It’s November and we’ve already had two surprises: the weather is absolutely beautiful and the Cubs have forced Game 7 in the World Series.
If stranger things have happened, I’m not convinced.
They say things happen in threes, so let’s add another one: it’s time for voters in the Champaign Unit 4 School District to approve a facilities referendum.
Now that would be a true November surprise, but not a shocker.
The current Unit 4 Schools bond referendum being voted on the Nov. 8 ballot blankets the district with improvements geared to address capacity, accessibility, safety, access to curriculum and improved technology. It covers six schools, including both high schools, Edison Middle School, and three elementary schools (Dr. Howard, International Prep Academy and South Side).
So what does that mean in plain English?
It means that our district’s buildings can be up to current school safety standards, where visitors have to pass through some measures of security after entering buildings.
It means that students can utilize science labs and other classrooms properly equipped to address 21st century STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education standards.
It means that all members of our community can safely access all buildings. In the future, parents and guardians with disabilities at South Side and Dr. Howard won’t have to hold parent-teacher conferences or other meetings in parking lots as they sometimes do now.
It means that students who are on waiting lists for space in the career and technical education program will have the opportunity to learn.
It means that there will be less bussing of students between Central and Centennial High Schools, as resources will be distributed between the two.
It means that when the community has businesses and families deciding where they want to open operations or buy a house, Champaign/Savoy/Bondville doesn’t have to apologize for the state of school facilities – it can be proud of them.
Is the plan perfect? No. Nothing ever is. But this plan was developed through an open, transparent and collaborative process implemented by the current Unit 4 Board of Education, and it looks beyond tomorrow into the next 20 years. The facilities planning exercise that took the temperature of our community across public and private sectors with one goal in mind: to move forward the district.
This isn’t about shiny new buildings; this plan keeps every building in its current place and shows the community value of infill development.
This isn’t about fulfilling a Christmas wish list; this is about investing in our schools, and lifting them up to the standards of a community steeped in educational excellence.
- While the scope is large and ambitious, the district has proven it can handle this project and steward taxpayer dollars properly. Since 2010, Champaign Unit 4 has successfully implemented multiple building projects that came in on time and under budget. The board of education has committed to “form a community-led oversight committee that will ensure the referendum funds are used as promised.”
- Champaign is the fastest growing community in Illinois. Don’t believe me? The stat is from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that capacity issues for the district aren’t going away.
- The school tax rate paid by Unit 4 taxpayers is currently among the lowest of any district in Champaign County, and is the lowest amongst like-sized districts in Central Illinois. Even with the referendum’s proposed tax increase, Unit 4 taxpayers will remain on the lower end of this spectrum. You can see the comparison of peer districts here and other districts in Champaign County/area here.
I voted early, and already voted YES.
This is the time for a true November surprise, friends.
One that can tip the scales of our community from good — to truly GREAT.
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the mom-in-chief of chambanamoms.com. She’s been writing about issues facing Champaign Unit 4 Schools for as long as she can remember (and it’s not always been positive). She’s also proudly the mom of two Unit 4 students, the co-chair of Yes 4 Champaign Public Schools, and a lifelong Cub fan.
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