Don't blame D97 for state fiasco

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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We are disappointed that so many of the political cartoons recently featured in your paper have been against the District 97 referenda. This is an important issue that deserves balanced coverage by Wednesday Journal. 

Our community is in a difficult position with the lack of financial support from the state and an over-reliance on single-family home property taxes. But those problems won't be fixed by voting against the referenda. We must vote yes on both referenda now and then turn our attention to these other problems in Springfield. 

We didn't get here by any wrongdoing on the part of D97, but rather the mismanagement of funds by our state government — and the influx of families fleeing CPS for Oak Park's amazing schools. 

It is important to underscore that parents from all backgrounds are equally interested in strong schools and will continue to do what is necessary to live in a town with strong schools. Weak schools are not a way to draw a diverse population to our community! 

We strongly urge all in Oak Park to vote Yes on both referenda. And invite folks to come to Scoville Park this Saturday, March 18 at 11 a.m. for a Kids' March. Kids and families are rallying and marching to show Oak Park how important it is to vote Yes! Yes! on the two D97 referenda. 

Deborah S. Levine

Joanna MacKenzie

Oak Park

Reader Comments

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 18th, 2017 11:00 AM

At any rate, (no pun intended) nothing expires, it just compounds.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 18th, 2017 10:59 AM

@Kevin THANK YOU. You are correct. You usually are, sorry I questioned you! I guess that patch.com article I referenced was incorrect, and the others I looked at from Jan & Feb 2011 all mentioned the decision was for a "working cash bond" referendum but the board at the time changed their mind and went with the "limiting rate increase" referendum. This is already confusing enough! Here's another article from March 2011 that includes the text of the ballot question: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/3-8-2011/D97-referendum-%27question%27-in-question/

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 8:54 PM

Maureen: Here my be the source of your confusion. The Board originally wanted a $75 million working cash bond issue, and then changed their mind, and converted it to an operating tax referendum. See this link: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/1-18-2011/Oak-Park-schools-settle-on-referendum-rate-hike/ I was the person who found the factor of three mistake in the disclosure, and Ali Elsaffar diagnosed why it was being made (faulty legal advice). I then found. that ten other districts had the same mistake on their ballots. It was a mess, I was NOT connected with the resultant lawsuit, which was fumbled.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 7:43 PM

http://patch.com/illinois/oakpark/district-97-referendum-passes Here's an article from April 2011, it says, re: the 2011 D97 referendum "Approval of the referendum means Oak Park homeowners will pay $37.40 more per $1,000 on their property tax bill, or $347 on a typical $10,000 bill. But the tax increase is limited until 2018, when another referendum may be necessary." There are other articles, including one referring to an error in calculating the estimated cost to homeowners because the state multiplier wasn't taken not account so the published increase was less than the actual increase.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 7:04 PM

@Maureen: you're wrong. The 2011 referendum was not for working cash bonds, it was an operating tax referendum to exceed tax caps, and lasts forever. Go to David Orr's site, and check out "Election Results" for 2011.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 6:13 PM

@Amanda Poppenk Massie...to respond to your statement about the District 97 communications...You state you didn't get anything in the mail and that "...it came out that they had emailed to people they had email addresses for. " The District included a flyer in three different Village FYIs going back to April of 2016 in order to reach every household across the Village. Additionally they have included information in multiple email sends by the other taxing bodies (Village, Parks, D200 etc) and they have posted information on every other taxing bodies social media channels. They have hosted dozens of public information sessions that have been widely publicized. They have also partnered with other local governing bodies, local media and community organizations (PTOs, Mom Mail, West Cook YMCA, OPRF Community Foundation, OPRF Food Pantry, Oak Park Education Foundation, St. Giles, Ascension, Chamber of Commerce, Community of Congregations, Suburban Unity Alliance and Oak Park Economic Development Corporation etc.) to put out information on their email networks and in their various publications. They have also sent lots of information to the local media, including this outlet. I can't judge the Districts intent, just passing along that their efforts have indeed gone far beyond sending to just their own email lists.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 5:18 PM

the 2011 referendum was a "working cash bond" referendum - the 2017 referendum is a "limiting rate tax increase" referendum that does not have an expiration

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 5:15 PM

@Elise, good questions - you'll find the answers here https://www.facebook.com/D200PragmaticSolutions/posts/1239307689499676 but in brief - to the first, question, not quite, they come off in 2018; to the second, NO because it's a different type of referendum that will not expire.

Elise Cutler-Dysart  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 3:09 PM

Can anyone answer these 2 questions: 1. Are we still paying the extra $38 per $1,000 on the 2011 D97 referendum? 2. Is there no expiration date on the 2017 referendum? The board says, "The board's referendum size decision was driven by a target fund balance (TFB) level five years out (2022)." So, did the 2011 extras expire in 2017? And, would the 2017 extras come off our bills in 2022???

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 1:19 PM

@Jassen - as long as we are clarifying, renters do not get a break on their property taxes if they are senior citizens, or blind, and they do not get the homeowners exemption either. So the building they live in gets socked with a mega increase from the D97 referendum and all the rents go up accordingly, probably in the range of $80 a month. The every homeowner in town, an example is if they are paying $12k a year in tax now they can look forward to spending an extra $9000 over the coming decade on top of the money they already pay to fund the schools. Seems crazy to me and selfish of the people wanting to force this on everyone else.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 12:40 PM

@Tom MAcMillan - Just a note of clarification, "... rental properties also pay a higher tax rate than free standing houses." This is not accurate. This changed by ordinance in Cook County. Since 2011, all residential property is taxed at the same rate, rentals or not.

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 17th, 2017 11:48 AM

@JenniferAlten "vindictive, cruel and simply short sighted" "Have a conscience" That certainly set me straight.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 8:56 PM

When there is too much money, accountability and frugalness is low.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 8:52 PM

I did not like the "marketing" fact sheet the District put out and how the district is representing this. All doomsday. Scare tactics. If it was so dire, how is it we are just learning about this now? From their own website, they state they saw an increase in enrollment for years now. Knowing this, poor decisions were made - unnecessary purchases. I resent that they threaten to take away our children's arts programs. Frankly, what gives them the right to say that is the first to go? First, cut out who and what we do not need for the children. Because we do need the Arts. After all the schools are FOR the kids not for the adults. Cut administrative positions. Cut clerical hours. Cut hours on aides. Cut money toward things like field trips - if the District covers a portion. Parents or grants could pay for those. We do not need more than 1 Curriculum director. Eliminate 1 custodian per school or even 2. (Yes that is doable.) Reduce allotment toward use of supplies - laminating paper, copies, even garbage bags). Stop investing in stupid things like Fast ForWord and whole classrooms of new furniture when it is still functional. One District board member said replacing furniture was a safety matter. Do any of you parents reading this recall your kids getting hurt from their furniture? Even if one is broken, replace that one - not all of it. Do teachers get spending money? Reduce it. PTOs can help. Finally, I am low income but I do not rent. I own. Lots of families in single family homes just getting by. High taxes, high maintenance old OP homes. District 97 you need to help US out! Not the other way around. We pay you a lot as it is. Your role is to help us give our children an education - without driving us out, or to the point of poor maintained homes, having less quality of life because we have less money to spend to go out to eat and do things in Oak Park. So vote NO and Cut out what the children do not need. (That is less selfish.)

Jennifer Alten from Oak Park  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 5:27 PM

@Amanda Poppek Massie, @Bruce Kline @Nick Polido YES! Actions do speak louder than words. My action is to vote Yes! Yes! to ensure all children in Oak Park receive the same, well-rounded education that all previous generations of children in Oak Park have received. Yes, our taxes are currently high, but taxes are high throughout Cook County. Why would you vote to cut art, music, foreign language, band, sports, gifted and talented and much-needed student support specialists? We'd still be paying high taxes and the only change is that our children will attend gutted schools. Our community's kids all deserve better than the bare minimum. Voting no is vindictive, cruel and simply short sighted. If you are second guessing the very difficult decisions the D97 board has made, I want to know if you've attended board meetings along the way to help provide input. If not, I urge you to do so in the future -- but not vote in a way that will actively hurt our community's children right now. Have a conscience. Vote yes.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 5:21 PM

For the first time in my life, I'm actually going to agree with Tom here. All kids (regardless of race, physical ability, or socioeconomic status) suffer from 90+ degree classrooms in the warm weather months. So, at present, D97 is equitable in that regard. In Brian's defense though, cuts to the arts, music, library, foreign language and building accessibility will disproportionately impact lower income families and children with disabilities.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 2:51 PM

@Brian Chang your comment is a recurring theme, that giving the schools money is somehow an equity issue. The poor kids have parents who get big rent increases when you raise property taxes, and rental properties also pay a higher tax rate than free standing houses. The referendum hurts the poor, it is not for them. Taking people's grocery money to fund luxuries like french horn lessons and fancy theatricals is gross.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 1:42 PM

So the equity issue only applies to wealth and providing services in a school. I seem to recall the two Walgreens heirs overdosing on heroin and their children being raised by the gran parents. I would assume that the outcome of wealth is a well educated child and a well balanced human being. Does parenting fit in anywhere.

Brian Chang  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 10:39 AM

@Bridgett Baron: I'm sure that's true as well. Since there are far fewer "have-nots" in River Forest compared to Oak Park, the call to provide services in schools in the name of equity has less resonance there than in Oak Park.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 10:12 AM

@Brian Chang, I don't know if that's the only reason. River Forest have a different sensibility than Oak Park. As one example, a little over a year ago, when over 200 parents petitioned the D90 Board to switch to full-day Kindergarten, the Board voted not to pursue it, with cost being a factor. To add classrooms would have cost $1.5M and the additional salaries/benefits for teachers would start at a half a million dollars.

Brian Chang  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 9:51 AM

@Brian Slowiak: Probably because River Forest is significantly wealthier than Oak Park.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 16th, 2017 6:20 AM

@ Robert Zeh: Any idea why the River Forest school district is in better shape than the Oak Park district?

Robert Zeh  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 6:55 PM

@Brian Chang you'd be exactly right. I can't claim to speak for all of River Forest, but the few times a merger has come up it has always been Oak Parkers raising the idea, and none of the River Foresters are interested. D90 does an excellent job, and I see no reason to mess with something that works..

Amanda Poppenk Massie from oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 6:05 PM

I went to a D97 Info Mtg at Lincoln last week. I listened, I wrote a couple of questions, some of which they asked. In the end....I'm not convinced at all. The Superintendant said they had sent out info to the homeowners on this matter. I never got anything nor did any of the people I asked. Then it came out that they had emailed to people they had email addresses for. Really, that's your "Informing the Community" effort. Well, lack of effort I'd say. Interesting that they didn't actually say out loud what the people going door to door say which is "your property values will go down", better known as a "Scare Tactic". Truth is, if these Referendums do go thru it is a guarantee that our Property Values will have to adjust BECAUSE of our crazy high property taxes, that wasn't mentioned at the door either. Then there's the fact that if these pass rents will be raised to compensate which means folks will leave and older folks will leave too because they can't afford to pay their taxes on a Fixed Income. This will lead to the end of diversity both economic, ethnic and cultural. Then there's the Huge New Administration Building for $9 plus mil dollars they built knowing the Referendums were coming. Very poor judgement. Oh wait they say, the old building needed work and it would've cost $3 plus million to make it ADA compliant and they got $6.4 Million from the TIF. I'm supposed to feel better knowing that TIF money (our tax dollars) were used on a "Staff Building" and not on "Facilities" directly affecting our kids. Again, POOR JUDGEMENT. Why is it in Oak Park that we homeowners are expected to renovate our old homes at whatever it'll cost but the various entities in the Village always demand NEW and then try and justify it. That building is huge and just shows how D97 has spent money on "Wants" and not "needs". I no longer trust what is said. "ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS' and their actions are questionable at best. VOTE NO

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 2:22 PM

The usual D97 apologists. It is true the State is a basket case. But we clearly have a much better chance of keeping our own house in order - politics at the local level - than any chance of altering the insanity at the State. Just ask Sen. Harmon how that State thingee is working out (great for him, for us ...not so much). $740 per $10 000 in property tax is a confiscatory tax. It is outrageous and just shows D97's sheer selfishness and disregard for our economic diversity. Vote NO on April 4th.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 12:46 PM

If locals were paying any attention to Springfield, they would've noticed Senate Bill 10 approved by our own dear Harmon that puts taxpayers and pensioners at risk by giving bondholders first rights over revenue from the state to municipalities in a bankruptcy. On top of that, House Bill 2584 would extend those rights to unsecured (general obligation) bonds already issued by a municipality, meaning all bondholders would get all local tax revenues and fees for repayment first, govt services be damned. The only question is, if/when these bills pass, will there be any children left to hide behind? Maybe by then the "attention to Springfield" hyperbole will have gone away.

Rick Boultinghouse  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 12:28 PM

Deborah, Joanna, you suggest we get nothing from the State, to the contrary, nearly $14M comes to D97 from the State. That is nearly 20% of gross revenues for the D97.

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 11:47 AM

"We must vote yes on both referenda now and then turn our attention to these other problems in Springfield." We are incapable to accomplish this task you mention. Oak Parker's recently voted in Susana Mendoza as State Controller and continue to re-elect Dan Harmon who's law firm receives millions of dollars from the State of Illinois. Our problems won't be solved by marching children around a park and shaming no voters for being selfish, I would argue that no voters get it and the current bankrupt path is no way to help the children this community and state in the long run.

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 11:06 AM

Because if they were to become one district the highest pay would be the norm for all the employees. If you think D97 teachers are overpaid (I don't), imagine 800 employees making OPRF salaries.

Brian Chang  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 10:50 AM

I'm guessing River Forest voters would not be favorably disposed to merging their elementary school district (D90) with D97 and D200.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 9:40 AM

Property taxes are a huge percentage of rent. Jacking up rents with a referendum is not a way to draw a diverse population to our community. Shame on people who are so selfish in that way, they would rob from kids and families and then tell themselves they are doing it for the children.

Karen Krug Anderson  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 8:45 AM

When discussing the referendum, the question of why can't the OP and RF grammar schools and OPRFHS be one district has been asked. I can't find a answer for this question. Can anyone explain?

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