Imagine Oak Park with no art or general music classes, no band or orchestra, and no BRAVO or CAST in its schools. If the two District 97 referenda being set before voters on April 4 do not pass, all elementary and middle school art, music, and theater programs will be eliminated by the 2018-19 school year in order to close the budget gap.
Some taxpayers think D97 has not been a good steward of public funds since we passed a referendum in 2011. Consider, however, that we are educating 1,000 more students than we were in 2011 but with only a 1-2% increase in yearly expenditures, while also dealing with a lack of state funding due to the budget crisis.
This model cannot be sustained, however, as our student population continues to grow, health care costs soar, potential pension liabilities loom, and our aging and overcrowded elementary schools need capital improvements.
D97's situation is not the result of poor financial oversight. It reflects the real costs of educating kids in the 21st century. Some of our peer districts, such as LaGrange, Evanston, and Elmhurst, are asking the same of their voters this spring.
D97's vision statement promises an education that is "equitable, inclusive, and focused on the whole child" — a vision that reflects the values of the Oak Park community. This is what we want for our kids and our community. To be "focused on the whole child" means to educate beyond the core to include the arts, since they are essential to developing well-balanced students and keeping students engaged and enthusiastic about school. In addition, numerous studies show that studying music contributes to the success of students in all subjects, especially math.
To be "equitable and inclusive" means providing opportunities for our most vulnerable students. Cutting enrichment programs will hurt our low-income students the most since they cannot afford these opportunities privately. Also, if the referenda fail, class sizes will increase significantly, limiting the ability to provide differentiated instruction that supports "equitable and inclusive" education. D97 has a diverse population that cannot overcome such staff and programming cuts.
While the argument can be made that high taxes are driving out low- and middle-income families from our community, the alternative is that our property values sink because we can no longer provide the sort of high-quality education for which young parents of all socio-economic backgrounds move to Oak Park. Besides the direct effects on D97 schools, these cuts will also affect our high school, for if these cuts ensue, we will be sending a very different sort of student to OPRF.
Oak Park is a unique and desirable community because of its diversity and its vision for equity. Inadequate funding of D97's operational and capital needs is short-sighted and will hurt our community and our students now and well into the future.
We strongly urge Oak Park voters to say "Yes" to both the operating and the capital referenda.
PING! Board of Directors
for the Next Generation