Oak Park and River Forest High School staff and parents opposed to the school's decision to go to a fully automated phone system by early next year gave school board members an earful last Thursday at its meeting.
OPRF will go to a full-time automated answering system for all incoming calls to the school by next February. The switchboard operator's job will be eliminated. The current operator would take over duties in the school's mailroom, where callers requesting to speak to a live person will be directed.
Vocal opponents to the move did not hide their feelings to board members. A number of those addressing the board during open session were OPRF employees, some of whom also have children enrolled at the school. Board members did not respond to the objections raised during the meeting.
"When I call the school I do not want to speak to an automated system," said Toni Hagins, a custodian in the building and grounds department and OPRF parent. "This gives the wrong impression of this school being impersonal and businesslike. OPRF is not a business."
Judi Kowalkowski, a substitute teaching coordinator at OPRF, presented to the board a list of 500 signatures by faculty, staff, parents and students opposed to the change. The petition was passed out shortly after the school announced its decision.
"We passed out petitions saying that we urged the board to retain the switchboard operator," she said. "It was overwhelming. In about five days, we had over 500 people who signed."
School officials said the number of calls to the switchboard dropped when an automated system was installed four years ago. The school, however, does not keep data on incoming call frequency.
"When parents call, it could be a family emergency where they need to speak to a live person, but they're not really sure where their child is and they don't know how to go about it.
We unfortunately have no data to back this up," said Kowalkowski, "so we really are not sure how many calls are being dialed directly and how many need assistance"
Opponents are concerned that the current mailroom clerk will be out of a job. The school said it would try to find a position in the school for the outgoing clerk.
OPRF expects to save $50,000 in salary and benefits by eliminating the switchboard operator.
Catherine Schutzius, director of Municipal and School Division for the Service Employees Union (SEIU), which represents building and grounds employees, met with the board prior to last Thursday's meeting to urge the board to reconsider the move.
"We believe this will have a negative effect on the district that outweighs the cost saving associated with the job elimination," said Schutzius.