Radical cuts are real if D97 referendum fails

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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While I was delivering yard signs in support of the District 97 referendum today, I met a man who openly scoffed. "If they need money, they should just cut a few administrators," he said. "All this hysteria about eliminating BRAVO — it'll never happen."

Oh, yes it will. The referendum is not a trick. And if you think about it for a minute, you'll see why.

The district has not sought an increase in 20 years. During that time, the cost of providing health care to employees exploded; schools are people-intensive. Unfunded mandates like No Child Left Behind were implemented. Costs, from technology to utilities, have risen. The only thing that's gone down has been interest rates on reserves.

I believe District 97 has been very frugal, living within its shrinking means for many years. It is seeking the minimum increase needed to get by for the next six years. If the referendum doesn't pass, the district will be forced to cut more than "just a few administrators." Its realistic projection includes:

1. About 150 staffed positions, including:

All the elementary art teachers

All of the language teachers (including Whittier's wonderful Dawn Deaton, who has taught my sons so much)

Half the librarians

Half the media specialists (because our kids don't need to know technology to compete in today's world)

Half the gifted and differentiated teachers (who support primary teachers in every classroom)

2. All middle school sports

3. All programs like BRAVO and CAST

4. All fourth- and fifth-grade music instruction

You can read the details on the District 97 website, including information about the programs they are cutting or reducing no matter how the referendum turns out.

The teachers and teaching assistants in District 97 already have agreed to a one-year pay freeze. Do you think the unions would have stood for that if the shortfall wasn't real?

Nobody wants an increase in taxes, but for a household with a tax bill of $10,000, the increase is only $380. That's miniscule compared to what will happen to my property value if we eviscerate our schools in this fashion.

I'm voting yes for the District 97 referendum. I'm doing it for my kids. I am doing it for my neighbors' preschoolers. I'm doing it for my elderly neighbors who someday will want to sell their house. And I am doing it so I can tell Senora Deaton that I voted to save her job.

Kris Gallagher
Oak Park

Reader Comments

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oak park rez  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 8:12 PM

@whatever, I could not agree with you more. Chasing the achievement gap is ruining Oak Park schools and is not working. It is also why psuedo-liberals are clamoring for their kids to be in the high math. Don't want to get too close to the riff-raff. My kids are in the regular math and, yes you deal with behaviors and with many students don't bother with homework, but it is real integration. Hooray for that. I am voting NO!

No of Ref is wrong again  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 10:44 AM

@No of Ref 3/6 117pm: You would be more credible if you got your facts right. A) Spanish Immersion is only at one school in OP. Teachers paid union scale. No added cost. Are you talking about FLES? B) This is the 21st Century. Tech needs to be utilzed in the curriculum as is being done elsewhere (incl River Forest I believe). Research has shown it improves test scores when incorporated. It is a different way of presenting info and could help with Achievement Gap.

op parent  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 6:13 AM

@whatever, I did read your post. I'm sorry you feel the disadvantaged are getting some break your kids aren't. I also haven't seen a case where a child who has played violin since 2nd grade (that means private lessons, something that many middle-income people don't have the means to provide) is shut out for a new flute player. It seems all kids at OP schools are offered opportunities, regardless of parent means. Isn't that supposed to be what we are about?

whatever  

Posted: March 7th, 2011 7:55 PM

I am voting no on the referendum. Most people will stop reading by now. I am voting no because the district is chasing the "achievement gap" and guess what this is a gap that won't be closed unless parents themselves close it. I like art, sports, music and theater but there are plenty of roads we can go down if the district eliminates them. I'm tired of funding the "disadvantaged" flute player while the 6th grade "i've diligently practiced since 2nd grade" violinist gets shut out

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 6th, 2011 1:17 PM

@Liz R: Actually, I know that there are many Oak Parkers who feel that they are already stretched too thin, so even this amount is like the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back." How about District 97 parents directly funding CAST?BRAVO, Spanish Immersion, multi-cultural, iPads, and Smart Boards, rather than asking all OPers to do it? These items are above and beyond the basic taxpayer responsibility for funding education. Stop spending others' money and spend your own first!!

Liz R. from Oak Park  

Posted: March 6th, 2011 5:08 AM

From http://www.referendumyes.com/ "The referendum that will be on the ballot will cost tax payers $38 per $1,000 on a property tax bill. Put another way, if you pay $10,000 in annual property taxes now, the new rate would cost you an additional $32 per month." I think we can all afford that amount to keep quality in our schools.

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 3:42 PM

@Voting Yes: I'm not angry, just concerned about total tax bill. I would compartmentalize my anger, but I can't unring a bell nor choose NOT to pay a portion because it's unfair. Bottom line: What have you or D97 done to address D200's overfunding and the resultant angering of taxpayers? Apparently not enough..other than shout "it's for the children", and say you need more? Many, like me, who don't get direct benefits from D97 see the problem, but don't hear any solution other than more tax!

Voting Yes from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 3:10 PM

The middle school referendum was for building bonds - no funds were directed towards the operating expenditures. And, yes, while painful, my understanding is that D97 withheld going for a referendum years ago because every other taxing body did which would have impacted all taxpayers. So, now that they have made cuts and waited, they are being punished by the No Voters because they were respectful of taxpayers pain? Sorry - I think you are directing your tax anger the wrong way.

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 2:49 PM

@Voting Yes: comments about "no referendum in 20 years"...(1) I distinctly remember voting for a Bond Issue to pay for the building of two new middle schools a few years back (while not technically a referendum, it's certainly not without a taxpayer impact), (2) does that mean we were overfunding the district 20 years ago (someone should check), and (3) D97 wants us to consider it's request in a vaccuum when it's the issue is the backbreaking TOTAL tax bill for Oak Parkers

data  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 1:48 PM

Kpost, if you have questions of the district, I hope you ask them at the referendum q&a meetings that are set up for that purpose. Up to now, this forum has been the only place we could ask questions of the No people, not that we are getting any meaningful answers from them.

KPost from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 1:43 PM

Maddening isn't it Voting...? No one ever answers my question about the 300 staffers getting 5% and better raises last year. And of those 300 the 100 staffers getting 10% raises. Some stellar raises back to back double digit raises. BTW Marcia stated here that she thought the staff had to take those 20% raises because of State rules. That turned out not to be correct.

Voting Yes from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 1:11 PM

For all the "No votes" - I still have not heard a response to Marcia's comment about any other taxing body going 20 years without an increase to their operating funds rate.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 12:09 PM

Mr. Heidon is correct. The approach of comparing D97 with peer school districts is valid only if the system itself is valid. Assessing internal components are operating within a dysfunctional system will only provide misleading findings. The educational funding system is not valid, as school funding relies on property taxes, while those who pay property taxes rely on household income. The disconnect between property taxes and household income is not accounted for in any peer district assessment.

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 12:06 PM

@Dave Heidorn: EXACTLY! The D97 folks feel like it's all about them...heck, I support education, but I just can't bear another increase in my taxes. The madness must stop...and this is one I can vote on!

data  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:59 AM

@Interested parent, that packet doesn't contain all the laid-off staff. Non-certified employee layoffs will be released on the 22nd.

Grateful  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:53 AM

I'm just grateful that it will take more then 15 citizen votes in a library conference room or a group of planning volunteers who will decide on THIS issue. It's not a coincidence BTW that the referendum was not any major election ballot.

Dave Heidorn from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:48 AM

This is the same OP shell game over and over. Each taxing body makes the same claim their sky is falling and each keeps taking more and more. D97 teachers deserve more. But given the Village appears willing to drain my home value for a new SRO on Madison, pay this out of another taxing body. It's time to stop stupidly seeing each taxing body as disconnected or that OP is fast becoming less and less competitive with other places to live, all due to leaders' failure to address OPers real needs.

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:45 AM

@Carolina: So, D97 currently spends about average vs. peers. Nice. But Oak Parkers pay taxes at SIGNIFICANTLY above peer communities. By your logic, you seem to believe that Oak Parkers just aren't paying enough in taxes, because D97 is only able to spend at average rates? Bizarre. And tone deaf to the issues of the full OP community.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:37 AM

For those who think D97 is playing a game of chicken, please review the D97 2010/11 budget available at www.op97.org/administration/budget.html. On page 19, the Estimated Fund Balance (ending June 30, 2011) is $18,978,091.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:29 AM

Whether it's chicken or not, if the referendum doesn't pass, I suspect local officials will find a way to trim these projected cuts considerably. A little creativity-hardly worth the effort when you are hoping for a big influx of cash--would greatly limit the damage. After all, we see almost daily examples at the state level. The governor says he's going to eliminate some social program or other. Supporters of those programs loudly object. The governor "finds" some money. Repeat.

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 10:59 AM

For those who think D97 is playing a game of chicken when discussing future budget cuts if the referendum doesn't pass, please look at the graph on page 2 of the PDF at this link: http://www.op97.k12.il.us/referendum/Current Five-Year Financial Projections of D97 Finances.pdf This is a graph of what happens if we keep the status quo: no referendum, no cuts. The blue line is the low point fund balance. School districts have to keep enough $$ in fund balances to make payroll.

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 10:52 AM

Sorry, I am going to repost the data on administrator/student ratios for the sake of readability: District 97 - 1 administrator per 197 students; District 90 - 1 administrator per 166 students; District 200 - 1 administrator per 162 students; District 65 (Evanston) - 1 administrator per 175 students

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 10:49 AM

D97 regularly compares itself w/30 peer districts (Bright Red Apple and/or West Sub. Consortium for Excellence) The average admin. salary for these 30 districts is $139,606; D97 average admin. salary is $126,347. Looking at admin/student ratios for nearby districts: %u2022 District 97 - 1 administrator per 197 students; %u2022 District 90 - 1 administrator per 166 students; %u2022 District 200 - 1 administrator per 162 students; %u2022 District 65 (Evanston) - 1 administrator per 175 students

Interested Parent  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 10:20 AM

For those of you that watch the D97 Board packets, the lists of positions and people being reduced and released are now available. For those online posters who have cried for administrative cuts, the packet shows 3 recommended reductions from the Curriculum Dept.: Asst. Supt. Anderson (to coord.) plus Felicia Starks (back to a classroom), and Lynn Allen (Multicultural Center Admin eliminated). Also, a middle school AP is on the list for return to a classroom. No admin cuts in other departments.

c  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 9:19 AM

For all the people considering voting no for the referendum, maybe you can attend the forum being held on March 15th at 7:00pm at Irving school. The Superintendent and D97 President will be there. Ask them your questions.

More Background to Consider from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 11:37 PM

@data, @Marcia, @JustAve--I was only posting what D97 told the state on teachers and administrators. Class size is different from student/teacher ratio, both of which were in my post. That being said--my question was about the Administrator ratio and Admin salaries. Seems to me to be better than average in ADMINISTRATIVE costs would mean we needed fewer administrators per student than other districts not more. Why is there so little discussion on lowering administrator cost?

KPost from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 10:46 PM

Would someone please address why we gave 300 staffers 5% and more raises in 2010? And 100 employees had increases of more than 15%.

Liz R. from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 9:34 PM

Folks, we must vote yes for the referendum! We simply can't cut our children's education down to the bare minimum. It's not the "Oak Park Way" We value the arts here. We want the BEST for our children! It will cost only about $31 a month more. Vote YES!

data  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:37 PM

haha thank you, Marcia. At one point, Zillow said our house was worth $1million. As if. We bought it a few years earlier for about $300k.

Marcia from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:27 PM

@Sorry Voting NO - any realtor will tell you that Zillow.com is one of the most unreliable sources of real estate information.

Marcia from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:25 PM

I have worked in Chicago schools in well-off areas and in schools in extremely low-income (that had no art, music, language, gifted instructors and barely a library. Talk about a deficit to the learning environment. Our family did not move to Oak Park to raise our children in that kind of learning environment.

Marcia from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:23 PM

@Just Average: Actually D97 has been Bright Apple Award winner since 2000 which puts it at top 10% of districts in the state; @KPost - the teachers already have the pink slips so it is that easy; To anyone voting no - tell me how ANY other taxing body has survived 20 YEARS without an operating fund referendum. Can't find one? EXACTLY. D97 has been fiscally responsible and are at a point that they would be fiscally irresponsible to not pursue one.

Just average? from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 6:59 PM

@More background: Would you really be satisfied with OP being just average in a state that falls as low in most education rankings as Illinois? I think we can aim higher than that. Let's be above average.

data  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 6:51 PM

Nowhere in Oak Park are there 15 students per classroom. More like 20-plus. You must be considering specials teachers etc.

More Background to Consider from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 6:39 PM

Look at the D97 School Report Card on their web site. They state in 2010 the following ratios: student/teacher=15.5 vs. state ave=18.2, student/admin=177.7 vs state ave=203.8, ave class size=17.8-20.3 vs state ave=20.7-22.8, Ave teacher salary is $9k more in D97 than state, Ave Adm salary is $17k more than state. Just bringing the district in line with the state average on administrators would save $$. Why aren't we hearing about more cuts there?

KPost from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 5:46 PM

The D97 materials can't be taken at face value. They are written to support their position. The word on Spanish and Art is that the positions will be eliminated. They can't RIF the teachers as easily as they can the 51 non-union staff positions. It bothers me that back to back double digit raises have been handed out to many. 70% of staff got 5% or more increases in 2010. I've seen many double digit increases in my property taxes in last 10 years. I feel the same about squeezing.

B.Lanning  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 5:45 PM

Bunch of District retirements listed at http://bit.ly/dRYRL0 Reduction in force listed at the March 8 meeting packet http://www.op97.org/boe/packet.html

Sorry Voting NO from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 5:39 PM

Go to Zillow.com and see all the Oak Park houses up for foreclosure! Plus see how long on the market the homes for sale have been on! On our block alone 3 homes are for rent because they could not sell! A Real Estate agent told me our taxes drive people elsewhere. I need my $380 just to pay the State of IL. increase. Plus, I have not had a pay increase in over 3yrs! My family has made cut backs, D97 must do the same, live within your means!

Kris Gallagher from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 5:22 PM

@Think Different,I do put my money where my passion is, through our PTO. However, I am not allowed to fund salaries. Please note that D97 plans to cut 50 staffed positions, not 150 as is printed above. The language program is the foreign language program. @No, if you read the referendum materials, you would know that D97 has spent the last decade finding more efficient solutions in the face of rising costs. Eventually, you can't squeeze any more out.

Kelly Pollock  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 3:34 PM

Excellent letter! As a D97 parent in the Beye district, it breaks my heart to think of telling my child that Mrs. Sundquist (art teacher) and Sra. Colmenero (Spanish teacher) have lost their jobs and he won't have these "specials" anymore. Vote YES and keep our schools and community strong!

Think Different from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 7:39 AM

@Kris: Such terrific passion! But can you parlay that passion into an effort to fund those programs that you (and many others) clearly value without raising taxes for the rest of us that get SOME benefit from these programs, but not as much DIRECT value as you and others with kids at D97 receive? I appreciate your passion and challenge you and others to put your money where your passion is...not MY money where YOUR passion is!

Proud to be Oakparker  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 6:57 AM

Kris, thank you for taking the time to write, excellent letter.

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 5:04 AM

...and by the way, it's not necessarily THIS tax hike that's really the issue. It's that total taxes are so high already (and yes, I'm aware of the D200 surplus) and that there are likely more to come. So, I'd like to keep my $380 while asking D97 -- teachers, administrators and parents -- to be more efficient and find new solutions. In the end, if it's "only $380" then since you care so much, YOU pay for it. My property value has already dropped 50%, so those threats don't scare me much now

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 4:50 AM

I say "drain the swamp" and start over with a zero-based budget. The transition will be painful, but ultimately it will lead to better and more efficient schools in Oak Park. Also, it will force some creative solutions and allow time for consolidation discussions, TIF negotiations, Union negotiations, and a plan that includes accountability with a goal for improved schools to be developed. That said, I certainly understand the concerns, however, and sympathize with the fears Kris expresses.

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:35 AM

Flawed thinking, Kris. There are other ways to save, such as revisiting the salary/benefit schedule. Media specialists are not the same as tech ed. Housing values already diminished. Might be just as difficult to sell when monthly prprty tax is higher than monthly mortg pymnt. We need better argument than 1) Do it for the kids, and 2) Do it for the property values. Vote NO.

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