Despite behind-the-scenes efforts by three local governing bodies to settle an ongoing lawsuit, it appears the legal battle may continue at least into January.
Districts 97 and 200 and Oak Park village government have been meeting in private for months, with hopes of resolving a lawsuit that the high school filed back in February, seeking some $3.3 million that the village allegedly owes in a contract dispute.
On the other side, village hall has asserted that it only owes District 200 $1.7 million.
It was seen as a breakthrough in August when elected officials from the three parties began meeting to try and resolve the dispute.
But according to Village Manager Tom Barwin and court documents, a schedule for the suit has been set stretching into January. About six weeks ago, the village filed a motion to dismiss the high school's lawsuit. District 200 followed by asking for permission to file another amended complaint
Barwin said the village government had until Nov. 17 to respond to that change, and the high school has until Dec. 1 to file a counter response. Then, the hearing on the next motion to dismiss will occur on Jan. 4.
"So, the legal meters continue to run," Barwin said. The village and two school districts have tallied legal bills, altogether totaling more than $100,000 in the dispute. The great majority of reported legal costs have so far been borne by the village.
Barwin declined to comment when asked what the long slate of court dates meant in terms of the parties' efforts to end the lawsuit.
Village President David Pope said he is still optimistic that things may be cleared up out of court.
"Certainly we'd all prefer for this not to have to be resolved through a time-consuming and costly legal ordeal," he said. "We are continuing to meet in hopes of resolving these issues. We'll find out in time whether we're able to successfully avoid further steps in the litigation process."
John Allen — the District 200 board vice president, who has represented the high school in the confidential meetings — declined to comment when asked how he felt the meetings are going. The three sides have agreed not to talk to the press about what takes place at the table.
However, Allen said that it's not safe to assume that, just because court dates are planned into January, the village and District 200 won't be able to resolve things out of court.
"That wouldn't be a safe assumption at all," Allen said. "This is very complicated stuff, so it's going to take time. We're working as hard as we can to come to an agreement."
The parties are slated to meet for another private meeting on Dec. 2.