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The school board meeting this Thursday at Oak Park and River Forest High School has the potential to move this school forward on two notable fronts. Board members are expected to take final action on whether to provide financial backing to the ambitious and essential plan of the Collaboration for Early Childhood to reach out to families of very young kids at risk of educational and social delays. Also Thursday, the board may move toward a small but welcome abatement of property taxes.
We vigorously support both initiatives. Taken in tandem, those actions would demonstrate that OPRF — its board and administration — is listening to the rising voices in our communities which are calling for this critical institution to change in some significant ways.
Joining Oak Park village government and the District 97 elementary schools in financial support of the Collaboration would reflect an overdue determination by OPRF to grapple with the multiple and complex aspects of the gap in performance between white and black students, middle-income and lower-income students. The evidence is overwhelming that bringing at-risk students into quality early childhood programs when they are very young pays dividends as that youngster moves through elementary and high school.
The school now has the legal OK some board members sought before it invested taxpayer monies into this other end of the educational cycle. If any school board members are still hesitant owing to the bruises of the TIF lawsuit between the three taxing bodies, then they need to just get past it. The outcome of this vote on Thursday remains unsettled though a majority may be leaning toward supporting the Collaboration.
This is a defining vote by this board. Reach out and engage or remain cautious and insular.
On the property tax front, the monies being discussed are not enormous. Under one plan put forward last week by the board's finance committee the abatement next year would amount to $1.6 million. The richer plan totals $2.4 million. That would, for one year, reduce tax bills for a typical homeowner by $55. For a district sitting on $120 million, these are small numbers.
But moving past — even a small way past — the remarkable tone-deafness that has allowed this school to hoard tax dollars during the worst recession of our communal lifetime is not to be overlooked. It is a start. And it signals that, in the current highly contested election, mindlessly defending the financial status quo is no longer defensible.