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Group Seeks to Put Unit Four Bond Issue on Ballot

The Champaign school board plans to issue $14.5 million in bonds for building upgrades and a new transportation facility. The bonds would be paid back over the next 20 years by increased property taxes. But a local citizens group says the voters should have a say on the matter.

Champaign County Board candidate Don Kermath is organizing a petition drive to put the bond question on the ballot. He says the type of bonds Unit Four wants to issue --- working cash bonds --- ought to be used to fill short-term gaps in operational funding --- not for building projects.

"Now it has blown into this fund where you can supersede the will of the people, and exceed normal spending limits by using the working cash funds bonds" says Kermath. "And that's where I think we are putting our schools at financial risk."

Kermath says the financial risk exists, because Unit Four would have to pay the bonds back at a time when state funding for education is in danger of falling even further behind.

Kermath, a Republican, was joined at a Champaign news conference Monday by Democratic County Board member Pattsi Petrie and Champaign County Libertarian Party Chair Dianna Visek.

Visek criticized the Unit Four school board for using working cash bonds, which can be passed without voter input, unless voters collect petition signatures within a 30-day window.

"This issue should be put to the voters in a referendum", says Visek. "And the school board, because they don't want to spend the time and effort having to conduct a referendum, has decided to use this 'backdoor referendum' to not have to talk to the voters. That is not fair."

Unit Four spokesperson Lyn Peisker responded to the group's concerns about further delays in state funding. She says Unit Four is managing its finances so it can pay its own way if state funding gets worse. She says the district has used working cash bonds for capital projects before, and recently paid off such bonds issued in 2006.

Peisker says the district will use the 20-year bonds to pay for wireless technology upgrades at Unit Four buildings, new geothermal systems to keep classrooms cool at the middle schools, and construction of a new transportation facility. Plans to have the bonds also pay for new laptop computers for students have been dropped.

Kermath's group will have to collect over 5,913 signatures by the end of March to put the Unit Four bond issue on the ballot. He's set up a website at AVoiceForSchools.com.

Categories: Education, Government