Unit 4 Referendum FAQs - Part 3

Thu, 10/20/2016 - 11:36am

Unit 4 School Referendum FAQs – Part 3

More information and a full list of FAQs are available at: 

What is the Board of Education’s plan for the land purchased on Interstate Drive? 
The current Board does not feel comfortable selling the farmland bought by the previous Board before it is known whether or not the community will support a high school at the current Central High School location. If the Board did decide to sell prior to the passage of the referendum, it would not make a substantial difference in the referendum amount. In the meantime, the land continues to earn farm lease income for the District. The Board plans to assess the long term plan for this land in the future, but it remains as part of the District’s land bank at this time. 

Why did the Board decide to renovate both high schools instead of move Central to another location?
As part of the Tier II Committee’s work, the group explored all possible options for relocating Champaign Central High School. These include, but are not limited to, Interstate Drive, Country Fair, and South Side/McKinley Field. As part of this exploration of sites, taking into account all factors including costs and transportation over the long term, the committee determined it was both the most fiscally responsible and logistically feasible option to reinvest in the existing infrastructure of Central High School. 

The Board plans to use $25 million in reserves to help offset the cost of the referendum. How much is Unit 4 holding on to in their reserves and does it make sense to use the reserves while school funding reform is being negotiated? Especially considering every plan thus far has significant cuts to Unit 4?
Years of prudent fiscal management in Unit 4 have resulted in an accumulation of reserve funds, which we can all agree is wise given our state's level of fiscal uncertainty. The current Board has committed to maintaining a fund balance "no less than the range of 15-20 percent of the annual expenditures" (according to policy adopted earlier this summer that reflects past practice). Having money in reserve helps protect the district from unexpected events and legislative changes, but also allows the District to address significant one-time expenses.
After consulting financial advisers about any potential effect on interest rates or bond rating, the Board has determined that contributing $25 million from the District's reserve funds toward our known facilities needs is an appropriate one-time use that will still leave us with adequate reserves for the unknown.

How were the funds from the 1% sales tax used? Why can’t this revenue stream fund the projects included in the school referendum? 
When revenue from the 1% sales tax became available to Unit 4, the District issued bonds in 2010 to address the following: pay off existing construction debt; renovate and/or expand Garden Hills, Westview, Bottenfield, Robeson, and Kenwood Elementary Schools; demolish and rebuild Booker T. Washingon STEM Academy; build a new Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy; and acquire land for a new Central High School. Since 2010, most of our 1% funds go toward paying off those bonds, with the remainder funding the District's 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan projects (new roofs, tuck pointing, etc.) as promised. Unless revenue from the 1% sales tax increases substantially beyond projections, it is unlikely that the District will be able to issue new bonds from the 1% money until 2036, when the 2010 bonds are paid off.

How long will taxpayers pay on the school construction bonds that would be issued upon the passage of this referendum? 
If approved by voters, the proposed plan would result in an increase in property taxes for the life of the bonds, which would be 20 years per bond issue. It is likely that not all bonds would not be issued at one time, but rather over a period of a few years as these projects are accomplished. As a result, the total tax increase would be spread out accordingly. 

Why did the proposed dollar amount of this referendum fluctuate in news reports prior to the passage of the final resolution? 
In the weeks leading up to the official resolution, the Board discussed how it could accomplish the projects recommended by the Tier Two Facility Planning Committee (which was approximately $300 million in school construction projects) by using funds in hand or by reducing the scope of the projects. The Board and District held these discussions during open meetings and posted information on the District website to avoid bringing forward a proposal that had not been fully vetted through a transparent process. As part of that very public process, there was some refinement and reduction of the total cost. If you're interested in following the conversation from past meetings, those recordings are posted on our Vimeo Channel. https://vimeo.com/champaignschools 

Why is the board not asking for one project at a time to build trust before asking for all the proposed projects as once? 
The Board of Education discussed this question at length, given that $300 million of work was identified by the combination of professionals and community members that made up the Tier II Facilities Committee. Would each project then require its own referendum? Needs are pressing enough at multiple buildings that further prioritizing became very difficult, and public input showed that people supported work at multiple buildings. Given that trust had been built with the passage of the 1% sales tax and completion of projects as promised within the proposed timeline and budgets, the Board felt comfortable moving forward on that track record of success. 

I thought that the old Carrie Busey was not in good enough condition or in an appropriate location to house students. Why is the Board wanting to renovate it now for the International Prep Academy? 
Prior to the passage of the 1% sales tax in 2009, the Board and Superintendent discussed the need to move the Carrie Busey community to Savoy. While time has passed since this conversation, a primary reason for relocating Carrie Busey was to move a school from a well-served area of the District to an area that lacked any nearby elementary schools. At the time, Superintendent Arthur Culver said, "The current Carrie Busey building could be reopened as a school, or the district could decide to put a school in another area where the city is growing, said Superintendent Arthur Culver."