John Dagnon's headline, "Logic, data lead to 'no' vote on D97 referendum," [Viewpoints, March 2], is a fraud. I know he didn't write the headline, but his essay doesn't deliver what the headline promises. After sarcastically denigrating a middle-school student's advocacy for the referendum as "well written because to use empirical data and logic would only cause normal taxpayers to vote a resounding 'no,'" Dagnon himself cites only two pieces of purportedly relevant "data," neither of which are actually sourced. The remainder of his piece asks a series of rhetorical questions that reflect a lack of genuine analysis.
The first data point Dagnon cites is that "Americans spend more on education per pupil than any country in the world. Yet we are mired toward the bottom of developed countries." Assuming that bit of hyperbole is factual, how is it relevant to the question of whether District 97 needs additional funding to maintain services and programs? Is Dagnon suggesting there is an inverse relationship between funding and quality of education?
His second data point is that the "well-regarded" Scottsdale, Ariz., school district spends only $3,000 per kid, compared to District 97's $15,000 per kid. Since District 97's schools obviously aren't "five times better" than Scottsdale's schools, Dagnon queries where the "extra money is going." But his figures seem highly questionable on their face. And as the online commentary to Dagnon's article shows, if one compares apples to apples, the per-pupil spending in each school district is fairly comparable. But assuming District 97 does spend more than Scottsdale, where does Dagnon think the "extra money" goes? Does he think it is being somehow wasted? If so, how?
Dagnon's rhetorical questions fare no better. He asks why teachers will not take a "small" pay cut. As he probably knows, the teachers have agreed to a pay freeze, which amounts to a pay cut. But to completely address the shortfall, each teacher would have to take a cut of around $10,000 or more. That is not a "small" pay cut. It dwarfs the "pay cut" — the additional tax burden — of a few hundred dollars that would result to each property owner from passage of the referendum. For the life of me, I don't understand the sentiment that it is the teachers' responsibility, not the community's, to make sure our schools are financially healthy. Our schools don't exist for the teachers. They exist for the students and for the community.
Dagnon asks about "school choice." Whatever its merits (a wholly different debate), school choice would do nothing to address District 97's financial shortfall. Indeed, it would very likely drain money away from the public schools.
Dagnon asks about the teacher union. Does he think District 97 has the power to bust the union? Does he want Gov. Quinn to do what Gov. Walker did in Wisconsin? Is antipathy toward unions a fact-driven basis for opposing the referendum? And how does the fact that payroll is 75 percent of the budget show that District 97 has not "cut to the bone," if that is in fact what the board has said?
Does Dagnon have any data to show that, of the 700 recent applications received for a teaching position (assuming that to be true), there were comparably qualified applicants who would have worked for less than the applicant hired? If so, he does not share it with us.
And there are several big holes in Dagnon's implied argument that we should have seen an increase in the quality of education commensurate with the increase in property taxes over the past eight years. First, the argument assumes that all of the increase went to District 97. Second, he assumes that District 97's costs of operation did not also increase over the past eight years. Third, he provides no data to show that the "quality of education" has not improved over the past eight years. Indeed, he does not even tell us how he is measuring the quality of the schools.
Finally, Dagnon wants District 200 to give some if its "surplus" to District 97. As online commentators have pointed out, District 97 has no control over that money. And the money belongs in part to River Forest residents, as well as to Oak Parkers. So it can't be used to fund District 97 schools.
So much for "empirical data and logic."
Daniel Hurtado is a 20-year Oak Park who has one daughter currently attending OPRF. He says he is "concerned about maintaining the quality and offerings of our schools."
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