District 97 board votes next month to 'eliminate' 50-plus positions

Layoffs contingent on referendum outcome


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

More than 50 certified staff, including classroom teachers, in Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will lose their jobs come June if the tax rate hike referendum the district plans to run on April 5 fails.

The $48 million referendum was approved last month, along with the proposed cuts to staff and programs. Those will take effect in the 2011-2012 school year if the April ballot question is rejected by Oak Park voters.

As a legal requirement, the board of education has to take a separate vote concerning specific personnel reductions. That will take place at two regular meetings next month, March 8 and 22. Written notices will then begin going out to a total of 56 staff members, including tenured and non-tenured classroom teachers, school building secretaries, and administrative support staff.

District administrative leaders, however, will be meeting with those individuals in the next couple of weeks concerning what's to come, and prior to notices going out.

All nine foreign language teachers would be let go. The staffing reductions also include cutting the media specialists (or librarians) staff in half, from 10 to five individuals. Gifted and Talented instructors would also see their ranks cut in half, from 9.6 to 4.8. One secretarial position from each of the 10 schools would be eliminated. At the district's central office, one of its two clerical support positions in the superintendent's office would be eliminated, along with a handful of other central office positions.

The three-person staff at the Multicultural Department would also be let go, or possibly outsourced. In all, the total reductions, which include programs such as BRAVO and CAST, is nearly $6 million.

The Dist. 97 board will vote on certified teachers and administrators March 8 and support staff, including school secretaries, on March 22.

June 7 is the last day of school and would be the final day of work for those staff members. June 3 was originally the last day of school but was moved to the 7th in order to pick up the two lost snow days from the blizzard that closed schools earlier this month. Written notices for tenured teachers — who, per the Illinois School Code, reach that mark after working four full years in a school district — will receive a 60-day notice; for non-tenured teachers, it's a 45-day notice. Four tenured teachers will be receiving notices.

On Jan. 25, the Oak Park Teacher's Association agreed to a one-year salary freeze totaling $1 million. The request was put forth by Supt. Albert Roberts. With respect to the referendum's impact on property owners if approved, that will come to about $38 for every $1000 paid in property taxes.

Roberts has said the district will use the money from the referendum to improve classroom education. He's proposed spending millions to improve technology, and allocating money for some capital projects, including upgrades to school grounds. About a million dollars of cuts is expected to take place even if the referendum is approved, according to the superintendent.

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twinsonic from Oak Park Il  

Posted: February 25th, 2011 10:15 PM

Let's review the facts here: The average cost to teach a IL student is: $10.147 dollars- back in 2008! It is now more than that - Where is the money!?! Here is the answer: Pensions and Adminstrative Costs. Sorry District 97 - A NO vote here, unless the teachers get rid of NEA and go with Merit Pay!

Mom from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 4:45 PM

@Jamie--I have stories as recent as this past spring. However the word limitations in this forum (and a desire to protect my kids from being identified) prevent me from telling them. There are some wonderful teachers in the district and some not so wonderful ones. There are also some basic problems with the administration that never seem to get dealt with. The original question was asking if folks were happy with the education their kids received, and I am not.


Posted: February 18th, 2011 1:49 PM

@Mom - No, you shouldn't be happy that your child was having reading problems and D97 couldn't or wouldn't help at that time. However, if this was a 3rd grade problem and your child is now at OPRF, it was at least 6 years ago. Operations and procedures have changed. It's not always fair to hold past problems against the District in the future. Current folks in charge seem to generally be very child-centered.

Mom from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 12:37 PM

@Jamie--?You think I sounded like I was mad that I didn't get my way? I suppose I should have just accepted that my child couldn't read?

OP tax payer/D97 parent (JRussell)  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 10:32 AM

Oops, I meant if the funding structures were corrected, it MAY serve the district to have the TIF retired. The getting more of what you incent (including poor investments) and less of what you tax (including hiring and producing) is a fundamental law of nature. Good intentions can't prevent gravity.

OP tax payer/D97 parent (JRussell)  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 10:29 AM

@Enuf. You are correct. And if the state were managed by competent people, and funding mechanisms at all reasonable and transparent, it would not serve the district to retire the TIF. I too, hate system gaming, but until the system changes, we will get more of what we incent, and less of what we tax.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 10:13 AM

I should add that D97 contends they gain more Illinois General State Aid due to their loss of property taxes to TIFs. According to D97, they lose $0.52 in General State Aid for every property tax dollar released from the TIF. Personally, I don't buy this argument, from a zero-sum game basis, as it simply shifts the tax burden to Illinois, for which we remain taxpayers. It also shifts General State Aid to D97 from financially disadvantaged school districts. Other comments are welcome.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 9:53 AM

The cumulative property tax increment collection for all 3 TIFs (1983 to 2009) is $189M (2009 TIF Report). About 1/3 was property tax diverted from D97, or $63M. Per the 1985 Settlement Agreement, about $15M was returned to D97, leaving a net property tax loss for D97 of $48M. The opportunity cost for this $48M loss to D97 is more than double this amount, based on the S&P 500 rate of return during the same time period (1983-2009). Therefore, the cumulative TIF cost for D97 has been about $100M.


Posted: February 18th, 2011 9:40 AM

my fault, i looked up 2006, when the deal was set to expire. thanks for finding the correct answer, and a polite correction. I will check out your link. thanks again.

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 9:26 AM

J Your question intrigued me so I googled the question. Here is a link to the minutes from the meeting where the 2003 IGA was approved0 http://www.pdfdownload.org/pdf2html/pdf2html.php?url=http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/2003_Minutes/02.18.03%20Minutes.pdf&images=yes FWIW, the minutes show different board members than the one's you mentioned.

j.oak park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 9:15 AM

to answer my own question:Just found some old board minutes: Baker, quit mid-term; Brady, have no recollection of this person; Brock, quit mid-term; Gockel, good guy; Johnson, VMA; Marsey, wow, this guy could talk forever, "just let me be clear" wow this guy could talk; Milstein,yep; President Pope, not VMA then or converted to VMA then?

j.oak park from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 9:03 AM

Hi Enuf is Enuf, thanks for your last post...interesting. I am curious if anyone remembers who the village trustees were at the time, basically who controlled the board? and who was the Village Manager? These are sincere questions. Seeing how the board has been run by the VMA, my guess is that it was a VMA majority board, but still worth asking and knowing with the an elecetion coming up in April.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 8:51 AM

I attended the 2003 IGA meetings, and despite their initial protests, D97 acquiesced to the village in negotiations, and ended up signing a bad deal. Instead of having all DTOP properties removed from the TIF when it was scheduled to expire in 2006, only a few properties were carved out. Since then, there have been major disputes over how TIF funds are allocated, as per the formulas provided by the 2003 IGA. D200 decided to sue. D97 sided with the village, then admitted to losing the formulas.

Chris Jasculca from District 97  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 7:55 AM

In addition to the OPESPA wage freeze Jassen Strokosch mentioned below, the district received word late last night that the Oak Park Teacher Assistants' Association has accepted a wage freeze for the 2011-2012 school year.

Chris Jasculca from District 97  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 7:50 AM

Quick clarification on the story. On March 8, the board will take action on the release of certified teachers and administrators. On March 22, the board will take action on the release of approximately 35 support staff positions, which include the school secretaries.

Oak Parker  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 7:26 AM

So again, Enuf, even with your own explanations, how are the TIF problems District 97's fault?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 3:30 AM

Clarification #2: With the DTOP TIF set to expire in 2006, the Village stated their intent in 2003 to extend the TIF until 2018. Due to D97 protests that extending the TIF would lead to a fiscal crisis, the Village, D200 and D97 negotiated the 2003 Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement, which extended the DTOP TIF until 2018, in exchange for removing certain property (carve-outs) from the TIF. Last year, D200 sued the Village for insufficient TIF payment as per terms of the Agreement.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 3:26 AM

Clarification #1: The DTOP TIF was created by the Village in 1983, set to expire in 2006. In 1984, D97 sued the Village for "lose of substantial property tax revenue that it would have received but for the adoption of the TIF. Loss of these revenues will cause immediate and irreparable harm and impair its ability to provide quality education." As a result, D97 and the Village entered into a 1985 Settlement Agreement, requiring the Village to return 22.5% of collected TIF revenue to D97.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 1:58 AM

District 97, for whatever reason, is letting the Village keep tax money that District 97 might receive. The District 97 board should at least explain honestly how much of their "structural" deficit comes from letting the DTOP TIF continue.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 1:55 AM

What District 97 did was agree to the TIF extension. They did this, in part, because the Village offered an intergovernmental agreement which guaranteed "carveouts" of EAV from new projects OR equivalent other funds during the remaining TIF period. TIF investments haven't provided the returns promised. They never will. The Village has abandoned most of the proposed projects and is looking for ways to use up the balances by 2018.

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 12:32 AM

A huge thanks to the Oak Park Educational Support Professionals Association. Another collective bargaining unit announcing tonight that they are joining D97 admin staff and the teacher's union in a voluntary pay freeze for next year.

Wondering from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2011 12:14 AM

Enuf, now I am even more confused. So your saying that D97 didn't want the TIF and in fact sued the village over it in 1985. So how are you saying a few comments earlier that "d97 has sunken tens of millions of tax revenue in TIFs with hardly any return." Did you mean to say the Village? I can see how the TIF is harmful, I'm just not understanding what D97 did wrong here.


Posted: February 17th, 2011 11:06 PM

Enuf, you seriously haven't the faintest idea of what your babbling about. D97 did not approve of the TIF, formally or informally. What they did was sue in order to place some constraints on the Village. For you to keep yammering about how the TIF is D97's fault is completely ignorant.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 7:27 PM

@Jamie ... 1/3 of the TIF funds used to subsidize any TIF development project, such as the Whiteco and Sertus, are from property taxes diverted from D97. The premise is that raised property values from these projects will provide increased property tax revenue for D97. How is this different from a real estate investment? D97 gambled with a high risk investment and lost. BTW: I was very angry with the Lou Brock trade, but only during the 16 years of his career. The DTOP TIF is 35 years in duration.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 6:43 PM

TIFs are created by the Village of OP, which divert all property taxes above 1983 baseline taxes within the TIF district from taxing agencies, such as D97. While D97's formal approval is unnecessary, from a political standpoint, it is. In fact, D97 initially sued the village which resulted in a 1985 Settlement Agreement requiring 22.5% of TIF revenue to be returned. The 2003 Agreement that extended the DTOP TIF for 12 years until 2018 was signed by D97, but led to the current lawsuit with D200.


Posted: February 17th, 2011 4:13 PM

TIFs are NOT created by the local school district. The Village of Oak Park works on these to attract business to the community. In most communities, the TIFs funnel money away from the schools in order to provide low tax rates for attractive businesses. D97 does not "invest" in TIFs. Enuf is complaining that D97 didn't demand more of the share back from the Village. It's like still complaining about the Cubs trading Lou Brock back in the '60s.

Wondering Cont... from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 2:18 PM

Enuf cont...you say that D97 has "sunken tens of millions of tax revenue in TIFs" Do you know exactly how much they have invested? Is there a number somewhere that is public? That would more than enough to offset the referendum it sounds like.

Wondering from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 2:15 PM

Enuf, I am not sure I understand TIFs exactly but what you saying in the D97 choose to create a TIF, based on poor real estate guess work as to whether it would perform well, and the lack of performance of the investment is what is forcing them to go for a referendum now? Why didn't they dissolve the TIF a long time ago? Why continue with a bad investment since 1983?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 1:45 PM

Since 1983, TIFs have made D97 a real estate investment partner, a role that educational institutions have zero expertise. The only way to evaluate TIFs is by their return-on-investment, in comparison to other fiscal options, and to D97's educational mission. The TIF ROI has been miserable, as D97 has sunken tens of millions of tax revenue into TIFs with hardly any return, except more General State Aid due to their losses. As a result of this poor investment, D97 now asking for a public bailout.

Mary from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 12:34 PM

Oak Park has relatively high property values because of proximity to Chicago and schools. High property taxes will also drive down property values. It would be interesting to know how many people's property taxes are more than their mortgage. I pay more in property taxes than I do on my 15 year mortgage.

KPost from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 10:00 AM

@Jamie. We are paying top dollar for okay results. How to cut? Employees pay 25-30% of health care premium. Currently OP tax payers pay $7,000 a year for single coverage (employee burden Zero) 12,000 for Emp family. Projecting that will be 7,700 and 13,200 in 2012. Those dollars are not going to the classroom. It is antiquated. The intent for Med and pension support was to assist low paying positions. 85% make over 50,000 and average is 72,600. It's unsustainable. Shoot the dog.

Gina from Oak Park  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 9:36 AM

How about the TIFs that got us here in the first place? And the Village Officials that led us there? The gleaming Whiteco building? Looming luxury hotel plans? Are these more valuable to our community than language, art, music and library resources in our schools? I'm disappointed that D97 hasn't held them accountable and is having to turn to a referendum. Please keep this in mind when making ALL your ballot choices in April. And go Meet the Candidates at Unity Temple Sunday 2/27 5-8PM.


Posted: February 17th, 2011 8:57 AM

@Pat - How would you propose that D97 live within their income? The proposed cuts are just that - matching revenue with expenditures. Unfortunately, keeping the same revenues means some things would have to go. Either increase the revenue or cut back on programs or raise class size to very large levels (30 in grade school). You had that many in your class, you say? Not with the current Fed and State demands for accountability. Kids in large classes back then just left school by 8th grade.


Posted: February 17th, 2011 8:51 AM

@Mom from Oak Park - It sounds like you didn't get your way so that makes everything bad at D97. There may be some people who don't return calls promptly, but my family has never had any problem with folks in the Curriculum Dept. getting back to us. We haven't had a need to call any other dept. You're also talking now about something a few years in the past. Things do change!

OP tax payer/D97 parent  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 8:43 AM

Please come to the Beye forum tonight. It am continually frustrated attending meetings with teachers, administrators and parents and having so few of the bill payers voices heard. Those without children in the system are significant stakeholders, please show up. Taxation is a given, representation is your choice!

D97 alum parent  

Posted: February 17th, 2011 6:28 AM

Thanks Dave for the reality check of publically posted salaries. And Julie....where are the stats that show OP has a high percentage of gifted kids? By what measure are they 'gifted'? I think it might be more real to say that there are lots of very bright kids who are not challenged enough in D97....but gifted? only a handful in the district I suspect.

Pat from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 11:10 PM

I don't believe their tale of woe, I heard the same things some 35 years ago and periodically ever since. Our children had an excellent education in D97 and are long gone from the system. We don't mind supporting education for others, but we are limited in our income and live on a budget, how about D97 living within their income? The extras are worthwhile for the children, but just like we budget for extras, D97 needs to do the same.

Mom from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 10:41 PM

@OP Resident--I was so happy when my youngest child graduated from D97 and after 15 yrs of kids there I didn't have to deal with those schools any more. My youngest is currently at OPRF, so we aren't far removed. @Curious--ever try to actually get someone from the Admin offices to return a call? I'm still waiting. They refused to test my 3rd grader in reading-had to hire outside tutor to correct problem-extra cost to me. Foreign language is a joke. I could keep going. . . Fix the basics first

dww from Oak PArk  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 8:46 PM

Don't forget that one of the reasons Oak Park has relatively high property values is because of the above average school system. Cut away at the schools, and watch your property values plunge. One of the reasons people pay good money to live here is the fine school system.

John M. from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 8:06 PM

I would like to point out that the last Dist. 97 School Board election was completely uncontested. If you get jacked on your property taxes look in the mirror. Maybe you should have gotten off your butt and gathered a few signatures to get your name on the ballot. Uncontested elections are very bad. Blame yourself for not putting up a fight earlier. I'm moving to a new town. Smell you later...

unhappy tax payer from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 7:07 PM

Why is it always gloom and doom with the liberals? My God, the pay these teachers are making is unreal. How about the teachers belly up and take a pay cut to save someone from being let go. My taxes are all ready to high and for what. to hear a bunch of cry baby's whine about cuts. I seem to be making it on 50K a year. Whats the matter? Won't be able to take that big vacation this next summer BOO HOO Cut some administrators and get real about being fiscally responsible.

op rez  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 6:46 PM

I am voting against the tax hike referendum. D97 needs to make program cuts (Spanish, to start) and increase class size. Also, scrap the gifted program because there are too many overbearing parents carrying on that their perfectly bright child is "gifted."

Tom Scharre  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:46 PM

At the risk of dating myself, all these education referendum ploys call to mind that classic National Lampoon cover: "Buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog!"


Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:30 PM

Since the salaries on that taxpayer website are for 2009, you will find most of those high salaried teachers are now retired and have been replaced by lower paid teachers. I also always find it amusing that "cut administrators" is the knee-jerk reaction. Of course, until you need one of them to solve a problem with your child. Then, they can't move fast enough for you!

OP Grandma from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 4:13 PM

Too many administrators! Why are the cuts focused on important extra curricular classes (arts) instead of administrators? How much could be saved by closing the Admin building on Madison and putting the Superintendent in one of the 10 schools? how much does the district spend on PR? Thank you Dave from Oak Park for sharing the family taxpayer site. Some of the best teachers do not have salaries that reflect their classroom talent. The rewards for longevity seem disproportionate.

Julie D97 parent from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 4:01 PM

OP resident, I'm very happy with D97's performance. I think that many of the "extras" that will be cut are the elements that make the Oak Park public schools better than most. Art and music are just as important to a well-rounded education as any other subject. Also, I'm especially concerned about the cuts to the gift program. OP has a higher percentage of gifted students than the general population, and most of the classroom teachers are not trained to work with these kids.

Dave from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 3:34 PM

At the website www.familytaxpayer.org, a search of Dist. 97 for 2009 reveals that cuts do need to be made. Of the top 30 salaries, 19 are administrators. Also included is a psychologist, librarian, basic math teacher, an art teacher, a spanish teacher and a social worker. The 30 "administrators" total over $3.7M in salary. District 97 has 4 art teachers making over $100K, 4 PE teachers making over $90K, and 16 "curriculum specialists" that total more than $1.2M. FYI.


Posted: February 16th, 2011 3:28 PM

That's because the cuts aren't in the classroom. The District is targeting extra things rather than raising class sizes to 30 or more. For OP Resident, refer to the last parent survey done by D97. The results were very positive across the district.

D97 Parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 3:12 PM

"Roberts has said the district will use the money from the referendum to improve classroom education." If that is the case, then why all the cuts? Doesn't seem to add up.

OP resident  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 3:10 PM

Sounds like Dist. 97 is making threats. What are they going to do next, hold their breath? How about we split the difference. Some tax hike,some additional user fees and some cuts? If the people who's children are in the system are happy with system then I may vote yes. I would like to know how many folks are happy with Dist. 97's performance.

OP tax payer/D97 parent  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:46 PM

It is interesting that the "freeze" that saved $1MM, and the Education funds bill delivering another $850M came AFTER the referendum amount was set. (An amount that includes new capital expenditures.) Yet the threats of slash and burn remain unchanged?

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