The Public Square

Michael Miller on Voting Yes on Champaign Unit 4 bond issue proposal on March 21


Hi, I'm Michael Miller. I'm with the Unit 4 Excellence Campaign Committee and I'm also a Stratton parent.

The schools in Champaign District 4 served the community well for many years. But even well-built and maintained buildings require improvements in order to fulfill the demands made on them by the passage of time, new technology essential to a modern education and even the law; all but two of our buildings were constructed or updated before the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, and some of the retrofits required by that law have the appearance of band-aids.

Today's educators are tasked with providing special help both to those children who have trouble learning and those who are gifted. That means schools now need additional spaces to accommodate specific learning needs; in many of our older buildings, those spaces are being carved out of hallways and closets. In most of our schools, there have been no major renovations since the 1960's. In 2002 a new administration hired by the school board started tackling many issues in the district. After years of virtually uninterrupted declines in student achievement scores, the district's annual report card shows test scores up, the achievement gap closing and other educational improvements. An inherited deficit found in the district's budget was addressed with as little impact on the classroom -- and the taxpayers -- as possible. Those recent actions with regard to finances gave the district a clean audit and a AA bond rating from Standard and Poor's. Clearly this district administration has its priorities in order.

Now it's our turn; like generations before us, this generation needs to look to the future, not just 10 years, but 50 years from now and anticipate the requirements for a 21st Century education. One of those requirements is accommodating a new generation of residents. As Champaign and Savoy grow, so will the school district. City and Village planners expect upwards of 3000 more homes within the next three or four years. We can expect most of those children will attend public schools. The most conservative statistics estimate there will be 850 new students in the District by 2010.

To address the facilities needs, the school board placed a referendum on the March 21st ballot for just under 66 million dollars. The proposal provides upgrades for 8 existing elementary schools, replacement of another and building two new elementary schools. Among other items are safety and security upgrades and land acquisition for a future high school. A bond oversight committee will ensure proper use of the funds. Property owners who own a 150 thousand dollar house can expect a $3.50 per month increase in taxes. This increase would only last 20 years. Even so, the district's tax rate will remain the second lowest in Champaign County.

You've probably heard some say that the school district has seats to meet projected attendance through 2013, or that there are many unused classrooms available to meet the expected demand. That's just not true; Anyone who takes the time to visit all schools in the district finds very little unutilized space in any school, certainly not enough to accommodate the hundreds of new students expected within the next few years. A new school takes approximately 1 year to build. Waiting till all seats fill up before adding facilities is irresponsible and self-defeating.

Equitable facilities make parent choices easier. Better schools attract more people and businesses to our area and we all benefit from a robust economy.

In the end, this referendum addresses many issues, but most of all, fairness. All students deserve a well lit, safe, productive learning environment. The Champaign Unit 4 community can provide for students now and for future generations if we say yes to the referendum.