From WILL - News Headlines -

Unit 4 School Board Defends Bonds Proposal

There's no evidence now that Champaign School Board members will change their minds about issuing working cash bonds for building improvements.

But Unit 4 Board President Sue Grey said at Monday night's board meeting that if anyone were to reverse their yes vote from late February - that would likely happen in the next couple of weeks. Board members and educators defended the $14.5 million in bonds, and property tax hikes to pay them off over 20 years.

Leaders of a petition drive seeking a voter referendum on the plan include developer Dan Hamelberg. Voters approved a countywide 1-cent school facilities sales tax in 2009, but he says board members weren't up front this time around.

"Three years ago the voters decided the 1-cent tax," Hamelberg said. "And it was based upon the perception that would be it for tax increases. I'm not saying and I'm not putting any words into the mouth of the school board that they promised not to raise the taxes. That's true. But they certainly didn't say the opposite."

"I totally get the issue of whether this should be voted on or not," said Unit 4 Board Member Dave Tomlinson. "What I'm very personally frustrated about is being called a liar." Tomlinson cited 25 seperate presentations about what Champaign Unit 4 would do with the sales tax if it was approved by voters. Much of that money was used for two north side strands, and other improvements to comply with Unit 4's Consent Decree.

Nancy Martinez told the board she'd vote for the bonds plan, but knows the tax would hurt others.

"If you looked at the number of kids who qualified for subsidized lunches, you would know there are families that are really struggling."

Meanwhile, Edison Middle School Principal Justin Uppinghouse told the board not having air conditioning is hurting the learning environment there. And Unit 4 Board member Jamar Brown, who hosted a recent forum on the bonds proposal, says he's still open to other suggestions.

"If you are against this for whatever reason, bring me an alternative," Brown said. "I cannon just say no because someone doesn't like it. Because I still feel that doing these improvements are what's best for students."

The bonds would pay for a new school bus facility, wireless technology, and geothermal systems at Unit 4 middle schools. Chief Operating Officer Gene Logas says the board needs to quickly approve these projects if members want work to start up this summer.