in learning, take the droll out of becoming educated.  Teach creativity, creatively.  No. More. ISATS.

Funny thing is, the teachers I know and that my daughter had echo many of these same sentiments!

Put curriculumn control back in the hands of the teachers.  Put control of the schools back in the hands of the teachers, parents and individual school administration (instead of the school boards).

Viva La Revolución: 

Schools Kill Creativity (link)
Bring on the learning revolution (link)

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 27, 2012 at 1:03 pm

dw; Glad your kid is gifted.  The majority of kids in the school system are not.  The tax issue should be put up for a vote.  Many of the voters do not have kids in the schools.  They should have some say in their taxes being raised.  That is not to say that they may vote for it.  Better schools bring better property values.  Although at this time; property values have declined, and are just rising a bit.  It should be voted on.