With big renovation plans, OPRF now debates funding

Combination of selling bonds and spending down reserves possible

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Oak Park and River Forest High School has several options it can use to pay for major renovations – the remaking of classrooms and a new pool -- that are planned for the 107-year-old school.

Those options were discussed over the past month among the District 200 Board of Education and its various committees. And on Monday night the topic was brought to the district's ad hoc Finance Advisory Committee which is charged with making broad finance recommendations to the school board by December.

The tentative cost for the projects, which are driven in part by expectations of rising enrollment, was pegged Monday night at around $50 million. The funding options include selling bonds outright or going to voters in a referendum for permission to sell bonds. It is also expected that the school would use some portion of its $118 million fund balance and the roughly $5 million budgeted annually for capital projects to help cover costs.

The options under consideration, including a referendum, are only possible scenarios, said Jeff Weissglass, school board vice president and chair of the special finance committee.

In all, six financing options were proposed Monday by the school's financial advisory firm, William Blair. In each scenario, OPRF would spend between $13-30 million from the fund balance to pay a portion of the project. The rest of the funds would come from issuing bonds, either over 10 or 20 years, or via a referendum bond.

If, for instance, the high school were to put a referendum on the March 14, 2014 ballot for $36.6 million over a 20-year period, the tax impact on a home valued at $300,000 would be $133 per year, according to one of the options presented Monday by Elizabeth Hennessy, a managing director with William Blair.

Those options were also discussed by the D200 Board of Education on Sept. 26. Weissglass stressed that no decision was being made yet on any option but that the committee wanted to be transparent in vetting those options.

Monday's meeting also included a presentation by Tod Altenburg, OPRF's chief financial officer, on fund balance policies.

Several neighboring school districts, such as Evanston's D202 and D209 in Proviso, have policies concerning how to manage their respective fund balances. Proviso, for example, says the district seeks to "maintain year-end fund balances no less than 25 percent of annual expenditures in each fund." Other districts, such as Riverside-Brookfield, have similarly-worded policies.

OPRF has no such policy concerning its fund balance. The Facilities Advisory Committee will decide if such a policy is needed. But according to the high school, 25 percent of its current fiscal year expenditures totals $18.95 million.

The committee will now start moving toward forming its recommendations to the schoo boardl, Weissglass said. The FAC has met since July, mostly getting background on OPRF's finances. The committee is slated to make its recommendation to the D200 school board in December.


In the Oct. 2 article titled "OP schools decline in state standardized tests," Oak Park and River Forest High School actually experienced a percentage increase in reading on this year's Prairie State Achievement Test, as well as increases in math for some of its subgroups.

Wednesday Journal regrets the error.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 11th, 2013 9:25 PM

What is wrong when no one bats an eye to spend $50 million on a new pool and revise some classrooms. Is it the pool of dreams and the yellow brick road to classroom heaven. Our we not scrutinizing these costs. OPRFHS does not have a prayer for a referendum they want you to say use the funds from our overtaxation. Say NO!


Posted: October 11th, 2013 9:34 AM

What is the "FUND" there fore? This type of purpose. If the balace there is $118M and $50M is required, use the fund. Why sit on $118M cash and sell bonds? Residence are sick of the real estate taxes. Walk around any section of Oak Park and you'll see hanging gutters, old windows, broken sidewalks. Why? Because the tax burend is high already and people can't make improvements on their homes. On Trulia last week 400K house and $18K real estate tax. That's almost 5%. Wake up Oak Parkers!


Posted: October 10th, 2013 8:40 PM

We have already experienced a few bubbles this millennium...internet, housing...the next one coming is education. Easy student loans inflated college tuition rates. Limited job options mean kids students stay in school longer to get Masters degrees with low ROI, further indebting themselves to the student loan industry. The only "growth" industry has been education, an industry insulated from the economy from the endless trough that is the taxpayer pockets. It's coming, along w/ pension collapse

What do you think?  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 6:45 PM

If we moved the OP and RF teachers to Austin........would you have much of a difference in the outcome of the Austin students? My answer: No. Point: "the schools" are the indirect reason why people with children move to OP & RF.........the DIRECT reason is the families/children/classmates already here. Y'know, the kids/families NOT part of the millions spent on "Collaboration for Early Childhood" experiment - another reason why our taxes are so ridiculously high.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 4:40 PM

I'm in the same boat - if I even last long enough to get my youngest out of the school system, when graduation day hits at OPRF, the sign goes up the next day. I can't even imagine what my taxes will be by 2024, but I will not stay past then.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 4:28 PM

way do they want to spend their futures paying OP taxes. Really, there is no benefit if you are older. So OP has become a stop for our education system. Unfortunately, this is creating a need for bigger schools, more classrooms and more taxes to support it. Even younger people with kids still early in the school system have changed some of their minds about staying in OP after their kids finish because of the taxes. Must say there is a limit to the amt. of tax I will pay to stay in OP.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 4:24 PM

I have been retired for over three years now and no I am not yet in my 60's. I have no kids so have been supporting our educational efforts for others. But, taxes are way too high. For all the money I spend on taxes seems little is spent on adults, for adults and most is spent for the kids. I am seeing a lot of my neighbors with kids getting out of the school system this year. Their plan is to move out of OP. Perhaps their decision to move to OP was based on our great school system and no

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 12:39 PM

@Done, I've been thinking about those without kids in this village. Not seniors, but those still in their earning years. I was one of those people for nine years before having kids. And I'm wondering if they (since they have no kids to take care of) are more in a position to afford these taxes, and gladly do it, because it is a nice community to live in. Just pondering OP's demographics, and the behaviors/thought processes of them...

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 12:23 PM

May be forced to move out by 2017. Having a very hard time affording living in this town anymore. I don't know how D97 and D200 will sell these referendums to those who don't have kids in the system while the school districts take a bigger portion of the tax bill.


Posted: October 10th, 2013 12:08 PM

Reviewing the OPRF Compensation Report...11 counselors, 4 Student Intervention Directors (who apparently have no direct reports, so I'm not sure whom exactly they are directing), district contributing to what should be the teachers portion of the 9.4% (at least that's what I think "TRS/IMRF PD BY BD" means). I'm guessing D200 can find creative ways to restructure the staff and compensation levels BEFORE coming to the taxpayers for more funds.

Pay Attention  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 11:20 AM

D97 is also talking about a referendum in 2017.

No No No  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 9:52 AM

A referendum to raise taxes AGAIN? In this economy? While there is a budget surplus in D200? It's not just the students who must be smoking something funny at the high school.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 9:13 AM

Not a chance in hell will I vote "yes" on a referendum for D200. Correct me if I am wrong, but the previous referendum was worded so that a fixed dollar amount wasn't the target for the referendum, but was worded so that a percentage of value became the amount collectable. D200 has seen an unreasonable amount of dollars flow into the coffers because of that and since, surprise, it needs to be spent, another referendum could be needed to spend what they already have? Not a chance!

Just me, but?  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 8:28 AM

I'll start with this from the above article: "The tentative cost for the projects, which are driven in part by expectations of rising enrollment," I'm just wondering HOW is it possible that OPRF enrollment will match its "baby boom" era? Family size is MUCH lower today. Can we at least double-check the analysis with an update? The original study is now more than 2 years old and we can plug in new data to reflect that.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 12:00 AM

A referendum that would increase tax bills...Well that sure would be a nervy move...

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