Plan B much cheaper than proposed tax hike

Plan B much cheaper than proposed tax hike

By Charles Schultz

At its Aug. 11 meeting, the Champaign school board approved the final draft for the wording of the November 2014 referendum asking for $149 million in property taxes. There are many reasons why this tax increase might fail.

The concerned citizen should be made aware of the many factors that are coming into play.

Here is one example: According to the Champaign County clerk's "referenda 1940 to present in date order" (April 11, 2014), since 1983 the Unit 4 school district has requested, and has been denied by the voters, $91.63 million in tax rate adjustments and bonds on six separate referendum items. Despite that, the school district has successfully requested and received $41 million in property taxes and bonds and $25 million via the 1 percent sales tax — all that money has provided you with the current state of the school district, leaving us with an $8 million annual debt service.

Furthermore, even though the 2008 "Great Schools, Together" initiative established many excellent short-term and mid-term goals, few of them were met or even attempted.

There are many facets that the concerned citizen will wish to explore, but I will focus on one: versatile and agile facility planning.

One short-term goal of Great Schools, Together that was entirely missed was to hire a facility planner. Another missed short-term goal was that of exploring "land-banking" options, many of which we have seen come and go even as we have "talked" about where to put a high school.

One very crucial point the Great Schools final report made was that it was paramount for the school district to answer questions like "Should we have K-8?" "Should we have many smaller schools or fewer larger schools?" before moving forward with any of these plans ("Unit 4 Long Range Strategic Plan: Final Report," 2008, page 6).

Lisa de la Rue, a doctoral student in counseling psychology at the University of Illinois, addressed these concerns in her June 11, 2012, presentation to the board, yet unfortunately her conclusion was somewhat inconclusive in that transitions and school size actually correlate weakly to student outcomes.

Ms. de la Rue did note that in schools with a higher proportion of low-income students, the number of transitions and the larger size appeared to have a slightly negative overall effect ("School Configuration and Considerations," pp 6-7).

Also in 2012, the district spent $116,000 for a consultant to tell us that we (the community) basically want what we already have. This year we hired yet another consultant for $120,000 to determine that we need a high school footprint of at least 47.68 acres. Despite the many recommendations and goals laid out in Great Schools to foster and generate two-way collaborative discussion, it seems that "experts" have cornered us in a box. Like horse blinders, these parameters have caused the school district to pursue a two-high-school model, with a goal of 47-acres for the new one, to meet capacity issues.

If voters reject November's plan, what next?

First thing, buy Judah Christian School and keep the building. Right now, it houses over 500 students. This action is purely to buy us some breathing room in terms of capacity issues. After all, the district is already renting trailers and plans to do continue doing so until the tax increase passes. Judah previously was listed for sale around $6 million. During recent talks about the Spalding site, there seemed to be a lot of community support for that area, especially in terms of its centrality and accessibility. We can off-load the overcapacity issues (currently 103 percent) right now.

We still need another building. While Judah might hold 500 students, that is K-12; let's call it 300 high school students, realistically. We currently have a little over 2,700 high school students and we are aiming for capacity for 3,400 by 2022. That leaves us with another 400 students (700 total, with 300 in Judah building). Here are some suggestions where a building could hold those students: Neil and Bradley, Bristol Park, South First Street, along Duncan.

The idea is that smaller buildings are much more agile and versatile for the changes the school district may face over the course of 80 years. In 1969, Unit 4 had a whopping 12,381 students (Patterson's American Education); just 16 years later we were hovering just over 8,000, and we still have not yet fully recovered to the local maximum just prior to the Consent Decree in 2001. Smaller buildings are easier to site as in-fill, especially if we explore the controversial idea of allowing the park district to own and maintain athletic fields.

This is my Plan B. It beats renting trailers, and is not nearly as expensive as $149 million.

Charles Schultz is a Champaign parent who authors a blog about the Unit 4 school district ( His email is

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
pattsi wrote on August 17, 2014 at 9:08 am

This is a productive first step toward some creative brain storming culminating in say 3 scenarios developed through thoroughly engaged community conversations not predetermined outcomes, aka the consultants, giving the citizens a chance to own the ideas put forth.

rsp wrote on August 17, 2014 at 10:08 am

I like this idea. And when we get a rational plan that makes sense we won't feel so pressured. I keep thinking we should just be focused on Dr. Howard this year. By not having a plan from the start of what was needed and how badly, I think we have probably overspent already and it's going to take away from what we need to do.

How can we have a BOE that doesn't know how to budget? Long term and short term. Maybe they should take those classes they have with the U of I Cooperative Extention. They teach you about saving for a goal.

cjwinla wrote on August 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Question : Where in a community of the size and type of Champaign, ie college town 80k people, does this type of system exist in Illinois or even anywhere nationally ?

Considering the conservative nature of Champaign, what makes you think the citizens would be willing to be the guinea pig on an unproven model such as you propose ?

Also, the residents surrounding Spalding were vocally against that site as a high school.

 After reading the student's LTE on baking in the clasroom at Central, what about their opinion ? Does that matter to you ?  

rsp wrote on August 19, 2014 at 5:08 am

There were actually a lot of residents living around Spaulding in favor of having the high school there. We only heard from a very few, maybe 6, who were outspoken. Other sources included interviews from much more people. Judea Christain is a K-12 with over 500 there now.

Several of the studies the BOE did suggested the the public was actually more in favor of having three high schools, but the board is choosing to go against this. Building a smaller school and doing it in steps could save a lot of money, which could in turn allow more to be done for the kids.


Citizen4 wrote on August 19, 2014 at 6:08 am



Thanks for posing these questions; as I have said in the past, I appreciate hearing from those that disagree with me.


To be honest, I am not aware of any models where "this type of system" exists, anywhere. I will certainly look now that you have asked. However I will reiterate that my push is for smaller schools, and there are lots of models (some good, some bad) of "many small schools". There is also a ton of conflicting research, as pointed out by Lisa de la Rue. I personally think smaller schools would be better for us, given the variables of our highly divided community, with areas and neighborhoods that are identifiable as low-income or impoverished.


As to Spalding, it was my understanding that the residents who spoke out against the proposed 38-acre Spalding site was mostly about the need for eminent domain. Note that in my proposal absolutely nothing changes about Judah, Franklin or Spalding Park other than that Judah has different ownership and is full of high school students instead of K-12. No eminent domain, no tearing down Franklin, nothing.


As to Central students who are "baking", I have visited Central when it is really hot. I have sweated in those classrooms, talked to teachers and staff. You should know by now that of course I care about what those students think. As much as I have asked to talk directly to students, Unit 4 has not seen it as appropriate at this point in time. My Plan B is still in rough draft, but I propose that we first deal with overcrowding issues NOW. The November referendum says that it will resolve overcrowding issues in 4 years. My Plan is also to address the real needs of the district, of which Central (and Dr. Howard and Edison) have a big role to play. We need to prioritized and document those needs. That is not publicly available at this point in time.


Thanks again. I am happy to entertain any further questions.


-- charles schultz