District 200 candidate accuses District 97 of funding out-of-town lawsuits

Claim by River Forest resident false, say Oak Park school officials

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

A woman who is a candidate for the Oak Park and River Forest High School board in April's election accused Oak Park's elementary school district on Dec. 20 of funneling tax dollars to other Illinois school districts to fight anti-tax lawsuits filed in those jurisdictions.

During the District 200 tax levy hearing on Dec. 20, River Forest resident Barbara Langer spoke for more than 20 minutes, voicing her opposition to OPRF's proposed levy increase and attacking the school's large cash reserves.

Then, out of nowhere, she turned to the subject of District 97 and her allegation that the district is helping fight other districts' legal battles. "There have been taxpayer-initiated lawsuits in Wilmette and in Riverside and in other places," Langer said.

"District 97, which is the grade school district in Oak Park, has been using taxpayer dollars from Oak Park to help fund the lawsuits, the defenses, for those other school districts all over Illinois."

Officials at District 97, however, said Langer's charge is false and are unaware why she made it.

Langer was referring to the various lawsuits filed last spring by Taxpayer United of America and its supporters against District 97 and other government agencies that ran referendums in April 2011.

She mentioned the group's website while making the allegation. District 97 was among the taxing bodies understating the impact of its tax hike in the actual question that appeared on the ballot.

Nine other taxing bodies, including Wilmette School District 39 and Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208, did the same thing. All of those taxing bodies used Chicago law firm Chapman and Cutler to help draft their ballot questions.

The various questions did not factor in the state equalizer — as advised by the law firm — in calculating the exact impact on property owners. The state law governing how tax hike referendum questions should be written has since been revised, stating explicitly to use the equalizer.

Taxpayers United, a nonprofit group based in Chicago, filed suits against those tax bodies, accusing them of knowingly misleading voters. Additional plaintiffs in some of those cases included residents of those towns.

Many of those suits, including against District 97, have been dismissed by the courts. Wednesday Journal contacted District 97 the day after the District 200 tax levy hearing concerning Langer's accusation.

In an email response, Superintendent Albert Roberts he did not know what was said at the meeting. Roberts said District 97, like all other school districts, has a regular budget line for legal costs.

"We have been very careful to keep our promises to the citizens of Oak Park. Referendum dollars have and will continue to be used for the purposes stated during the [April 2011] campaign, and we are documenting our commitment to the taxpayers," Roberts said.

District 97 reportedly has spent more than $50,000 to fight the lawsuit filed by Taxpayers United. Earlier this month, the group asked for and received a dismissal of its appeal filed with the appellate court in that suit.

Speaking to Wednesday Journal on Dec. 28, District 97 school board President Peter Baber said the district has not spent money defending lawsuits in other districts. He's also not sure why Langer would mention District 97 at a District 200 meeting.

"I'm not sure where she got this from," Barber said. "As a district we strive to be transparent. If people have questions for us please ask and get the information from us instead of speaking at another meeting and giving out erroneous information."

District 97, meanwhile, approved its own 3-percent tax levy increase — a net of roughly $1.4 million more than the previous year — on Dec. 18, without much controversy compared to the high school. No one from the public showed up to speak at the scheduled hearing that evening.

Contact:
Email: tdean@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

21 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 19th, 2013 3:24 AM

I thought we responded to D97 financial need by passing the referendum. Now it seems we are getting taxed beyond what taxpayers have been aware or voted for. There are multiple boards in OP gov, are we expected to go to all of them. Also feel the dates of these board votes could have been delayed until after the holidays. Many people have holiday plans and/or went out of town.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: March 19th, 2013 3:17 AM

When I first read about B. Langer and her interest in opening one of the OPRFHS pools to the public when not in use by the HS, I was not in favor of using any HS facilities for non-student use. Now I see the park district is utilizing the HS's pool for swim classes this summer. Seems that Ms. Langer really wasn't asking for the moon, just some use of the pool as a taxpayer.

OP Insight  

Posted: January 7th, 2013 9:10 PM

Ms. Langer is the Ron Paul of this election. She is forcing discussion and discourse on topics that are important to her supporters (herself).

Concerned taxpayer from Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 4:41 PM

Come on people! Barb Langer had an idea. She felt the OPRFHS could offer a year-round pool for all residents of OP & RF. She presented her idea and actively sought out petitions for same. Personally, I'm not interested in the pool idea but I have no interest in putting her down for expressing her thoughts. Why would anyone want to close themselves off to expressions of free speech.

Equally concerned from River Forest   

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 12:42 PM

OP Resident - to be fair, she wanted both Op'ers and RF'ers to buy her a pool. Why is it that OP'ers always forget that RF contributes >25% of the taxes to Dist. 200 while having <17% of the students? Which also raises the question of why District 200 is paying to educate OP preschoolers but that is a discussion for another day.

OP Resident #545 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 12:35 PM

Ms. Langer is a gadfly who indeed wants OPer's to build her a free indoor pool. Not qualified to oversee the RFTC pool, let alone D200.

Equally concerned from River Forest  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 12:06 PM

Concerned - but she is also the person who organized to have District 200 spend a lot of money on a pool so that she had a place to swim laps without having to pay a health club. There is a bit of hypocrisy in her contrasting issue advocacy.

Concerned from Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 11:53 AM

Barb Langer is the one who organized and directed a small group of OP & RF villagers to get the word out with her WJ articles and handouts of which many were given out door to door to inform all of us about the D200 levy and public forum. I didn't see anyone else do it.

Jim from Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 10:33 AM

Matt, I believe she did initiate the petition drive to get a pool proposal on the Spring ballot. It's another D200 issue we can't forget. It won't come for "free" as its supporters say it will--it will mean new taxes. Stop this just as we need to elect a board with concern about the community

Matt on Madison  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 9:04 AM

Isn't Langer the one that last year wanted to take funds from district 200 to open a pool. That makes sense take money earmarked for education and get a pool for the village. If the money goes to her cause shes ok but otherwise shes not. Hope she loses. The last thing we need is a politician out for herself.

Want to Stay in Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2013 8:44 AM

I estimate a $400 annual property tax increase... looking at my 2011 Second installment and adding the D97 3% increase and D200 2.7% increase... That means my mortgage escrow will go up another $40/month... It might not sound like a lot, but thats a lot of money for some families in these tough economic times.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 5:08 PM

Since 70% of property taxes goes to D97 and D200, it's in EVERY Oak Parker's best interest (regardless if you have kids attending the schools--as I don't) to be up on what the Boards are doing. Guess it's time to be attending some school board meetings....Here are links to find their agendas and schedules: http://www.op97.org/board-of-education/ http://www.oprfhs.org/board-of-education/

A Realist from Oak Park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 4:39 PM

My own fault for letting D97 sneak under my radar. It's new to me that school boards don't connect with taxpayers; their stakeholders are staff and teachers. Yes, they did their small print thing and were legal, but even Terry Dean, who's a good reporter, missed it. School boards are big time government with the power to tax until it hurts. The people at the D200 hearing told us how much it hurts. Too bad, say both districts, because they don't care about the people who pay the bills.

Monica from Oak Park from oak park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 4:13 PM

I actually attended the tax levy hearing. It was sad to see so many Oak Parkers in bad financial shape, literally begging the board not to increase their taxes because they simply cannot pay more. Yet - with a surplus of $135 million - tax increase they did! Plus, the Board was cowardly enough to delay the vote until 90% of the crowd had left. Understand this: if you favor fiscal responsibility in Oak Park, you are the bad guy.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 3:09 PM

Apparently, the WJ didn't think the 3% increase that D97 passed was newsworthy, considering it's a "Meanwhile" mention at the bottom of another story.

SSanders  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 1:32 PM

I understand if you're angry about the increase, but give the transparency argument a rest. You make it sound like this is all closed door politics when everything is done in sessions that are open to the public. At some point, you need to take responsibility for staying informed. Besides, if the district sent a letter to every home with info about the levy presentation, you'd probably be on here complaining that it spent your tax dollars to let you know it is raising taxes.

SSanders  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 1:22 PM

You can access the minutes from the meeting where the levy was presented and discussed by the board by visiting http://www.op97.org/board-of-education/documents/112712minutes.pdf (just under your February deadline). You can also request an audio recording of the meeting by contacting the board secretary.

Assume the Worst from OP  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 1:14 PM

The D97 Board was going to pass a tax increase regardless of whether people showed up to complain or not. I didn't see the notice either (and I watch these things pretty closely), but it's safe to assume that any taxing body (especially in Oak Park) will raise your taxes whenever they can. Was the vote immediate and unanimous? WJ...any report? I wonder what the notes say (when they eventually get posted in February). Nice transparency there.....D97 is only slightly less of a joke than D200.

SSanders  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 12:56 PM

Not really sure how it was under the radar when D97 discussed it at multiple board meetings, posted a notice about it in the newspaper, held a public hearing and sent out information via its listserv. Something the district does at the exact same time every single year. However, if it would be easier for you, realist, I suppose you could ask the board to hold future meetings at your house so it is beyond easy for you to stay informed.

A realist from Oak Park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 12:09 PM

Another sneaky school tax increase, this time from D97. Same process as D200 used, but D97 kept under the radar. D97 got us to pass a referendum to provide "music and art" for the children, then found the money to push for a shining new HQ. Now, they sneak a tax increase on us. Used to be that the state government bent the meaning of its intentions; now its standard procedure for local governments, too.

Concerned taxpayer from Oak Park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 5:13 AM

Probably no one showed up because no one knew about it. What happened WJ? Did I miss this in your paper? I wonder if it was on the same day as D200 and the library's public forum, both on Dec. 20th at 7:30 PM.

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