Trust & the 2017 election

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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For many voters, the erosion of trust with our elected boards is the common thread that runs through the April 4 election. Here are just a few examples of questionable board actions:

The village of Oak Park president and trustees have granted controversial zoning variances allowing developers to build high-rises that are more than double the zoned height, and the fate of Austin Gardens looms on the village board's agenda. President Abu-Taleb erodes public trust by personally negotiating with developers in a non-public forum with no checks and balances or transparency. In two deals alone, the village board indebted taxpayers to $15 million in new garage debt while the village fails to maintain its existing garages. 

The District 97 referenda are likely flying under the radar for many of Oak Park's 37,753 registered voters in this off-year election. Even though the operating referendum is a tsunami, $740 per a $10,000 property tax bill, the D97 school board did not send out an informational mailer to all households on its two ballot questions. Homeowners must be aware of and understand the referenda so they can cast an informed vote. Renters will be impacted too if landlords pass on the increased cost.

D97's only mailed mention of cost is in the current village newsletter. Pictures of children grace two-thirds of the front of the insert, while the cost is placed on the back and minimized, listed as an increase of $74 per every $1,000 tax bill. The ballot questions themselves are worded such that voters may have little or no idea what they are voting on or their tax implications.

Since 2013, the District 200 school board has wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in its quest to build an oversized pool, a "want" of a special interest group, not a "need" of the school. In 2015, when the board tried to bypass voters and issue non-referendum bonds for a $37.5 million, Olympic-size pool, the board's news release defended its action by falsely stating that a standard competition pool could not be built within the building and touting its nominal $30 million return to taxpayers of the more than $100 million of overtaxed dollars. D200's deceptive marketing of its 2016 pool referendum, falsely headlining it as academic, further eroded trust.

Restore trust and accountability with our elected boards by voting for Matt Baron, Jack Davidson and Doug Springer for D200, Heather Claxton-Douglas for D97, and Deno Andrews, Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney for the village board.

Monica Sheehan

Oak Park

Reader Comments

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Brian Souders  

Posted: March 29th, 2017 7:57 AM

(I need to stop using double-dashes, as WJ turns them into ???)!

Brian Souders  

Posted: March 29th, 2017 7:32 AM

What Elise has done here is awesome ?" similiar to what Monica did for the pool issue. The central theme here is schools seeing spending other people's money to solve the districts' issues. And being disingenous ?" if not outright lying ?" is selling the referenda to the public. This lack of trust is why I can't vote for any incumbents went from a yes/yes to a no/no, and am now encouraging others to be, too. Back to the drawing board.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 7:34 PM

By the way, I'd strongly encourage folks to read the article Elise quotes below. I'm including a link because Elise didn't include a citation ;)

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 7:33 PM

@EC-D. Welcome to my world. What's that? That "math" and "questions" are not appreciated/understood by those who believe that the D97 "scare tactics" are to be believed. These are otherwise wonderful people (some are even cat lovers!) but they take personally any thing which they believe might jeopardize the education of their children. D97 could have requested a tax increase 10x this (large) amount and they'd support it - without ever questioning any part of it. The fact of the matter is that a No/No vote today would be followed then/finally by a serious effort by D97 and the community to get this important matter right and then a yes/yes in one year. D97 itself projects that it'd have $4M in surplus on 6/30/18. This'd be with status quo spending and not one cent of cuts. We can be patient and do this right - too many OP families with/without children are maxed out financially and would appreciate this.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 7:22 PM

@Elise, Maybe you confused me with another person who commented. "I find it odd that you can discredit the sourced/cited/linked facts because I drew an opinion." I haven't mention your work at all. I think it is great that you took the time to put this together. I look forward to wading through it.

Elise Cutler-Dysart  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 6:47 PM

@Jassen: Even journalists are allowed to form opinions, after they've conducted honest and thorough research. Scientists, too. I find it odd that you can discredit the sourced/cited/linked facts because I drew an opinion, after seeing them all laid out. The reason I felt the need to share that work product is because D97 is not being truthful. That was the only conclusion to draw, after the painstaking investigation. I find that to be troubling. There is no proof of $9M "lost" money from the state. There IS proof of $26.5M in increased revenues to the district since 2011. So, why do we accept the claim of "declining revenues"? I'm having the same struggle newsrooms all over the country are. When you're covering the news with the integrity of your professional training, when is it OK to call a lie a lie? Since I wasn't paid by the NYT or Trib to do this investigation, I gave myself permission to say "I conclude that something fishy is going on here and I invite others to do their own looking and see what they find and conclude." So far, there's been no factual clarification from the Yes camp.

Elise Cutler-Dysart  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 6:27 PM

@Ben: Thank you! I've been so surprised at the inability of so-called enlightened progressives to engage in positive, fact-based, respectful debate about the facts and how to interpret them. I'm too thin-skinned for this and sleep-deprived. Up til 3am with the new formula I got from the assessor to understand the homeowner's exemption. In terms of my own "changing numbers," I have only changed things to add more clarity. When I first threw "potential tax impacts" together, I had only median assessed values to work with. Since my point was really "Will young families be able to consider Oak Park vs. Evanston if this passes?" it made way more sense to look at the median price of the last 6-month's of sales. It also made sense to show the savings with the homeowner exemption applied. There has been no effort on my part to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. I have only been forced to conclude that "no/no" are required at this juncture, after trying and failing repeatedly to get real answers and verifiable numbers from D97. As the Business & Civic Council's letter says, "The school board itself is not blameless. It has repeatedly approved budgets with significant deficits and severely compromised financial flexibility by spending down the operating fund balance, from $36 million two years ago to a projected $7.1 million deficit in two years, despite brakes on per-pupil expenditure growth." I can't square that reality with "chicken-little" claims of harm to our kids in the absence of honest and truthful data from the district. I'll be a solid YES, when I know we're getting the truth, and when they've been held to account for wasteful spending these past six years. Anyway... I appreciate the more civil forum you and Maureen and others have built on this discussion page. BTW: My Tonkinese has been good company on my late-night research binges. All the best to you and your cats!

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 6:24 PM

With all due respect @Elise, when you say things like "We're Oak Parkers and shouldn't engage in anti-intellectual, emotional fear-mongering. Sadly, that's what most of "Yes" pressure seems to stem from" it is tough to believe you wish to engage in a real discussion. You will see that anyone on the Yes team, myself included, has gone to great lengths to engage in only fact based and data driven discussion both here and on other sites. If you look through any of my comments, I have only engaged in debates around data and often provide links to backup sources. We may disagree, but you will never see me calling anyone "anti-intellectual" or engaging in "emotional fear-mongering." And for the record, like you, those of us on the Yes team are Oak Park parents that volunteer our time as well. I would happily discuss any of your comments or concerns at any time, especially if you feel someone from our camp is being anti-intellectual or attacking you. There is no place for that in this debate.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 5:48 PM

@Elise - I apologize if you've felt attacked personally. Certainly not my intent and I did my best to focus on the data, rather than the drafter. Clearly, given your comments, I crossed the line. As you might imagine, I'm quite passionate about the importance of a "yes/yes" vote on the referendum, but I think opposing viewpoints are healthy and necessary to the debate and I'd never want to do anything to suppress those valid viewpoints. I am similarly a parent in the community, although I am training for no marathons because I run out of breath after walking at anything greater than a snail's pace. But, I hope you can appreciate my efforts to advocate my perspective, just as you have done.

Elise Cutler-Dysart  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 5:23 PM

@Ben: I asked Ken to have my assumptions vetted by Ali, when I was unable to reach him myself. Each and every one of my facts has a source and a citation and is verifiable. I've even put change notes on my slides, when I've been able to tweak numbers. My latest tweak was to add the homeowner's exemption. This brought down the tax calculations (something that helps the referenda case, not hurts it). I have no partisan motivation and am not being sneaky or unethical with my numbers. On the flipside, not one of the D97 slides has such traceability. They've even admitted that the claim of $6.5M (sometimes $9M) was based on an ESTIMATE made in 2011. They have ACTUALS -- audited actuals -- for six years and haven't updated their materials because the real numbers aren't nearly as scary. That's patently dishonest. And they're elected officials. I'm just a mom... in a home office... stealing time for this from parenting and training for the Boston Marathon next month. Please stop attacking my credibility and work-for-free product. If D97 showed half the due-diligence and transparency I have, there'd be no question about the veracity of their claims. The board and the administration of our schools -- with $108.3M of our money at its discretion -- should be the ones with the light shining on them. Kindly focus your sleuthing on their claims.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 3:05 PM

@Ben - as long as your cat didn't leave you standing alone with the mouse and the cheese, it was probably fine!

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 3:05 PM

While I've enjoyed this purrfect aside into cat vacations, meow it's time to switch gears and talk about the referendum. It looks like Elise published an opinion piece in the WJ making largely the same points she makes in her slide deck. Link here: Two quick comments. First, it looks like the WJ asked Ali ElSaffar to assess her numbers, and he took issue with a few of her assumptions on the tax impact. Which is totally understandable given the complexities of the issue (it's all over my head), but I raise it here to reiterate the point that Elise's slides should be reviewed critically. (BTW, I'm assuming ElSaffar only weighed in on the letter (not the powerpoint) and only reviewed the tax considerations (not the other concerns she raised)). Second, I'd note that her letter's comments on mortgage v. tax comparisons now conflict with her slide deck. This illustrates my earlier point that there are a number of things she has had to update because her earlier assumptions were off. I give her credit for doing so and for not hiding the fact that she's making those updates. But it again calls into question whether this so-called "fact-check" has been given the same level of scrutiny that the Board materials have received.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 2:03 PM

@ Ben Conley: You would have to ask the cats if it was bad to take them to The Wisconsin Dells, not anyone else. I took a Mustang to The Dells once , but that was a 1967 Fastback GT.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 1:06 PM

Ruth, In addition to repeatedly lying to the public over an exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary, oversized swimming pool to appease a small, special interest group, the D200 Board's oversight of the school is in question. The Board has been running deficit budgets for the last two years, $13M & $16M respectively. Also, the strategic plan put in place three years ago remains a skeletal one. Its 4 1/2 pages remain just lists of "want to do's" and goals without any steps to implement them or imbedded measurement tools to assess success or failure. The fact is the incumbents have little substantively to show for the past four years. And, the waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the pool fiasco falls squarely on their shoulders. The 2013 Board, of which the three incumbents were members, failed to bring the recommendations of the Stantec Report to the public, burying the pragmatic pool solution and pursued instead an Olympic-size pool and tried to demolish the garage, eliminating all required parking at the school. Last year the school board spent $14,000 taxpayer dollars on the Fako phone survey, an objective study of the community's interest in the size of a new high school pool and how much to spend on it. The results overwhelmingly showed the community favored a smaller, less expensive pool. I encourage everyone to read my fact-based letter posted above, "Trust & the 2017 Election", and to vote to restore trust in the D200 School Board and for positive change on April 4. Vote for Jack Davidson, Doug Springer and Matt Baron!

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 12:53 PM

Yeah, I took my cats to the Dells. that bad?

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 12:31 PM

@BC - You went to the WI Dells with your cats?!? You may not know it, but good sources have told me that, believe it or not, you have good friends, a loving family, and the respect of many. Finally, word to the wise, sleep with one eye open when your cats are in the room - you can NOT trust them. You many ignore this warning, but at least I have it in writing that I tried! Don't believe me? What if I told you that BOTH of your cats are voting "No!" in 2017 (and "yes" in 2018)? You can NOT trust them!

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 11:43 AM

@Michael Nevins - have to fact check you here. No one speaks highly of me because I don't have any friends. Unless you count my two cats (which I hesitate to reference here because that inherently calls into question my credibility.) That's why I spend all of my time online in the comments section.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 11:39 AM

By the way, I'd note that Elise's presentation has been a bit difficult to rebut because, to use her words in describing the D97 slides, she's using "moving-target data". To her credit, she's keeping a somewhat running list of things she has modified, but it doesn't capture the whole picture. For instance, Elise was previously touting administrative bloat in D97. She presumably later learned that D97's student-admin ratio is far better than Evanston's, and those references are now gone. Elise says D97 is using "scare tactics" and credits Evanston for not going that path. But, on D65's referendum website and materials, they state "As a result, there are two options for moving forward - making continued painful reductions (approximately $8.8 million over the next two years alone) or increasing revenue through an operating referendum." As noted below, Elise also includes the following in her slides: "Or? if we pass these referenda, is it likely that property taxes will get so high that no one will move to Oak Park ?" many will leave ?" and property values will tank." Scare tactics? Further, her prior deck argued that for the median home in Oak Park, mortgage payments and property tax payments would be roughly the same amount. She has since updated her slides because her assumptions (and, as a result, her numbers) were off. Again, I'm not saying that folks should ignore Elise's deck because it undoubtedly contains pertinent information. But, just realize that she has an agenda and this is not an unbiased "fact-check".

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 11:34 AM

@BC. As I think you have realized, an online forum makes challenging an informational debate/exchange. FWIW, the D97 ref in 2011 only passed 54-46 and the 2016 ref was voted down (barely) in OP. My point? A lot of OP people who voted for Clinton clearly voted "NO" on referendums. A lot. Subtly linking Clinton voters to Conway and Drudge is illogical, borderline nasty politics (you said that you didn't do this, but by including those comments it's clear that you just did) and just not who you are as a person (I know people who speak very highly of you). I don't expect you to answer my questions regarding why D97 elected to not keep the present Lincoln principal - who had the support of parents/teachers/staff - and then "featherbedded" a newly created job just for her. But I hope that you agree that this questions why many have concluded that "frugal and D97" shouldn't be in the same sentence. Ms. Cutler-Dysart and this debate, imo, is proving why this ref should be defeated in 2017 - there are just too many questions. Then the new/old board - and many extremely talented OP residents - should use the next nine months and make a careful/critical examination of this very important matter. Then we the community can confidently vote "yes" in 2018. D97 has sufficient reserves to take this patient approach to a very important issue.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 11:23 AM

@Brian - on your final question re: enrollment as increase as compared to expenditure increase, see slide six of this presentation (, which shows that expenditures have, in fact, been aligned directly with enrollment for the past several years.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 10:43 AM

BTW, I will concede that I have an agenda - it is to convince OP voters that a "yes/yes" vote, while painful, is the way to go. I apologize if I haven't made that clear in my 347 WJ posts.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 10:41 AM

@Brian, I've had about 12 hours to digest Elise's slides, and I was sleeping for most of those (recovering from an exotic get-away to the Wisconsin Dells). So forgive me as I try to process your requests. First, on the question of whether the state has provided the anticipated level of funding, I think even Elise agrees it has not. So, I'm not sure of your question there. (BTW, please see my comment below where I debunk Elise's assertion that Evanston has not cited the loss of state funding in its referendum materials.) Second, on the issue of whether Elise has an agenda, I'd encourage you to re-read her website. A few thoughts on that. First, I've been very tempted to link a "no" vote to the Trump agenda (e.g., DeVos's attack on public schools, etc.). Knowing that over 85% of Oak Park voters voted for someone other than Trump makes this a tempting path. But, I don't think it's fair comparison to make for a number of reasons, so I've shied away from doing so. Elise has no such reservations, repeatedly linking D97 to Conway's famous "alternative facts" line. Second, check out Elise's "Resources" page, which I assume she intended to be her bibliography? She takes a page out of Matt Drudge's playbook here, re-writing the headline for her links to suggest the websites say something they do not. Again, if you still don't think she has an agenda, I question whether your request for a line-by-line rebuttal is honest. Finally, I agree the Board and admin have an agenda. It's called their equity "Vision", and the goal is to provide a quality education for all D97 students, not just those who come from families with financial means. The referenda proposals are intended to request from the taxpayers the resources necessary to carry out that vision. Final point - before you jump on me for this - I know I still haven't address your myriad requests. Working on that and running out of characters...

Brian Souders  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 10:15 AM

@Ben As a marketer and lifelong cynic, I'm pretty good at sniffing out agendas and I don't smell one in Elise's presentation. I do smell one in your comments - as you don't refute the facts in her presentation, but you argue with her commentary and comparisons to Evanston. Take those away, and it is still very compelling. Rather than discrediting her for including conclusions based on the facts, refute the facts in presentation. Show me how D97 expenses have NOT outpaced enrollment, show me how the state has not fully funded D97, etc. Also refute the case that D97 and the board and administration do not have an agenda.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 9:56 AM

Elise's slide deck chooses to compare Oak Park to Evanston alone and no other school district. Putting aside whether this provides a complete picture, I'd question why Elise chose not to include the following comparison points. Evanston's admin to student ratio is 175:1. Oak Park's is 228:1. Evanston's operating expenses per pupil is $14,150. Oak Park's is $13,923. Evanston's salary & benefits per student cost is $12,525. Oak Park's is $10,852. Evanston's long-term debt per student is $11,091. Oak Park's is $4,193. Again, I don't want to suggest that folks do not read or ignore Elise's presentation. Just know that she has an agenda, and she's cherry-picking the facts that help support her agenda.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 9:37 AM

@kline Maureen It is hard to break down spending on a single slide in any detail. I would encourage you to reach out to the Board or the District with your question. If you want to learn more, there are extensive details on the specific breakdown of the proposed improvements and the associated costs for each building that were presented at various Board meetings over the last year.

Brian Souders  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 9:11 AM

@Jassen: I was leaning yes-yes, but after reading Elise's presentation, I'm now a strong no-no. Aside from the standard talking points, can you or someone in your vote yes group point me to a refutation, including sources, to bring me back?

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 8:24 AM

as I mentioned, I firmly believe that the $57 million was chosen simply because it matched the amount of the maturing bonds and the district (mistakenly) felt that would make it an "easy sell"

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 8:21 AM

LINK: at Slide #38 - where the expenses are broken down in very broad terms. Out of a 51 page document, that is the only page where there seems to be any attempt to break down the spending. And it is quite vague. - no dollar amounts given for specific projects, no prioritization other than one would assume that the most important work is done first. Far too vague to be helpful or informative.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 8:02 AM

@kline Maureen....I am curious how you came up with "twice as large as it needs" for the Capex amount? Is it based on your belief that certain work just doesn't need to be done that they propose? The work plan is pretty extensive and detailed and while I have read it, someone from the citizen led facilities committee can weigh in here better. Do you have specific items on the list that you think are adding to the "double" what is needed?

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 7:38 AM

One of the issues I have with the D97 Capex (bond) referendum is that it seems at least twice a large as it needs to be to do the work that needs to be done. The ask is $57 MILLION just because that is the amount of the maturing bonds, and it's much more than what's needed to do the building expansions and other work they say they must do. Instead, this large amount will give the district a nice cushion for their wish list beyond the priorities. There's an arrogance there in the assumption that the taxpayers should just swallow it all.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 7:13 AM

Elise - on the contrary, I think everyone should read your well researched, thoughtful analysis. I think what I take issue with is that there may need to be a fact-check of your "fact-check". Folks on the internet (who are far smarter than me) have been reviewing your slides quite closely and have noted that you seem to be selectively ignoring facts that don't support your argument (which, I should note, is exactly what you appear to be criticizing the district for doing). One example - on slide 9 you say "D65 (Evanston) is also seeking a referendum this Spring. They make no claims of lost revenue from the state." But, on the D65 referendum information website (which I presume you either did not review or reviewed and chose to ignore), D65 provides as follows: "In addition, GSA payments have been reduced or pro-rated from 89-92% by the state for the last several years."

Elise Cutler-Dysart  

Posted: March 28th, 2017 12:29 AM

Visit The true facts and plenty of "alternative facts" are laid bare for all to see. Sadly, it seems like battle lines were already drawn. Is anyone even open to new information... or questioning the information from they "side" they already identify with? The goal is an engaged and informed electorate. This is Oak Park, right?

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 10:20 PM

I'd say the same thing about the D97 mailer.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:53 PM

Ben, my published letter and posted comments are clearly written and require no clarification. They should be understandable for any reader.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:36 PM

So you agree the message was sent and the figures were accurate, you just believe it should have been done differently? And I presume you agree then that your statement below was not accurate? "The mailer, on the other hand, lists no costs, only that voting yes will support a vibrant community and will strengthen property values." I'm good with and respect differing viewpoints (as noted below, I think folks should consume all information they can get their hands on), I just hate the dissemination of misinformation. By the way, the D97 candidate you have endorsed supports the operating referendum. So I presume this opinion piece here is not an indictment of that referendum, but rather a criticism of the method in which it is being communicated?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:28 PM

Ms. Lazarus: your contention that D97's financial quandary is solely due to the State of Illinois is mostly baseless. The State has been paying 90% of its obligations to D97 since 2012. And in fact if it paid 100% of its obligations D97 would have received an extra $4.6 million since 2012 thru 2016. In no way does that account for this massive shortfall that D97 is moaning about. I'll tell you what accounts for this massive shortfall: too much spending - poor stewardship of taxpayer money, that's what. D97 has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:12 PM

Ben, I am happy to clarify it for you. The link you listed and what I referenced in my letter is/was not a mailer, but rather an insert. It was the third of three inserts, buried inside the most recent village newsletter. As such, it would be easy for a reader to miss the insert and its import. My description of the insert above stands as stated. Pictures of children grace 2/3 of the front of the colored insert, and the costs are minimized on the back. No one I know has a $1,000 property tax bill. Given the huge ask of the operating referendum alone, the District should clearly have also stated its impact in an easy-to-read table, listing the permanent tax impact at realistic property tax points so that there would be no misunderstanding. If the pictures of the children had been reduced in size, there would have been space to list the cost of the referenda on the front of the insert. In closing, an insert buried in a newsletter is easy to overlook while a mailer is a distinct piece that one is more likely to notice and read. If the mailer contains clear, straightforward information, all the better.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:09 PM

@BC. I appreciate your comments below - they are a necessary part of understanding the various D97 issues. It was the last sentence of your 7:13pm comment that I think we have true disagreement, though. You believe that D97 has been "a good fiscal steward" and I think that they could/should do a much better job - especially because of the already sky-high taxes. I find especially troubling the featherbedding creation of a job for a former school principal. It also makes me wonder, if semi-publicly they'll take this "we don't care because it's not our money" action.....what is it that we don't know about? I especially wonder because of the spending differences between D97 and Evanston? Lastly, I'd like to direct readers to page 15 of this D97 doc from only two weeks ago: Specifically, this part: "Expand our programming to preschool." This expensive and universal PK3/4 proposal has not been vetted by the community and if the referendum is not defeated....we will see it quickly implemented. Where in the existing schools will it go? D97 has repeatedly told us that there's little present room (due to increased enrollment) and so this will shortly lead to another "building fund" referendum. Let's do this right and that requires a NO vote today and yes vote in one year - patience is a virtue.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:07 PM

it would seem math is not the strong suit of the people who sent out door hangers. When all else fails lie boldly. Describing a tax increase of $74 per $1000 as being 1% is wrong and misleading. That would be 7.4% and that is the low end of the impact. The rent increases will be higher for a lot of the poorer people in town too.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 8:49 PM

I guess I'm still not following (not trying to be combative here - just genuinely not understanding your point). The District did send out a mailer, which I think you're referencing, even though you continue to say it didn't send out a mailer. Here's a link to that mailer: It clearly lists the cost on pg. 2. I also see a lot of folks on here criticizing listing the cost of the operating referendum at $74 per $1,000. I don't get what the issue is there. Is it because it is using a smaller denomination? Should it assume everyone has a $10k tax bill? $20k? $30k? From my perspective, the math is a lot easier to figure out if you use multiples of $1k. But I'll be the first to admit that math is not my strong suit.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 8:38 PM

(continued) burying the 40-meter pool and minimized the demolition of the structurally-sound parking garage, replacing it with a smaller garage that would not meet the school's parking needs. In addition to the existing 300 space garage, the school continues to rent 100 parking spaces from Pilgrim Church annually for about $60,000 to meet its parking needs. Cars still park on East/West streets around the school and student cars line Chicago Avenue and blocks north of it. Therefore, reducing parking spaces in the proposed replacement garage by 20% was illogical and not a green solution.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 8:32 PM

Ben, when I wrote and submitted this opinion letter a couple weeks ago, D97 had no plans to send a mailer to all households in Oak Park and still has yet to do so. After attending a D97 Referenda Information Session earlier this month, I spoke with a board member about my concern that many voters likely had no idea that there would be two major referendum questions on the ballot. We subsequently traded emails and the District's communications director also emailed me. He provided a list of ways in which the District had communicated the referendum questions and defended its lack of sending out a mailer. My concern listed above stands as is. Just today, I received a door hanger and a mailer from a citizens' group, the Committee to Support Oak Park Schools, not District 97. On the door hanger, it says "Step Up and Protect Oak Park Schools" and also states if we don't pass the referenda that "Property values will likely decline, while property taxes remain high." While it minimizes the tax implication of the operational referendum, listing it only as $74 per every $1,000 of a current tax bill, at least it mentions the cost. The mailer, on the other hand, lists no costs, only that voting yes will support a vibrant community and will strengthen property values. Slide #20 that you reference on the website lists the monthly mortgage and property taxes that would be due on a median-priced home in Oak Park if the referenda pass. Only $34 separates the two. Some homeowners might find it difficult to justify this financial reality. Ruth, the facts speak for themselves. The school board aligned itself not once but twice with a special-interest group, the pool lobby. The school board repeatedly lied to the community and said the existing pools could not be renovated because they would have to lose a lane. That's false based on two engineering reports. Last year the school board deceptively marketed the pool referendum headlining it as an academic one, burying the 4

Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 8:18 PM

There's a vitriol in this letter that confuses me, and it is especially apparent in the comments regarding D200.The criticism of the OP president and trustees seems fair, because we can all see the zoning variances have been allowed, and if Mr. Abu-Taleb is negotiating with developers in private, that certainly erodes trust. I can't comment too much on the D97 referenda, other than to say that although taxes in this town are killing me, I don't feel like D97 has been minimizing the impact of these referendum. I'm just not sure what the alternative is to raising taxes, if we don't want our children to suffer. And although I may not always agree with every spending choice the district has ever made, I'm not sure it's fair to then say "no" when the State of Illinois has created this crisis that has to be addressed. Finally, has D200 really "wasted" hundreds of thousands of dollars on this pool issue? That is really depressing, but if it's true, I'd have to place some of the responsibility for that on the controversy, not only the board. There is a real need for the pools at the high school to be replaced. We in Oak Park don't always agree on lots of things, and of course there should be room for that, but ultimately, when we elect a board, shouldn't we be trusting them to make good decisions on what is best for our school? Over the years, the D200 board invited parents to many, many planning meetings, and I never felt that what they came up with was only in response to a "special interest group", I'm not even completely sure what that means? Anyway, while it might be fair to say you didn't like the plan they came up with, thought it was too costly, whatever, to accuse them of "deceptive maneuvering" , "falsely headlining", etc. just sounds very mean spirited and pretty trust eroding.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 8:17 PM

Great piece, it is clear we have to vote NO.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 7:25 PM

Also, on the opinion piece above, I guess I don't follow the criticism of D97 for not sending out an informational mailer immediately followed by a criticism of the informational mailer that D97 sent? Is the issue that the mailer didn't contain enough detail? The mailer contained the following: "We encourage people to visit on a regular basis for the latest information and updates about the referenda and their potential impact on our students, schools and community." For folks who haven't clicked through, the website two slide decks (one of which is very lengthy), FAQs, information about the 11 public forums hosted by D97, and more. By the way, D97 broke the referenda up into two questions specifically for purposes of transparency, even though it's pretty widely accepted that it's far more challenging to succeed on two separate referenda than on a bundled question throwing in operating expenses and capital expenditures. To the extent there has been a lack of transparency, it isn't apparent to me from reading this opinion piece.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 7:13 PM

I'm impressed at the time and effort put into the slide deck Ms. Sheehan references below, but I hope folks take it for what it is....a biased opinion piece telling one side of the story. One of many examples: slide 14 accuses D97 of using scare tactics, then slide 20 includes this gem: "Or? if we pass these referenda, our property taxes will get so high that no one will move to Oak Park ?" many will leave ?" and that's how our property values may plummet." It's a bit unfortunate because the author of the deck is clearly well educated and put a lot of time and effort into this project. But, she must not have believed the numbers spoke for themselves considering the bias and slant she injected into presenting the "facts". Look, at the end of the day I think voters should consume as much information as they can, so I'd encourage folks to review Ms. Cutler-Dysert's deck as well as the very detailed materials assembled by D97 (available here Specifically, see this FAQ addressing Ms. Cutler-Dysert's central premise - that D97 is not a good fiscal steward:

Natalie Rauch Kelly from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 4:36 PM

Have you seen the "vote yes" door hangers that have been popping up today? Full of misleading information and complete conjecture. Were I contemplating a "yes" vote, I would certainly change my mind after reading that utter assault on my intelligence. I quote: "Here is what voting YES on both means for you: *One percent property tax increase; this equates to $74 <line break> per every $1,000 of a current tax bill." Disgraceful.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 4:30 PM

D97 got some splainin' to do!! (as Ricky Ricardo might have said, way back when).

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 2:20 PM

Our very own Senator Harmon In the Sun Times once again!

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 1:53 PM

Monica, thank you for that informative and well-researched link. Ms Dysart-Cutler has done an unbelievable job of research, analysis, and here is her final sentence: "I've concluded that the district has a lot more explaining to do before voters should write them this big check." I'll add to what she wrote and remind people that D97, under their own budget figures, have $4M on 6/30/18 (assuming a defeated ref) and so we can safely vote NO this time and then make a community/D97 effort to get this important matter right.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 11:11 AM

I just read the fact-based research and impressive analysis on this website and think it is a must read before heading to the polls, D97 Fact Check.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 27th, 2017 9:01 AM

Trust? I just hung up with a D97 teacher and she told me that it's strongly believed that the beloved Lincoln principal was not retained because the Supt, with the Board's support, wanted their own person. To semi-placate parents/teachers at Lincoln, they then created a position for the principal elsewhere. This "featherbedding" action is hardly an act of frugality. Vote NO on this huge tax increase today and then support a better plan next year. D97 figures show that they will have $4M in savings on 6/30/18 and so "status quo" can safely be maintained for the next school year. "Trust" needs to be earned and expensive (for taxpayers) decisions like with the Lincoln principal make me skeptical. BTW, the D97 teacher is mad and voting NO!

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