CAST, BRAVO out if D97 referendum fails

Board, administration discuss impact to district at study session

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Click here to see Supt. Albert Roberts' presentation from Saturday’s study session.

Oak Park's elementary school District 97 would be in store for drastic cuts in programs and staff for the 2011-2012 school year if its planned referendum next April fails.

Administration and the board discussed that possibility in great detail at a referendum study session Saturday. At its first session on Nov. 2, the board agreed to issue working cash bonds rather than ask voters for a permanent increase in property taxes. Members on Saturday reiterated their support to go the working cash route as a lesser burden on taxpayers.

The prospect of deep cuts if a referendum fails was addressed and presented to the board last summer under the previous administration. Supt. Albert Roberts, who was hired in July, on Saturday presented a revised version of what those cuts could be. He and board members stressed that these were not proposed cuts but an outline of where reductions would come from in order to plug a roughly $6 million structural deficit.

The possibilities include the elimination of CAST and BRAVO, the district's performing arts programs at each of the middle schools; the Multicultural Education Center; and after school programs. Staff cuts would include one district office administrator and support staff, and one assistant principal at each middle school.

"That's not a pretty picture at all and that's why we absolutely need a referendum," Roberts said.

The previous administration had proposed roughly $2 million in cuts, maintaining that that was just a starting point and not enough to balance the budget.

Roberts and the board also discussed prospects for the district if a referendum passes. The superintendent proposed roughly $700,000 in spending reductions for 2011-2012, including a clerical staff position in the superintendent's office, that would still occur under that scenario. Some programs would be maintained and enhanced, however, including increased funding to the district's current technology plan—smart boards for each classroom, for instance—foreign language instruction and its music program.

Saturday was the board's second study session, this one at Holmes School, 508 N. Kenilworth Ave., before a tiny audience of a half dozen people.

The board also started discussing the amount of money that might be asked for in a referendum. The study session was scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon but ended at around 1 p.m. Rather than going beyond that time, members agreed to pick up their discussion at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16.


Supt. Roberts Presentation From Study Session

Reader Comments

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op rez  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 3:02 PM

@no wait - my kids don't do CAST or BRAVO it is just an observation. The kids who are "troubled" don't participate in the program...also an observation.

no wait  

Posted: February 25th, 2011 2:43 PM

Hold on--you want to turn down the referendum because your kid didn't get the role they wanted in the show? Way to think big-picture. The fact of the matter is that most of the kids who participate in CAST/BRAVO aren't going to be professional actors, and most of the kids who are in athletics aren't going to be in the olympics. But both do provide a great place for kids to meet each other, and to learn about teamwork. Also, keeps them out of trouble.

op rez  

Posted: February 25th, 2011 1:24 PM

The same kids get main roles over and over in CAST. you can pay for a quality acting class where your child is treated more fairly for far less than the cost of the tax increase. No go!

Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2011 10:43 PM

The District is using scare tactics - threatening that Bravo, Cast etc will be cut if we don't raise taxes. But if we do raise taxes, the District has a major (multi-million dollar) technology spending spree all planned. Take a look at the recent board packet - by 2015 they plan on adding millions in new spending to the budget each year.

Cast Alum from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2011 9:08 PM

I did CAST while I was at Julian, and am outraged that anyone would think of cutting it. If they had not had CAST, I would have been a scared introvert while I was at Julain. After going through CAST, I feel capable (and am far more capable) of achieving great things. The money spent on things like CAST (and the arts) is money well spent. VOTE YES FOR THE REFERENDUM!!!!!

Student at Julian Middle School  

Posted: January 25th, 2011 9:28 PM

I am a student at Julian Middle School, and I am part of CAST. I would be terribly disappointed if CAST was cut. I enjoy acting and love the opportunities that CAST presents to us. Some of the people who took CAST in the last 25 years are on broadway today.

the real issue from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2010 9:49 PM

What is actually occurring today is the implosion of the financial model of education in Illinois and the country. "Business as usual" of ever-increasing costs for education (primarily wages, health insurance and pensions) is simply no longer affordable. The request to raise taxes today from a community (ANY community) in the reality of today is, sadly, almost extortionant. This referendum needs to be defeated and then Oak Parkers can come together and work on a fair solution for all.

additional math...... from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2010 1:42 PM

In addition, the performing arts classes are by far the largest in the school; each teacher has 40-60 students during his or her 40 minute period. To eliminate these positions would mean that more core teachers, with a limit of 30 children per class, would have to be hired. Music classes are far cheaper to run than other academic subjects. Teachers can not be cut because contractually can't have more than 30 students, with the exception of PE and music performance. Instead, cut district admin!

more math here...... from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2010 1:38 PM

Some more math: it's unclear if the cuts will be to the after school programs or the entire arts program. If it's for the entire arts program, let's do some additional math: the 5 or 6 arts teachers in each building will be cut, but the students have to be somewhere; contractually teachers are only obligated to teach a certain amount of students for a very specific amount of time. Students have to be somewhere with a teacher - and that teacher needs to be paid.

DoingSome Math from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2010 12:41 PM

D97 has a higher number of administrators per student than the state average. Why not start by cutting 4 administrators to bring us closer to the average? That would save nearly 1/2 a million. Let's not forget that the teacher salary in OP is also higher than the average. While I don't think a 10% cut is valid, we shouldn't cry that they are underpaid at $75k for a short year and long holiday breaks.

Really???? from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2010 11:01 AM

1.Look at the salary schedule of 97's teachers and figure out the hours they are required to work - they make a lot per hour and many of them get extra stipends for other activities. 2. Take a look at all of the district jobs, many of which were newly created - example: 2 new curriculum coordinators at over 80k salary each - over 100k total per year cost. Cut these jobs (again, newly created) before you touch one arts program. How DARE they ask for more money from us!!!!!!

Voting NO  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 5:16 PM

Radical idea #1 Close Hatch School and redistribute its 250 students.Radical idea #2 OPRF has banked millions and millions. How is that possible? Recall recent past referendum it slipped by the tax payers. Why not share the wealth with district #97? It can be made to happen. It's tax money and it's all education. I'm so disgusted I'm considering relocating and putting my tax savings toward a private education.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 4:41 PM

I find the title of Supt. Roberts PowerPoint presentation quite revealing: "Preferred Future". I have a preferred future, as well. It involves minimal snow in the winter, adequate rainfall during gardening season, winning the lottery, basking in the adoration of others, sacrifice-free weight loss and far fewer mosquitoes. And I would prefer that it arrives ASAP.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 4:04 PM

If we in fact need to reduce the school budget in Oak Park -- and I am not yet persuaded that we do -- why should we start by selecting entire programs to chop from the curriculum? Why shouldn't we at least start by trying to find enhanced efficiencies across the board, but chopping nothing?

Chris Goode from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 3:54 PM

I was being sarcastic when I suggested in my earlier post that we should cut arts and music. I support CAST and BRAVO and the arts and music programs in the school are one of the best things about the schools in Oak Park. But if the board is forced to make drastic cuts it's only logical that they will be high up on the list as there is not much else to cut. Taxes in this town are high but the schools are not the place to cut programs. Look at some neighboring towns to see why that's foolish.

Jason Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 3:54 PM

Dang it all... I spelled acquisition wrong. Maybe if I had taken a second language when I was in grammar school I would have learned how to spell. Or if I had taken keyboarding in High school I could have learned to type!

Jason Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 3:50 PM

Dear Sally:wow close schools? Now that will get some people fired up. If people are not happy about cast/bravo on the chopping block, imagine how the people who go to Whitteir or Hatch will feel. BTW My sons school, Longfellow, has over 600 kids now, so there is no room for anymore. And Lincoln has kids taking class in trailers, so they can't take anymore either.Chet21, there are many studies that show second language acuisiton at early ages is great for kids learning and creativity.


Posted: November 19th, 2010 2:50 PM

> The answer is that we can all afford a few pennies to keep good teachers and good programs for our students.That's what they keep saying--a few pennies. It's a lot of pennies. My property taxes are ridiculous. They keep going up too, and the schools keep asking for more while cutting and cutting. I am not a mathematical genius, but every time someone tries to explain why I am paying this much for so little, I get more and more confused.


Posted: November 19th, 2010 1:28 PM

20 years from now, when the next referendum comes up (and my kids have been out of District 97 for years and I'm pushing 70) it will be tempting to join the "no referendum" chorus, but hopefully I'll remember that because Oak Park residents passed a referendum 10 years before my kids started school, they had access to awesome opportunities (like CAST and cross country) and a great place to grow up.

Sally Forth from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 10:15 AM

It hasn't been mentioned at forums or in the press, but many are thinking and saying it privately, so I'll say it here...Why isn't D97 seriously looking at eliminating an entire SCHOOL? (Hatch or Whittier come to mind, but the entire system should be evaluated from the ground up.)Our population is down 15000 from the 60's peak, yet there are the same # of school buildings, more teachers/admin, etc. Consolidation of schools should be on the table in broad daylight.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 8:36 AM

Waste? Start with the Spanish teachers at the elem schools - devote their time to the core curriculum. Next? Multi-cultural dept.NO teacher is going any where. There isn't a lot of hiring going on elsewhere - close to none. Further, they'd have to start over on the salary schedule.Asking people who are losing (or fearing the loss of) jobs/homes, and already taking pay cuts to pay more in taxes for D97 wage increases is heartless. All "yes" people should make personal donations to D97.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 8:34 AM

I think that as stated by others that it is the scare tactics of cutting a beloved program that has most taxpayers frustrated. Everyone wants great experiences and the best teachers for the kids but it seems that the budget just isn't truly transparent and a realistic look and consideration for taxpayers who truly are strapped before asking for more while threatening to cut programs is what is wanted by most Oak Parkers.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 8:28 AM

I wholeheartedly support CAST/BRAVO. My daughter started with CAST while still in elementary school. Theatre has enriched her life and education beyond all measure, as I know it has with probably thousands of others. It would border on criminality to eliminate or substantilly cut CAST/BRAVO. But I question the underlying assumption here that there is a need to cut something. The answer is that we can all afford a few pennies to keep good teachers and good programs for our students.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 8:03 AM

If there is waste in the school system, then let's address it. But no one here has identified any such waste. Teachers are not paid what they are worth as it is. Their salaries cannot be considered "waste." Sports, theater, music and other such "extracurricular" activities are not "waste." Costs escalate over time; that does not mean there is "waste." If there is a crunch, then we taxpayers can afford to make up the shortfall, without cheapening the lives of our teachers and students.

cookie02 from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 7:30 AM

I hate that Oak Park is holding these programs hostage; it is grandstanding and irresponsible. Cut some of the administrators at the district level; doing a cost/benefit analysis, their salaries (for the most part) affect the students far less than the salaries of people like the Bravo director (who makes less than half of any administrator).

cookie01 from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 7:25 AM

Bravo is a great program, it is also the only performance production at Brooks that charges for tickets. There are also small fees for costumes and extras. There is also a charge for the summer program, and a lot of students attend. Out of this revenue, the only salary benefit cost is the director and secretary. The rest of the positions are either stipend (one time cost) or volunteer. With all of this in mind, I expect that this is one of the lower cost programs to run.

Student from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2010 12:40 AM

@Chris Goode... I sincerely hope you are joking in your last sentence. WHO NEEDS THOSE!??! Imagine if there was no music in the world, no art, nothing out of the box or creative. The core subjects are very important but it is impossible to make them quite as creative as the arts. This creative edge has been proven to help when searching for jobs due to the extreme confidence boost it has. I dont see you you could cut it being an OAK PARK district, a community that thrives off of an artistic edge

Chris Goode from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 8:10 PM

So what would you like them to put on the cutting list? Cut salaries and watch the best teachers go to other school districts? How about we cut math or science or reading or writing? They are not too important. And while we are at it lets get rid of the libraries. We could cut gym but that is required by the state. And we could cut the computer and technology programs but our kids wouldn't be able to teach us how to use them. So I guess that leaves art and music - I mean who needs those.

noneofyourbeeswax from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 6:52 PM

@splissken--summer CAST is 6 weeks, 6 hour days, 5 days/week and as such is pretty good cost on an hourly basis. Charging kids undermines the mission of the program, whose benefits go far beyond putting on a show. It ensures a soft landing for kids in the difficult middle school year, and that is worth way more than the tiny cost. Same with athletics. Parents who are able raise money and make substantional donations as it is.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 2:11 PM

My children are recent graduates of D97. One now at OPRF and the other in college. I can not say enough good things about the outstanding education that they received while at Irving and Julian.Having said this, I will be voting "no" on the referendum. I just read Trib Local and it is obvious that the money from the referendum, per Roberts, is for increased wages/benefits and expansion of programs. The solution for D97 is the same one for many OP families-reduced wages and non-essentials.

NotSharing from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 1:40 PM

If you read the last slide of the Powerpoint presentation, it is quite clear that CAST and BRAVO are simply on a list of programs that might be considered for reductions if the District can't come up with the $6 million shortfall it faces. Even cutting all those program on the last page doesn't reach that figure. Cutting EVERY administrator only yields $3.6 million. It has been 2 decades since the last such referendum, so accusations of poor fiscal management are way off base. Schools cost $$!

S.Plissken from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 1:37 PM

@noneofyourbeeswax: There is a fee for the summer programs, and it is not cheap. The only reason to suggest a fee is to keep the program going. No hidden agenda to exclude anyone, I promise. And perhaps there should be a fee for cross county and choir. It is kind of a pay now or pay later question, isn't it? Don't pay now and pay more in referendum or property taxes.

OP Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 12:46 PM

Cutting teacher salaries is a fairly common battle cry regarding the issue of funding education. Many teachers at both the elementary and high school levels hold numerous advanced degrees and dedicate countless and unpaid hours to their students and our children. Most of us can go home and relax after a hard's days work. Teachers still have papers to grade, reports to file and parents to call. They're lucky to be able to find some time for themselves and their families. Support the referendum!

noneofyourbeeswax from oak park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 12:37 PM

One of the things that makes CAST/BRAVO great is the fact that anyone can participate, regardless of ability to pay. And that it is given as an after-school program, so kids can participate seamlessly, regardless of whether their parents work. We don't make our children pay to run cross-country or be in choir, I don't see why theater should be any different.


Posted: November 18th, 2010 12:02 PM

D97 knows a threat to cut Bravo would catch everyone's attention. At some point they will "rescue" this program when the taxpayers pay its ransom. They will expect your gratitude as well. It would only take less than one half of one percent of a pay cut to pay for Bravo (.4%). Somehow asking the taxpayers for a pay cut in the form of increased taxes isn't a problem, just don't ask the members of the union to take a pay cut.

A student who has been affected from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 11:37 AM

Dear fellow readers, I am an alumni of the CAST program. I can personally attest that before I entered CAST I was a quiet kid who walked through the halls shaking in fear of other students. CAST brought me to life and showed me extremely valuable skills on how to be myself and how to be proud of it! 2 things that are strongly supported by the Oak Park culture! Also I have volunteered with the program since I left, and the "Fancy bells and whistles" are donated affects and do not use tax money!

B from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 9:50 AM

My daughter has been involved in the magnificent BRAVO program, but I have to agree that they could do just fine with less funding. No need to "professionalize" all the productions. I think the leaders have skewed senses of what kids really need. I am always sad to see the arts held hostage in negotiations nonetheless.

Mom2 from Oak Park IL  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 6:32 PM

One thing to remember about the CAST program. While they have many shows, they cast multiple shows at once so that they can maximize the number of kids who participate. Each kid is limited to one show per semester. There are a lot of kids in the middle school!For my own kids, this was their only opportunity for theater as the HS is too competitive, and their schedules too busy. There are life skills that come with having to stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and perform.

Mom2 from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 6:26 PM

Every pending referendum anywhere, the administration always threatens to cut the arts and sports. Since this is elementary school, sports aren't a big thing. Scare Tactics.As far as CAST goes (I'm not as familiar with Bravo), the program DOES do fund raising. I've been on the mailing list for many of their fundraising events, as well as solicitations for donations to the program--and have contributed.


Posted: November 17th, 2010 6:26 PM

So, Angry, do the BS comments on the survey include the ones from people like you who don't support a referendum and state the reasons they don't? Just wondering if you've actually taken the time to read through all of them or are just generalizing from a handful in an effort to back your accusations and statements.


Posted: November 17th, 2010 6:17 PM

Program Users Should Pay, the presentation from the study session does state that administrators will be taking a pay freeze in 2011-2012.

Angry Oak Park Resident  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:49 PM

Has anybody on here read the BS responses on the Referendum survey?They are obviously made up by Teachers/Admin Staff.Also PLEASE take time to read the 'budget' (i use that VERY LOOSELY) written by another clown O'Neill.THERE IS NO CONTINGENCY WHETHER THIS PASSES OR NOT FOR ANY PAY CUTS FOR THE UNION-BACKED MAFIASO MERCHANTS THAT COLLECT PAYCHECKS FROM D-97! THAT IS WHY EVERYBODY NEEDS TO VOTE NO, NO, NO ABD SEND THIS CLOWN BACK TO WHERE HE CAME FROM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Angry Oak Park Resident  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:43 PM

Roberts is an clown, and has obviously been in K-12 administration and is detatched from reality.In this economic climate the referendum is insane. and unethical.Governor Quinn is planning on using his 'mandate' to raise taxes, and this guy isn't even elected, using scare tactics to gain ground in his losing referendum. Our children need science, math and languages,to compete with China and India,all which can be taught by a textbook, we need to get back to traditional teaching!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Program Users Should Pay  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:35 PM

I think the Bravo and Cast programs are wonderful, but I also feel they are above and beyond what should be considered as offering arts in the school system.If children want to participate in the drama program,they should pay for it. As far as reducing the number of Assistant Principals? you obviously don't visit the middle schools often. Just as many others have had to endure pay freezes and no COL increases- all those at District #97 should do the same. Say NO to the referendum.

S. Plissken from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:20 PM

Now that i think of it, there is an admission charge to see the performances, $5.00 as I recall. There has to be some bad math or bad budgeting or as others have suggested simple scare tactics being used here.I know this is too late, and i have no ill will towards the new superintendent, but he is a retired state worker, likely on a fat pension, maybe he could work for $1.00 for a year and save the district a bunch of money.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:12 PM

I agree w/S. Plissken - seems like a user fee is appropriate - those who wish to participate should pay some $$ towards supporting this activity and fundraise to help those who cannot afford to foot the bill. Say no to the referendum!

NotSharing from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:08 PM

What is unfortunate is that the accusations of scare tactics should be levied at the Journal, not the schools. The headline was carefully chosen to elicit just the responses it got. The presentation by the school district clearly shows multiple programs and personnel that might be considered for reductions if a referendum fails. None are pleasant choices, but everything needs to be on the table for consideration. It isn't as easy as just "cutting administration" because that is simplistic.

John from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 3:49 PM

Regarding pay/staff cuts in District 97: Why isn't OPRF (with its higher salaries)worried about its budget? Seems there is plenty of tax money going over there.

noneofyourbeeswax from oak park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 3:08 PM

CAST/BRAVO is by far the best thing about the middle schools, to the point where It was a deciding factor in not pulling our children out of the school. I think it's ridiculous and disgusting that they are threatening to pull this program and proves even more to me that they have no idea what they are doing. Typical scare tactics, and it makes me even more likely to vote against the referendum.

S. Plissken from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 1:52 PM

I looked at the budget savings for cutting Cast and Bravo in the document: $200k. The cost to enroll in the summer program is a lot of money, $700 for Cast and there are a ton of kids who are in the program. There has to be some way to save the programs, even if there is a small fee to participate during the school year.

Elizabeth Rees from Oak Park   

Posted: November 17th, 2010 10:24 AM

I wholeheartedly support the arts in school but it does seem to me that the CAST program could continue without many of the fancy 'professional' bells and whistles that it has demanded as necessary to the program. I have been involved in many community theater productions (and student productions when I attended school!) that did not require headset microphones, elaborate sets and backstage trick equipment and the like. What is really, truly required for young people to put on a show and learn?

PM from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 9:39 AM

KJS, maybe voters like Mr. Skiver are not a problem. The Pupil-to-Administrator Ratio for D97 does support his statement. The Pupil-Administrator ratio is 177.7 students per administrator. The state average is 203.8. I understand the value of less students per teacher, but not so sure that there is value in less students per administrator. I also agree with Will... typical scare tactics. They go all out to ask for a referendum but don't discuss other options such as pay freezes or pay cuts.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 9:07 AM

Politicians and bureacrats are prone to exaggeration when funding cuts are are on the table. We should assume that in evaluating these statements. Government bureacrats such as school administrators have experienced a much less severe recession than their counterparts in the private sector. Naturally, they are upset at the possibility of having to do more with less. Instead of making doomsdays predictions, the officials involved need to go back to the budgeting table and make more cuts.


Posted: November 17th, 2010 8:11 AM

Voters like Mr. Skiver are a problem. He thinks his money is being wasted, yet he really has no idea how it's being spent. Why doesn't he know how many assistant principals there are in the district? It's not a big mysterious number. It's information that is easily accessible if one really wanted to know. But I suspect he would rather gripe than educate himself. A voucher system? Really?? Come on now. At least Will has some information to support his opinion.


Posted: November 17th, 2010 7:04 AM

Typical scare tactics, give us money or we will eliminate high profile events and programs. Total salaries and benefits are approximately $49M annually; a temporary 10% pay cut will make lay-offs, program reduction and a referendum unnecessary.

Larry Skiver from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 4:52 AM

I can not believe that they want more money. I think we just got the tax bill in the mail. I'm barely making it now. We don't go on big vacations. Just can't afford it. How many asst. principals does the school district have? I think they should cut some more at the top and the teachers take a pay cut. You know it's for the children and I'm sure the teachers are in not for the money but for the children. I think we should have a voucher system myself. In other words QUIT WASTING MY MONEY!!!

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