The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council and District 95

with 3 comments

Carbondale’s proposed agreement to fund a voluntary summer reading and math program at District 95 was the big issue at Tuesday’s city council meeting. During a public hearing on the city’s FY ’12 budget, one resident spoke in favor of the program. Five residents, including three city council candidates, spoke against the city funding the program.

I’m coming late to this controversy. The people opposed to the plan seem to share a number of objections: we shouldn’t give Carbondale’s tax money to another taxing district, education isn’t the city’s responsibility, there is no way to terminate the five year program early, there are no clear standards for evaluating success, and the program is voluntary (potentially missing the most at risk children).

Supporters say the poor performance of District 95 is an obstacle to bringing new residents to town, that the schools need help and the city has a responsibility to act, and that the city established a precedent for assisting school districts when it helped to finance the construction of the new high school. Supporters also point to the small cost of the program relative to the city’s Saluki Way donation ($750k over five years vs. $20 million over twenty years).

After the public meeting ended, council members spoke. Councilwoman Mary Pohlmann said if the District 95 program is in the final budget, she’ll vote against it. Councilman and mayoral candidate Joel Fritzler also expressed opposition. Councilwoman Corene McDaniel pledged her support for the program, and Mayor Brad Cole said someone has to step in and do something about the schools.

That’s two in favor and two opposed. Councilmen Neill and Wissmann didn’t say definitively whether or not they will support the program. Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Haynes didn’t stake out a firm position either.

I expect some version of this to pass. Wissmann may have tipped his hand when he pointed out that this program would cost $150,000 in FY ’12, just .375% of Carbondale’s $40 million FY ’12 budget. If Wissmann is in, the proposal only needs the support of one more council member. Haynes will feel pressure from the black community to support the program. Even if Haynes doesn’t support is, I suspect Neill will vote with Cole.

Should the program receive the funds? I’m agnostic on the issue. I think the opponents raise some valid concerns. Some, like the lack of an escape clause or clear standards of measurement can be remedied. Others, like the idea that the city shouldn’t give money to another taxing body, cannot be overcome.

On the other hand, I think the city is trying to solve a problem that has undoubtedly stunted population growth in the city. It may not technically be the city’s responsibility, but the city government is the most competent and professional public organization in the region. If the city doesn’t act, no one will.

Comments are welcome.

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Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 30, 2011 at 7:45 am

3 Responses

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  1. I have opposed this donation to District 95 since February, when Mayor Cole linked it to the elimination of funding for I Can Read. But I strongly support reform of District 95 so that all the children, black and white, middle class and poor, succeed.

    This expensive program is not, however, a solution to District 95’s problems. Voluntary summer programs for young children (K-7) reach only highly motivated parents. And as proponents have noted, those children who are failing tend to be from families that do not value education or who may have other impediments to seeing that their children learn.

    Nor can we expect that a one-month, half-day program will be able to bring children up to grade level, especially since the program will use the same curriculum and methods now in use.

    Proponents argue that the City has provided funds to the High School and SIU for Saluki Way, and should therefore support this effort. Unlike this request from the City’s general operating fund, both these contributions, were based on new, dedicated taxes. The High School partnership had wide support, as evidenced by the advisory referendum that was taken. Saluki Way, however, passed on a narrow 4-3 vote with virtually unanimous opposition by people attending the one public meeting in which it was discussed. It is hard to over-estimate the anger it has raised in the community. District 95 should take heed to the animus toward City Council and the Mayor created by Saluki Way. The new Superintendent should not be put in the position of defending a potentially very unpopular program he had no part in developing.

    Other school systems have solved problems similar to ours. I hope that District 95, and its new superintendent, will work hard to resolve the issues facing it so that all our children succeed.

    But giving $150,000 a year for 5 years (with a potential 5% annual increase written into the contract) for a voluntary program, with no contingency regarding performance, is reckless use of scarce taxpayer resources.

    The contract is posted on the Mayor’s page on the City website. The .pdf was created on March 23, the same day a copy obtained from District 95 was circulated through a private email. It is available here: http://ci.carbondale.il.us/sites/default/files/pdf/carbondale%20elementary.pdf

    Jane Adams

    March 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

  2. I don’t see how it matters when the Saluki Way money or the High school money was taken out. It’s still money that could have been used towards something more effective. No matter which way you slice it that is money that could have been used for a laundry list of other projects this city is or should be taking on. In my eyes Carbondale’s major issue or population growth, increase of business, and education, these three things create a solid foundation for the city to rise from.
    Nobody has to argue about why we need more people or why we need more business but there always seems to be this debate on why education is or is not our concern. If we link it to population increase, for instance helping SIUC so that they can increase enrollment, then the counsel is all systems go. If it’s linked to the grade school all of sudden its world war three on the counsel floor. Why?
    Yes, district 95 has the power to tax but clearly that’s not bringing in the money they need to provide a productive environment for all the students. There is an endless amount of statistics showing that kids can drop as much as a letter grade in some subjects over the course of the summer. Why let our kids fall so far. These are the future citizens of Carbondale. Now whether they are going to be the new generation of leaders, educators, or criminals mainly stands on their quality of life and their education.
    If the boys and girls club was holding this summer program would we donate something to their cause?
    I fear Carbondale is too busy looking out, when we need to take a few moments and look within. I don’t think the summer program is the only answer to this problem, but it’s certainly a start. Let’s build the cities children up from the ground level and see the cities current population become better.
    For those considering moving to Carbondale…no one wants to send their child to a school with bad performance. No one wants to live in a town where neighborhoods are becoming more and more violent. The sudden influx of shootings is a perfect example. When I open my Carbondale Times the young man and woman accused of these crimes are generally longtime Carbondale residents. Young people from district 95 and from the high school that could have possibly been aided by a better education.
    I remember a letter George Maroney wrote to a local newspaper years back stating that young black kids frequently didn’t have backpacks on the way to school. I recall because my mother asked, “What are we going to do about it”. There are parents who simply don’t care about their children’s education for a host of reasons but that doesn’t mean we leave those kids behind. They are still Carbondale.

    Alessandra Nicholson

    March 31, 2011 at 11:52 am

  3. […] but I think the council that will take office in May would reject the program. Here’s what I wrote earlier this month: Councilwoman Mary Pohlmann said if the District 95 program is in the final budget, she’ll vote […]


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