By Terry Dean
By a narrow margin, residents in Oak Park expressed support for District 97 going for a referendum in spring 2011, according to an online survey of residents over the last three weeks.
More than 500 people have taken the survey that first went up Oct. 15 at the district's website, www.op97.org. As of Tuesday morning, roughly 41 percent of respondents said they would support a referendum if it were held "today." About 32 percent answered no, and 27.4 percent said they didn't know. The survey, which will be up until Nov. 12, also allows people to include comments anonymously.
Chris Jasculca, the district's communications coordinator, said that comments for those answering no was largely based on not having enough information about the referendum.
"Part of the reason that some of them said no was simply because they needed more information. Until they know the plan; until they know how much and certain specifics related to the referendum, they simply cannot support it at this time," he said.
Of those who answered yes, about 50 percent believe the district is "adequately funded but needs additional revenue to improve the quality of its schools in the future." Forty-three percent believe the district is under-funded while 7 percent of respondents listed other reasons, including wanting to see certain programs maintained or expanded.
For those who couldn't support a tax increase, 36 percent believe the district is adequately funded, and 24 percent said the district needs more money but don't want to see their property taxes increased. A majority of the negative respondents, 40.2 percent, listed other reasons, including wanting to see spending and costs controlled. Other responses included wanting the district to get more money from local TIF districts.
The survey is part of the district's referendum planning and campaign process. The Dist. 97 school board this past June agreed to go for an operating referendum in April 2011 after having weighed when to finally put it on the ballot for several years. The board will host three referendum study sessions this month. The board reviewed and discussed the current survey results at its regular meeting on Oct. 26.
"I think it's perfect timing for this in terms of helping us understand what's the message that's been missed," said Peter Traczyk, the board's president, "and what are the points we really need to hit with the community because every one of these has a compelling and logical answer, not a wishful sweep-it-under-the rug answer. We have a really good answer for every one of these major issues."
The board is scheduled to talk specifically about the size of the tax hike referendum at its Nov. 4 study session taking place at Longfellow School, 715 S. Highland Ave. Members last Tuesday took a general consensus on whether they should pursue a "bridge" referendum or long-term sustainable referendum. A bridge option, they noted, would likely carry the district for four to eight years.