1.  What is included in the Unit 4 School Facilities Referendum? How much does it cost?

The Unit 4 School Facilities Referendum includes the following projects and totals $183.4 Million

  • Central High School renovation and expansion - $87.1 Million
  • Centennial High School renovation and expansion - $63.3 Million
  • Edison Middle School renovation and gym/cafeteria expansion - $15 Million
  • International Prep Academy renovation and gym/cafeteria/library expansion - $6 Million
  • Dr. Howard Elementary School – Construction of new building on existing site - $16.1 Million
  • South Side Elementary School renovation and expansion - $11.1 Million
  • Central High School Fields at McKinley Field - $6.2 Million
  • Central High School Fields at Franklin Middle School/Spalding Park - $3.6 Million

2.  How did the Board of Education arrive at this plan?

Over the past school year, the Board of Education embarked on a two tiered collaborative planning process. The Tier I Process consisted of studies, expertise, and input from the District’s students, teachers, and administrators. This process, then, informed the work of the Tier II Committee for Facility Planning, which consisted of representatives from elected bodies of local government, the business community, and at large community members. The charge of the Tier Two Committee was to review recommendations from Tier One and, based on this information, provide recommendations to the Board of Education in the following areas:  location of facilities, collaborations/partnerships with other public entities in the Champaign Unit #4 District, and finance/referendum schedule. On June 13, 2016, the Tier Two Committee presented its final report, and recommendations, to the Board of Education. From this recommendation, the Board of Education was able to finalize a referendum plan that best meets the needs of the District.

To assist with this plan, the Board of Education worked with not only members of the public but also experts in the various fields of work that are required for long range planning. The Board worked with a real estate attorney, hired a Construction Management Team (O’Shea Builders and Bowa Construction), as well as an architectural team (IGW Architecture and Perkins + Will) to assist with the technical aspects of this planning process. 

3.  Why is a referendum needed to fund these projects?

The current needs for school facility improvements currently exceed existing funding sources available. The Board of Education has decided to bring forward a proposal for voter approval that would authorize the Board to issue school construction bonds to finance only the projects detailed in the referendum.

4.  What is the construction timeline for the proposed projects?

At this time, the primary focus is establishing funding for the proposed projects and articulating to the community what will be included in those proposed improvements. After funding is secured, the District will enter the design phase and a construction timeline will be established with the District's construction managers that takes into account what the local workforce can handle, which may include phasing of various projects. Currently, the District has in place conceptual plans for public consideration of the referendum plan, but the design phase will be the process that results in the final plans for construction that contain a high level of detail. Since many of the proposed projects are renovations, consideration will be given to work that needs to take place when students are in session vs. the summer when students are out of school. Through the Tier I Process and Tier II Committee work, the Board has a clear set of priorities to use as their compass to make decisions based on information that will be available at the time.

5.  How much will the referendum impact my taxes if it is passed?

The Champaign Unit 4 School District Board of Education is asking for voter approval this November to obtain the necessary funding to accomplish the proposed facility projects. If approval is given by the voters, the District would issue bonds for $183,400,000 to pay for the projects, which 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 a result, the total tax increase would be spread out accordingly. The chart below details the estimated impact by home value once all the bonds have been issued.

Voters may find their current tax bill by visiting the County Assessor’s Office Website: http://www.co.champaign.il.us/taxlookup

Assumptions and Notes:

  • Chart assumes residential property with $6,000 Owner Occupied Exemption. Homeowners may also qualify for additional exemptions, which would lower the tax impact.
  • Bond levies assume level payments over 20 years, with interest rates at .50% above current market (May 2016), and are dated January 1, 2017.
  • The District’s overall Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) is assumed to stay constant.
  • An alternate way to calculate tax impact is to add $144 per $1,000 of taxes currently paid to the school district on an annual basis

6.  What is the plan for Central High School? Why are these improvements needed?

Champaign Central High School was built in 1938 and is in need of expansion and substantial renovation of its building and security systems and classrooms. The majority of the classroom space within the school is without air conditioning. The current plan by the Board of Education would provide for 168,000 square feet of renovated space and a 182,000 square foot addition (including a gymnasium expansion). The plan for Central High School provides for the following: 

  • Maintain current school site in core of community.
  • Construct three-story classroom addition following selective demolition of Northwest wing of the building to accommodate growing enrollment and eliminate portable classrooms.
  • Renovate and repair existing infrastructure, including building-wide air conditioning, new windows, and updated security systems.
  • Modernize classrooms, auditorium, cafeteria, music, arts, and renovate existing Career & Technical Education spaces.
  • Purchase properties to double site size.
  • Expand gym space and construct on-site fields for student participation in PE, athletics, and band.

7.  What is the plan for Centennial High School? Why are these improvements needed?

Centennial High School opened in 1967 and is also in need of expansion and substantial renovation of its building and security systems and classrooms. The current pan by the Board of Education would provide for 199,000 square feet of renovated space and a 123,000 square foot addition (including a gymnasium expansion). The plan for Centennial High School provides for the following:

  • Renovate and repair existing infrastructure, including HVAC, windows, and security systems.
  • Modernize all classrooms, music, arts, as well as common spaces such as the auditorium and cafeteria.
  • Construct Career & Technical Education spaces.
  • Expand gym space to accommodate larger student enrollment.
  • Expand school­­­ to accommodate growing enrollment and eliminate portable classrooms.
  • Renovate and refurbish on-site fields for physical education, athletics, and band.
  • Continued use of Tommy Stewart field for Friday night football games by both high schools.

8.  What is the plan for the International Prep Academy? Why are these improvements needed?

International Prep Academy now occupies the former Carrie Busey Elementary School on Kirby Avenue that was constructed in 1957 and has not seen a substantial renovation or addition since 1967. The school is in need of building system and security upgrades, as well as renovation of interior classroom and common spaces. The proposed renovation and expansion would provide for a larger library and separate gym/cafeteria spaces.

9.  What is the plan for South Side Elementary School? Why are these improvements needed?

South Side Elementary School was constructed in 1924 and is in need of a substantial building renovation and addition. The proposed building addition would assist in making the building ADA accessible, create a separate gym/cafeteria space, in addition to eliminating the need for a portable classroom. The renovation would modernize classrooms and common spaces as well as update the building infrastructure and security systems. 

10.  What is the plan for Dr. Howard Elementary School? Why are these improvements needed?

The Board of Education’s plan for Dr. Howard Elementary School (1910) is to construct a new three strand elementary school facility on the existing site and, following completion, demolish the existing structure. Over the years, many additions have led to a multitude of different levels within the building that make it inaccessible and out of ADA compliance. Upon study of the building, constructing a new school will provide a better learning environment and accomplish the educational goals in a more cost effective manner. The new school will be accessible and provide modern learning spaces, a separate gym/cafeteria, and increased security for the Dr. Howard school community. 

11.  What is the plan for Edison Middle School? Why are these improvements needed?

Edison Middle school was built in 1914 and will receive infrastructure upgrades, renovation of classrooms, accessibility and safety upgrades, and additions to the building’s common spaces such as the cafeteria and gymnasium. These upgrades will enhance the existing school infrastructure and ensure that Edison is able to continue to serve the District well into the future. 

12.  How, specifically, will the money be used? How does this plan improve our schools for students and teachers?

If approved by voters, the Unit 4 School Facilities Referendum would secure funding for the projects outlined in the proposal through the issuance of school construction bonds. The language that will appear on the ballot details these projects and is legally binding. This means that the Board of Education may only utilize these funds for the projects specifically approved by voters. The Board of Education believes that the proposed plan is the best way to maintain and improve existing facilities and improve the school environment for teaching and learning. 

13.  What kind of oversight measures will be in place so I know the Board of Education will use our tax money as promised?

The Board of Education has committed to forming a community-led oversight committee that will ensure the referendum funds are used as promised. Such a committee would be modeled after the Promises Made, Promises Kept committee, which oversaw the completion—on time and under budget—of all projects that Unit 4 accomplished with the bonds issued in 2010 from the proceeds of the 1% sales tax. 

14.  What is the Board of Education's plan for the land purchased at 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. 

15.  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. 

16.  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 ​B​oard 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 advisors 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.

17.  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. Washington 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.

18.  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. 

19.  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

20.  Why is the Board not asking for one project at a time to build trust before asking for all the propsed projects at 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. 

21.  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."


22. How does Unit 4's current property tax rate compare to its peer districts and other Champaign County districts? How would its rate compare if the referendum passes?

The chart below compares the Unit 4 tax rate to peer downstate districts, which are most similar to us in size, land use, and demographics. Unit 4 currently has the lowest school tax rate compared to these districts.

Comparison of Levy Year 2015 Tax Rates

The following chart shows how the tax rate would compare to peer districts upon passage of the referendum. The tax increase would still place Unit 4 at the low end of its peer districts in regard to school tax rate, just above Decatur Public Schools.

Comparison of Levy Year 2015 Tax Rates - Peer Downstate Districts

The following two slides compare tax rates in school districts with 500 students or more residing in Champaign County (combined elementary and high school districts). While these districts may not be as similar to Unit 4 in terms of size or demographics, they all do have access to 1% sales tax dollars for upkeep of their facilities. Upon passage of the referendum, Unit 4's tax rate would still be on the low side for Champaign County.

Comparison of Levy Year 2015 School District Tax Rates

Comparison of Levy Year 2015 School District Tax Rates - Municipalities