Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Another Urbana First! Got Armadillos?

You can file this under science, climate change, animal migration, or just news of the weird.  On the morning of August 11, 2017, as they were preparing the school grounds and facilities for the arrival of students, Mr. Kevin Collins, USD116 Grounds, and Mr. Jamel Davis, UHS Custodian, spotted an armadillo running around the front lawn of Urbana High School.

District employees contacted the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the University of Illinois Small Animal Clinic, Animal Control, and Anything Wild.  All of the agencies said the same thing: Armadillos have been recorded migrating north, but this is the first confirmed siting in Champaign County.  After consulting with these agencies, USD116 Grounds Crew released the armadillo in a less populated area of Urbana.


USD116 Celebrating the Eclipse 2017

On August 21, 2017 at 1:20PM, hundreds of students had the opportunity to safely view the Solar Eclipse using eclipse viewers that were certified by ISO and recommended by NASA.  Students learned about safety and astronomy on the first day of school.  Thank you to all of the educators, parents, and students who made this possible!

School Funding Update - August 23, 2017

Last night, I presented a report to the Urbana School District #116 Board of Education about the status of the school funding stand-off in Springfield.

The News-Gazette reported on my comments.

In short, the Illinois Senate has voted to over-ride the Governor's amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, and the Illinois House was scheduled to call for an over-ride vote today (August 23, 2017).

Last night, while I was presenting my remarks to the Board of Education, it was announced that the Illinois House was canceling its session for today. A statement from Speaker Mike Madigan indicated that negotiations between the Illinois House and the Governor's office were making progress, and that if a compromise is not reached, an over-ride vote would be called for next week.

SB1 is the right direction for Illinois.  Not just schools, students, and districts, but communities, and the entire state.  Illinois has held the dubious distinction of creating and maintaining the most inequitable system for public schools in the nation, and now is the time to #FixTheFormula.

I urge everyone to contact members of the Illinois House of Representatives and ensure that your voice is heard.  Please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Illinois House, not just the one who represents your geographic area.  You can find a list of members of the Illinois House on the Illinois General Assembly Website.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

USD116 Statement about the recent events in Charlottesville, VA

Urbana School District #116 and the district's Racial Equity Leadership Team issue the following statement about the recent events in Charlottesville, VA:

In light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA, we take this time to reaffirm our stance and commitment to racial equity in Urbana School District 116. On August 11, 2017, a group of Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists organized a rally to “unite the right” promoting White nationalism. Unfortunately, such rallies and events are not surprising or new.  We need to remember that issues of racism and white supremacy are still a part of our collective conscience, intentional or not, and the issue of systemic racism does not rest solely on the shoulders of overt bigots, racists, and hate-mongers. This system of oppression and privilege continues to benefit those of us in privileged positions of power; therefore, we must be unequivocal in our racial equity stance that, as educators, we cannot be neutral, because neutrality maintains systems of inequality and oppression. We must recommit and actively engage in the work of dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism. This is why the district racial equity work in Urbana School District #116 is relevant, critical, and urgent. We must be willing to continuously reflect upon ways in which we are reproducing systems of inequality for students, families, and our community. Central to the district equity mission is building a system of education that is equitable and excellent for all children. This work is our collective responsibility as educators. Our students will be returning to us in just a few days and establishing meaningful relationships are paramount. We must continue to lead from the inside out and reflect our commitment to equity.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Disappointing State (of IL) of Public School Funding - August 2017 Edition

Article X of The Illinois State Constitution declares that, “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”  Illinois holds the dubious distinction of having the most inequitable and regressive funding system in the United States. Unfortunately, the over-reliance on local property taxes has allowed the state to ignore its constitutional requirements to adequately fund public education.

As of August 10, 2017, the state of Illinois’ public school budget is in limbo.  There are 8 days until students arrive in our schools, and our district and our community is facing the reality that, without a state budget for public schools, we will not be able to remain open the entire school year without drastic measures.

For the past two years, Illinois has endured a budget impasse that has exacerbated the inequities in the state funding formula and caused many districts to spend down their reserves.  According to estimates from the Illinois State Board of Education, USD116 will be able to remain open through January of 2018.  Urbana School District #116 will open for all students next week, and we will remain open for as long as we can.  The administration and Board of Education will use every allowable tool to remain open, because it is what is in the best interest of our students and families.

The state budget that was passed through a legislative override of a gubernatorial veto requires that the K-12 funding formula have an equitable and evidenced based model, which is a huge step in the right direction.  Earlier this summer, the Illinois General Assembly passed, with bipartisan support, Senate Bill 1 (SB1), which is the best example of a thoughtful and reasonable approach to adequacy, equity, and evidence based funding that this state has seen.   Last week, Governor Rauner issued an amendatory veto of SB1.

While the Governor’s amendatory veto does include provisions for an evidenced based funding formula, there are certain provisions of the amendatory veto actually hurt many school districts, including Urbana.  The amendatory veto includes language that includes the value of all Tax Increment Financed Property (TIF) in the calculations of the Equalized Assessed Evaluation (EAV).  This makes many school districts, like Urbana School District #116 and Champaign Unit 4 look wealthier than they really are.  These calculations would also prevent most school districts that have TIF districts within their boundaries unable to ever reach adequacy targets.  This would lead to even more in-equities in the funding of public education.

Unfortunately, the amendatory veto requires a ⅗ th majority in the Illinois General Assembly to EITHER approve OR override the Governor’s actions.  If the General Assembly can not reach a ⅗ super-majority on either side of this issue, public schools will not have a budget for the 2017-2018 school year.  To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.  This state was on the verge of making a historic change in the most inequitable funding formula ever developed, and the governor vetoed the legislation and altered it in ways that would actually increase inequities and harm communities like Urbana and Champaign.  If the state of Illinois is serious about turning around its floundering economy, maybe it should start by investing in the most powerful economic development engine imaginable - the students who attend public schools.

I am hosting a press conference about SB1 and the current state of school funding on Thursday, August 10 at 1PM at Urbana High School, 1002 South Race Street, Urbana Illinois. I would like to thank our local representatives, Rep. Carol Ammons and Sen. Scott Bennett as well as Advance Illinois and the Champaign County League of Women Voters for their support in organizing this press conference.

I encourage members of the USD116 community to attend to learn more about the current school funding standoff and what our local representatives are doing to support public education.

Countdown to the 2017 Solar Eclipse!

Countdown to the 2017 Solar Eclipse!

We are less than 12 days away from a total solar eclipse!  Yes, that is August 21, 2017!  Yes, that is the first Monday of school for school for students, and the second day of school for most students in USD116!  Yes, August 21 is a regular attendance day for students!  :^)

Urbana, Illinois falls within the 90-95% coverage area of the total eclipse!  It will be an amazing experience for people living in East Central Illinois.  Every USD116 student and staff member will be provided with safety glasses for viewing the eclipse safely.  Individual buildings are working on special schedules in order to afford students and teachers the experience of viewing the eclipse.

We would like to thank Dr. Dave Leake at the Parkland College Staerkel Planetarium and Dr. Leslie Looney from the University of Illinois Department of Astronomy who have both been amazing partners in providing educational opportunities and professional development to our students and teachers over the past year!  We are excited about experiencing this amazing event with our students!

I would encourage all educators, students, family members, and community members to visit the following websites to learn more about the eclipse: