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CHAMPAIGN — The city of Champaign is moving forward with a second year of its multimillion-dollar gun violence reduction plan, but one of its plan partners — the Champaign school district — was largely a no-show for year one.
The school district was one of multiple organizations funded by the city through the Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint to carry out various programs aimed at addressing the root causes of gun violence and supporting impacted families of victims.
But the district spent none of the $526,620 it was awarded for year one tasks, according to a lengthy outside evaluation report to the city council.
The school district was on track to receive more than $1 million over two years, but the extent of its upcoming participation and how much funding it will receive for year two have yet to be determined, according to city Community Development Manager Jorge Elvir.
City officials are waiting to hear from the school district about what services it wants to provide for year two, according to Elvir.
It will also be up to the city council to determine how to reallocate the school district’s year two money, since its year one money went unspent, he said.
“I can tell you from our perspective, Unit 4 is a very vital and important partner in the community and in the Blueprint,” Elvir said.
Unit 4 Superintendent Shelia Boozer was unavailable for an interview, but said in a written statement that, as the pandemic subsided, data revealed that the most pressing needs for a large majority of students included more academic and social and emotional support.
“These increased needs have been challenging for us,” she said. “Like most other entities, the district is still attempting to fill open positions in key areas across our system. Therefore we made the difficult decision to prioritize the work at the heart of our district’s mission — educating the children in our community.”
Boozer also said that even though the school district scaled back participation in the Blueprint, “we will still continue to support the work each and every day, effectively educating youth and providing access to high-quality after-school and weekend programming that directly contributes to violence reduction.”
Some city council members were critical of Unit 4’s year one Blueprint response.
“I’m really disappointed in Unit 4 for the lack of response or the enthusiasm that the folks in this room and the folks on our staff have shown for this work, and I hope we can see some improvements over the next year,” said council member Michael Foellmer.
Foellmer suggested taking the unused funding from Unit 4 to help build and strengthen nonprofit organizations working with the city.
Fellow council member Vana Pianfetti said she was “very disappointed” in Unit 4’s lack of momentum.
Given how many Unit 4 kids have been victims and traumatized, she said, “this, just to me, is shameful that they have not taken this and seen this as a priority and the fact that we have basically handed them a blueprint. This is something that I hope, when you come back, that this is changed. This is just shocking to me.”
Council member Alicia Beck said she intended to view the Unit 4 year one outcome as an opportunity, “so we can now use that funding in other ways that will address the gaps that we’ve seen in our services, so we can maybe use some of those funds to realize some of the things we were falling short on.”
In a statement to the city, Boozer said the district will revisit its initial plans given to the city and continue implementation of the Blueprint “in a different way.”
“By scaling back our efforts, we will not only free up resources and money for other agencies to join this important work, we will also be better equipped to effectively implement high-impact programs that are both attainable and sustainable,” she said.
Boozer further said the Blueprint is just one of the partnerships the school district has with local agencies, “and we hope our continued efforts to implement programming that supports the goals of the Blueprint is one of the many ways we display our commitment to equity, excellence and healthy community partnerships.”
In all, the city contracted with 17 local programs in the first year to carry out its Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint.
For year two, the city has $3,079,622 to award to its partner organizations carrying out the work, of which $526,620 (the money unused by Unit 4) is coming from federal American Rescue Plan Act funding.
The outside evaluation presented to the council Tuesday looked at each of the 17 partners’ activities, but didn’t come to any conclusions about whether progress is being made toward reducing gun violence in the community.
“This is not a quick fix. This is a long journey,” City Manager Dorothy David said at the council meeting.
While the Unit 4 school district was the only partner agency that spent none of its money on the tasks it committed to, nearly all the partners other than the Champaign County Housing Authority, DREAAM, the Stephens Family YMCA and Carle Foundation Hospital had money leftover from year one.
Elvir said city staff is already in negotiations with Blueprint partners for year two contracts, and hopes to have that work wrapped up in a month.
“One gun violence victim is too many, and we’re working to reduce that from a holistic perspective,” he said.
The city’s Equity and Engagement Department Director Rachel Joy said the council will be hearing its next status report on the Blueprint plan next spring.