PEORIA -- The Peoria District 150 School on June 17 heard more than a dozen different eloquent speakers contend that turing the 82-acre Peoria Stadium site into a Walmart or other big box store is a terrible idea. No one supported the project.
It recently surfaced in the press, prompting the board to schedule a discussion on the agenda of the regular board meeting. Controller Dave Kenny also gave a presentation on the project, with these facts:
- Upgrading the football stadium would cost up to $2.3 million.
- Attendance at the games has been declining, and will continue to drop as Notre Dame High School completes its own stadium.
- The property to be sold and developed would not include Stadium Park or the Ricketts Center along Lake Ave.
- The school district must auction any property, but this project is too complicated for that process, so it also can be sold to another governmental agency, namely the city of Peoria, which can then sell it to a developer.
- Commercial development at the site would (in theory) generate more tax revenue for the school district.
Audience comments questioned that, saying the resulting traffic problems, storm water runoff, and loss of green space would diminish property values and encourage more residents to move out of the city.
Here are the public comments, in two sections.
If the buyer is Walmart, its present location on University might remain empty, like CUB foods on Knoxville. Its presence as an inner city super store would likely drive nearby small businesses out of business. The net result would be a loss in tax revenue for the school district, they argued.
"A big box store is inappropriate as infill in this area," said Rebecca Carey, citing a book on urban planning by a former consultant to Peoria. That site "should not be taking its character from University or Allen Road," but from Peoria Heights, she said.
Kathy Stevenson said the loss of the stadium and adjacent ball fields would devastate small businesses nearby.
The presidents of two homeowners associations spoke against the development. Entertainer Edith Bernard sang a Joni Mitchell song, "you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone," and "they paved paradise," with the large audience joining in.
Other highlights of the public comments included the new Peoria Federation of Teachers president Jeff Atkins Dutro, who said the strategic communications committee is being revived, the union has sent an effective discipline policy developed by the American Federation of Teachers to the board members, and the teacher evaluation system will be looked at, as teachers feel it's being used to get rid of teachers instead of help them improve. He also supported those against the stadium project.
Activist Sharon Crews opposed the stadium project, but focused on the district's waste of money in buying a $400,000 bar coding system to keep track of textbooks, a duty once done free by individual classroom teachers. Her remarks will be published below, later.
Activist Terry Knapp reminded the board that he asked about the stadium project and Walmart months ago, and board members said they didn't know anything about it, but emails published in the Peoria Journal Star revealed it has been under discussion for many months before his question. "The emails prove the back door politics. It should be kept green," he said.
The public comments were interrupted by a public hearing on the amended budget, which Kenny said has a $3 million deficit. He and board members blamed city awarded TIF (tax increment financing) districts, which deprive the schools of increased tax revenue from development, along with other factors such as declining property values.
-- Elaine Hopkins
If you want to sign a petition against the stadium project, click here.
Here is the statement from Sharon Crews:
It is true. I do keep asking questions through FOIAs until I get the answers—the answers that tell the whole story. As it turns out the original contract with the Follett Company is not the whole story. The original contract totaled about $295,000, which includes the licensing and maintenance fees for year one and year two. It is much too easy to be deceptive when it comes to spending taxpayer money since only larger sums require public disclosure.
As it turns out, thus far (and it may not be the end of the story), the amount of money spent on the barcoding and inventory process is about $100,000 higher than the amount of the original contract.
According to FOIA’d data, there have been other added costs. In addition to the 29 scanners included in the original cost, an additional 6 scanners were purchased at a cost of $236 each, adding $1,416 to the barcoding expense. In addition, a server that handles both the textbook and library software had to be purchased from a second company at a cost of about $9700.
An additional $87,000 was spent on what I would call an expensive error in judgment. Common sense would seem to dictate that the best time to do an inventory of textbooks would be at the end of the school year—the time when both teachers and students expect books to be collected. As it turns out, a possible lack of common sense cost District 150 about $87,000.
Evidently, the Follett Company had not anticipated that there would be a phase two of the ill-timed phase one attempt at an inventory in February and March. The first attempt at an inventory was cut short possibly because somebody realized that students and teachers might need the textbooks to prepare students for the ISAT test.
Therefore, District 150 recollected the texts in April to complete the inventory, which turned out to be a costly, unanticipated expense that is difficult to justify. Follett apparently did not pay for the second phase of the inventory.
The FOIA’d data seems to indicate that the Follett Company is now out of the picture in that all schools, except Jamieson, have at least one textbook coordinator and, therefore, in the future an end-of-year inventory will be their responsibility. The FOIA response states, “All responsibilities for future inventories will be at the school level and no involvement or charges from Follett will be incurred to handle further inventories.” Of course, the Follett company is still being paid licensing and maintenance fees at the end of each year (I am not sure for how many years).
I hope you all understand that prior to this expensive contract with Follett, inventories were handled at each school at the end of each year—and now it seems the same will occur from now on. In the past instead of scanning barcodes, employees simply stacked all texts and counted them and filled out inventory forms—the results were the same. As done in the past, new books will be catalogued at the warehouse—and now, of course, barcoded. Please, please tell me what has been gained by spending almost $400,000. Certainly, no money is being saved—just spent. It is true that the central office now has access to computer-generated inventory reports from each school—however, this one benefit is not worth $400.000.
FOIA’d data, which I will save for another day, indicates that the District is doing very little, in fact, nothing to collect unpaid textbook fees and to hold students financially responsible for lost or damaged textbooks. The Peoria stadium issue is proving to be one that is capturing the attention of heretofore disinterested taxpayers. Maybe now is a good time to bring other issues to the public’s attention.