Unit 4 board expects to put facilities package on November ballot

Unit 4 board expects to put facilities package on November ballot

CHAMPAIGN — Less than 11 months from now, when taxpayers in Champaign and Savoy cast their votes for the next commander in chief, they'll likely be asked to fund a Unit 4 facilities package, too.

While the Champaign school board has not "formalized any strong final details, by any means," President Chris Kloeppel told The News-Gazette his board's plan is to try to get a question on the November 2016 ballot. Still to be determined: how much the school district will ask for, what buildings will be included and how the ballot question will differ from the ones voters rejected in November 2014, then again in April.

"It's truly been a constant process that's been going on for 10 years, and all the school board members have been involved in this discussion since, at least, November of last year. I think we should be able to put something together by that time," Kloeppel said.

On average, the turnout for fall presidential elections in Champaign County is about 80,000, compared to about 25,000 in local, off-year elections, County Clerk Gordy Hulten said. Kloeppel said he could see both pros and cons of either showing at the polls.

"You could argue both ways, but our commitment needs to be putting out a well-thought-out plan and a referendum we're able to stand behind," he said.

"In theory, it should be able to hold up, no matter the number of people voting. That being said, I don't think we'd want to hold off or hold back just because it's a presidential election."

If the school board ultimately decides to wait for the next election in the cycle — in March 2017 — Kloeppel said: "We wouldn't be putting ourselves back. The earliest we could even start building (after November) would be summer 2017."

If it plans to meet its November goal, there will be plenty of details to iron out before Aug. 21, the state-imposed deadline for passing a resolution or ordinance to put on the ballot. The proposal will have to be written as a "yes" or "no" question, and it must include information about the amount of bond dollars it's asking for, but the board will have "some leeway with the descriptive process," Hulten said, meaning it could "absolutely" identify the proposed location of a new school in the ballot question.

That's a biggie for Kloeppel, who said he wants to make sure the public is fully aware of where a new school would be built heading into an election.

"We should be very clear on what our intentions are when we get to that point, and it needs to be based all on community feedback," he said.

While the board hasn't determined what buildings it will include on a facility proposal, Kloeppel said it knows what schools are in greatest need:

— Three of the district's 12 elementary schools: Dr. Howard, South Side and the International Prep Academy.

— All three middle schools, with the oldest — Edison — being a top priority.

— Central and Centennial high schools, which were featured on both ballot questions voters recently rejected.

All eight schools won't be included in the district's next proposal, Kloeppel said — "We don't want to put out more than we think we are going to be able to pass" — but those that don't make the cut will be a part of the district's new master facility plan, which Kloeppel said will include "precise, fine-tuned plans of the next steps for each of those buildings and how they will be included in the process."

Since five new members joined it in April, Unit 4's board has spent most of its meetings reviewing the needs of each building and discussing programming and capacity goals for the district. In mid-November, the board held a brainstorming meeting to determine how many high schools Unit 4 should have. They settled on two, with the possibility of building a third in the future.

Kloeppel said facility discussions will start to "ramp up" after New Year's.

"We've been doing a lot of work, but in 2016, we will be putting it all together. When we put a referendum out, we want to be certain of what the public wants for a location (of a new school)," he said. "In February, March and April, we will see a lot of that vetted out.

"I think November 2016 will definitely be a goal, but it's still a little early. It's something we're shooting for. ... We've done a lot of work leading up to this, and it leaves time to have those public conversations."

Those discussions often turned heated during the district's last two attempts to push facilities packages through, particularly when it came to the proposed site for a new Central (along 80 acres of farmland Unit 4 purchased for $3.2 million in northernmost Champaign) and the price tags ($149 million in 2014, $144 million in April).

While the citizens group "Keep Central Central" was a driving voice behind the defeat in April — purchasing billboards and yard signs to publicize a "no" vote over the proposed Interstate Drive location — Secretary Prue Runkle said the group is now just in an "observation phase." KCC remains intact, she said, but isn't meeting on a regular basis, as it was ahead of the April election.

"We are aware that the school board is working with architects and attorneys to develop a master plan which will incorporate the district's needs from kindergarten through grade 12," Runkle said. "We don't want to micro-manage the process, and we merely want transparency and responsible leadership.

"We feel it is premature to comment on the timing for another school board referendum or on the specifics of the next school board referendum until we see what the new leadership at Unit 4 proposes."

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787 wrote on December 23, 2015 at 8:12 am

How about being able to build a high school for about $60 million total?  That would get a lot of "yes" votes right there.

Of course, we have to have a showcase new high school with all of its fancy and modern design.   The problem is, all of that garbage costs extra money to build and extra money to maintain.   Something that no one on that school board seems to understand.

The Champaign Library built a building that they can't afford.   Is ANYONE on the Unit 4 School Board paying attention?  How about cutting out all of the extravagant crap out of these buildings first?

We already know that the past leadership of the school baord doesn't listen to anyone, and there are two failed referendum votes to prove that.  How about the other board members?

bones1 wrote on December 23, 2015 at 6:12 pm

787!  We missed you.  Extravagant garbage indeed.  Since there have been no announced decisions on what exactly will be in the new proposed school(s) I wonder what it is you deem extravagant.  And I also wonder if you went to school in a one room, unheated shack with an outhouse out back since you are so opposed to anything other than what you had/want/need.  If you don't end up liking the proposal when it comes to election day, then don't vote for it.  Your ongoing drumbeat of "we don't want this" gets really old.  The students of 2017 and beyond are probably going to get a new high school. It will be nice, clean,  and will have modern conveniences.  Schools today are like that.  It does a disservice to the students (and that is what this should be about) to provide them with an undersized shell of a building lacking modern amenities.  Additionally, the kids deserve places for sporting events, theater events, music events and as much computer power as we can muster.

Mastadon-27 wrote on December 24, 2015 at 6:12 am

Everything you say they don't have, they do have!  I worked in both high schools in the past, and the only thing Central lacks is AC.  Centennial is in need of maintenance, which previous boards have consistently delayed, in the hopes of using the tired old argument that it needs to be replaced.  Both buildings have excellent custodial staff, who keep the buildings as well maintained as possible, during the school day.  They have been fettered by the previous school boards in their efforts to replace and repair major infrastructure needs of both buildings.

Citizens of the district pay 70% of the funds to operate the district through property taxes, which are 50% of all real estate taxes on any home, business, outhouse or what have you.  The students of 2017 and beyond, college bound or not, are not going to be working or attending classes in buildings or circumstances of complete comfort.  They need to get used to a less comfortable environment.  The students need to get accustomed to discomfort in their lives.  Over-crowding will ease in the future.  Populations in the district have always fluctuated with the economy and city's demographics.

Now the state of Illinois is proposing a new method of funding school districts, which will essentially reduce any state funds to be received by the district, to much less than it has received in the past.   This is due to the fact the citizens of the district, compared to other districts in the state, are “wealthier”.

So, you propose the citizens increase their tax-burden, by building whatever the latest state-of-the-art architectural dream happens to be!  I hope that enough citizens are fed up with this constant whining and vote down an expensive feel-good project.

ericbussell wrote on December 24, 2015 at 6:12 am

In the last referendum vote, a less-than-perfect Interstate Drive location was competing against rainbows and unicorns.   If another school site is formally proposed with a real price tag, it will be interesting to compare two less-than-perfect (and real) alternatives side by side.  I wonder if the shovel-ready option on land already owned by the school district will remain an option.

rsp wrote on December 24, 2015 at 10:12 am

The Interstate Dr plan was rainbows and unicorns. All shiny to impress the neighbors but not much substance.

They rolled out grades of kids at Booker T Washington to show the increase in grades after the new school was built, but the before and after weren't the same kids. It's not valid data but it's good at confusing the public. New building, new discipline program, new everything. They could have changed everything but the building and the grades would have went up. They redid the building to add seats. Threw in lots of shiny things. I'm not impressed by shiny.

Could have bought books.  Do you know the stat about kids who have at least 200 books at home?

justthefacts wrote on December 24, 2015 at 9:12 am

I wonder if 787 has participated in any of the current discussions regarding the pending facilities proposal. He/she seems to have some knowledge about what features will be recommended, including some unneeded ones. Or perhaps 787 just doesn't like modern architecture?  It would make for a more productive discussion if 787 would provide specifics on what should be included and what should not.

Perhaps the approach should be to start with a prefab, warehouse type structure subdivided into classrooms and a few offices for administration? That would certainly keep the cost down. Eliminating features for music, athletics, drama, etc would certainly reduce expenses for construction, operation, and staffing. Additionally,  the students would then have many hours avaliable for part time jobs. Of course, if jobs are not available, then how would those idle hours be filled?

rsp wrote on December 24, 2015 at 10:12 am

How about we start by focusing on their educational needs instead of "we need two competition football fields, three baseball fields, soccer fields, with lights and stadium seating" because they have fancy things in Bloomington or whatever. Let's not forget about the practice fields either.

They need to include in their budget how they are going to maintain what they ask for, not just pretend it's not an issue like has gone on the last 50 years or more.

Even now they want to wait to tell us everything that needs to be fixed after the vote. We are entitled to that information now.

Lostinspace wrote on December 24, 2015 at 11:12 am

Yes, indeed.  Start with bare bones -- the facilities and staff -- that are essential, then add on legos when there are funds to pay for them.

Still not convinced that the current building, with improvement, is inadequate.  Sports facilities and parking are not essential to a first rate education.  Good space, equipment and a first-rate teaching staff are.  Is it impossible, if one went that route, that some donors might step in?

BruckJr wrote on December 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm

No means no.

jhilding wrote on December 25, 2015 at 9:12 am

So, "No means no." We can keep attracting the bottom of the barrel educators to churn out students who get to college and find out a Unit 4 education is essentially worthless.  Teachers matter.  Facilities attract teachers, but I suspect you were educated here so that might very well lead to your answer.  

rsp wrote on December 25, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Good teachers are attracted to schools that have top-of-the-line athletic fields but no way to pay for the upkeep or the teachers pensions?

The state is talking about reducing it's share of school funding, wants to cut it's share of pensions, which means property taxes will need to go up or programs get cut.

Where is the honest plan from the BOE telling us everything than needs to be done, not some shiny wish list they thought Santa was going to bring? New facilities require new maintainance which requires new money. We want to see an honest plan the taxpayers can afford. We are still paying for the other schools we approved so don't say we aren't willing to do our part.

We want to see a plan.

jhilding wrote on December 26, 2015 at 8:12 am

How about athletic fields at all? Those who didn't play sports always downplay the importance, but as someone who had college paid for by playing on a field, I can attest to the importance of the field I played upon.  It is sad that this town thinks with the existing tax base that both high schools don't deserve equal footing.  Those zoned for the school without equal facilities do not pay less taxes, though their children are given less opportunity to succeed.  

Mastadon-27 wrote on December 26, 2015 at 11:12 am

The taxpayers deserve input into the new plan, whatever it may be.  That said, the first consideration for education, isn’t athletic scholarships.  The basic skills of learning like reading, communication, mathematics and critical decision making are the top priorities.  Whether the student is on a college track or vocation, they have to have the basic skills.

In my opinion, reliance on athletic skills, with few basic educational skills, as I stated in the previous paragraph, will only turn-out a person unable to be successful in college or vocation.  I have done both, and found that most employers only look at the performance in the classroom, and not the athletic field, while deciding a job applicant’s suitability for their employment.

One of the suggestions I have for the BOE, is to have an impartial evaluation of the condition of both Central and Centennial.  Bring in members of the community, skilled in infrastructure maintenance, to perform thorough studies.  No outside educational consultants need to participate in this process.  The objective is to determine if either or both buildings could have the infrastructure improved to provide a quality learning environment for the students.  How much will this process cost in comparison to building a new building?  Include the future transportation, maintenance and support costs in the evaluation.  Last, is the cost less than the previously estimated $130 million for just the new Central and Centennial updates?

Without doubt, a new Dr. Howard should be first on the agenda.  The current structure has failed and is inadequate for its intended mission.  Building on the same lot, now that the BOE has dedicated the old Carrie Busey building to another mission, has made the present location impossible to build a new structure on.  Where will it be relocated to?

Objective Reporter wrote on December 29, 2015 at 2:12 pm

As someone who grew up in Champaign, I am completely embarrassed by the lack of support for our children by this community.  This whole "vote no" referendum discussion has gotten way past what is right for our community and has turned into a mission of voting no just to vote no.  Anyone who walks the halls of any of the schools mentioned would have to agree that the Unit 4 facilities are unacceptable.  Because schools are cornerstones of communities, before too long Danville will look like a gem compared to Champaign.

rsp wrote on December 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Because a pretty building solves everything, doesn't it? Does it matter if there's a plan for maintaining any new buildings? There's no track record of doing for the old ones.

Dr. Howard was slated to wait years to have anything done while it's walls are sinking and it's not ADA compliant. The Americans With Disabilities Act. It was more important to update Centennial "to be fair" than to comply with the law. They carry people up and down stairs.

Never mind that some have perceived Centennial to be nicer for years, we can't let Central get ahead. Talk about competition! And when the referendum failed the first time, to try to buy votes they threw in Dr. Howard, not because they thought it was important.

We are fighting this because we care about the kids. Millions wasted on just making things look pretty or on gimmicks  don't give them a future. It doesn't teach them to read. It doesn't keep the lights on in the buildings.

Himiko wrote on December 30, 2015 at 11:12 am


Himiko wrote on December 30, 2015 at 11:12 am

Why hasn't anyone looked at leasing or buying the Judah Christian building that's being moved out of when they build a new one?

It's already a school building, it's modern, it's much more accessible than Interstate Drive.

Central's overcrowded anyway. Moving some of Central's students to another location would reduce the class sizes and have better teaching outcomes as well as reducing the person-load in the Central building to the point where adding AC would become feasible.