Longer Listen

Unit 4’s Bonnett Discusses Failed Referenda, Board Turnover, And Future Of School Facilities

Former Champaign Unit 4 School Board president Laurie Bonnett

Former Champaign Unit 4 School Board president Laurie Bonnett, who resigns her seat next week. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

The Champaign Unit 4 school board has a lot of new faces, and it’s seeking applicants for one more.  That person will replace former board president Laurie Bonnett, who’s stepping down as she prepares to move to Pittsburgh.  Bonnett was the leader behind two bond issues that were rejected by Unit Four voters.

Both of them sought to build a new Champaign Central High School on Interstate Drive on the far north end of the city.  Bonnett says the school board can benefit from turnover and new viewpoints. She says when everyone’s on the same page, there’s no room for new and innovative ideas. 

But Bonnett says a change in school board members can pose difficulties for the Unit Four administration.

“Probably the hardest part that I certainly recognize is administration," she said.  "Because they have different bosses. So whenever one of the seven leaves for whatever reason, they have a new personality they have to do deal with. So that is probably the most concerning issue that I would see.”

Bonnett says she has no regrets about her three years on the board, but says there should be a different way of thinking on the future of Unit 4 school facilities. 

She noted former Unit 4 Board member Nathaniel Banks' efforts to start a charter school for African-American students. He and Bonnett visted a school district in Jennings, Missouri, which has a nearly 100% poverty rate, and yet has been able to improve student achievement rates.

"If somebody's doing something great, how do you bring that back to your own district, and how do you replicate that," she said.  "When you have a large group of kids, and you can have one solution versus all the many solutions that we have to have for our diverse group of families in Unit 4, it's much easier to decrease that learning gap."

She says one option at Unit Four to explore is having more specialized courses at different buildings.