Seeking to build political momentum for the village smoking ban it seeks, ban proponents received a positive welcome last week from District 97 school board members.
The elementary school board will vote at its next meeting on a resolution supporting a smoking ban in all public places in the village.
The move comes after a presentation at the board's Jan. 12 meeting by Dr. David Ansell, one of the leading proponents of the ban.
"This is clearly a health issue, it's not a choice issue, not a business issue," Ansell said. "It's really about children in many ways."
Ansell gave examples of asbestos in schools or the former practice of Thom McCann shoe stores of X-raying feet for precise sizing as ways health standards need to change with time. He argued that smoking would never be re-introduced to public places where it's been banned, like at hospitals or on airplanes.
Ansell said second-hand smoke is the leading trigger of asthma attacks, and that working in a smoky restaurant for one night would be the equivalent of smoking 16 cigarettes.
But Ansell argued for the board's support on political grounds, too. He said village trustees have been "wary" to take on the issue, and that some have told him that if the schools support the ban they would be more willing to support it, too.
Ansell brought Josh Leitson, a seventh grader at Brooks Middle School who is working on the ban as his bar mitzvah project. Leitson said that he has learned in school about the risks of smoking, but when people smoke in restaurants "it's almost the same as if we're doing it because we're right next to them.
Board President Ade Onayemi agreed that it is a health issue. "It's definitely an issue we think is worth looking at."
He said could not speak for the board, but that he feels "if it's going to improve [kids'] quality of life, I'm for it."
He denied the influence of politics in the matter. "Everything is political," Onayemi said. "For us, it's an environmental issue, it's a health issue, it's a quality of life issue."
TIF endorsement passes despite dissent
The board passed a resolution supporting the extension of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District with support from all members except Sharon Patchak-Layman.
Patchak-Layman said more scrutiny needs to be paid to what the village spends TIF money on, and that she wasn't in favor of supporting the TIF extension two years ago when the Village of Oak Park offered a carve-out deal to the school districts and other taxing bodies. That agreement will lead to newly developed properties along the outer edges of the TIF district being removed from the TIF, their property taxes returning to general coffers in their entirety. The deal also gives school districts annual minimum payment guarantees.
TIF districts function by pooling tax proceeds as they rise above the level taxes were at when the district was created, and using that money to prod economic development.
"It's not our mission to do economic development," Patchak-Layman said.
Board member Dan Burke respectfully disagreed, pointing to some $650,000 the district has received in two years because of the intergovernmental agreement with the village.
"That's a very meaningful amount of revenue to the district at this time," Burke said. The district has made multi-million dollar budget reductions and revenue enhancements the past two fiscal years.
Other board members joined Burke and Patchak-Layman in saying that spending of TIF funds needs to be monitored, a reference to a memo written by Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar earlier this month that pointed to what he deemed misuse of TIF funds, including paying salaries for four police beat officers.
Board members pointed out that because the village could pay for those officers with TIF funds, Dist. 97 middle schools were able to get a police resource officer at each school, paid for by the village.
Life Safety projects approved
The board approved roughly $1.5 million in four repair projects that will be paid for with Life Safety bond sale proceeds.
Work on the projects will begin this summer.
Asst. Supt. Gary Lonquist told the board that their approval of the projects has been waiting on state approval, required for the work to be paid for with Life Safety funds. Lonquist said a few more projects will be paid for by the bond sale, which the board has not yet approved. On Friday, Moody's confirmed the district's Aa3 bond rating and dropped the "negative outlook" attached to its last rating. Aa bonds are considered high-grade bonds for investors, and a good bond rating usually means better rates and not having to take insurance when issuing bonds.
Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, will speak, followed by a question-and-answer session. Martire has spoken at schools across Illinois about the issue, including HB750 and other "tax swap" proposals that will improve school funding, raise the state income tax and lower property taxes.