River Forest parents alarmed by school district consolidation bills

Harmon says River Forest is not a likely candidate


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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

Amidst a passionate outcry from River Forest parents about proposed legislation that, if passed, could force consolidation of certain school districts, state Senator Don Harmon has assured the District 90 Board of Education that the bill has been tabled and issued a public statement saying that the River Forest school district would likely not be affected by such legislation. But Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said parents should continue to communicate with state representatives that the village is strongly opposed to forced consolidation.

"No legislative proposal is positioned for final approval, and I would be surprised if any measure were to advance quickly. Past school consolidation proposals have been controversial, and I would expect any present proposal to be well vetted before being called for a vote," wrote Harmon in the statement posted on his website (donharmon.org) and dated March 1.

"While school consolidation [initiatives] will likely be debated at some length this session, I am confident in assuring you that District 90 is not a particular target," he wrote.

The bills, which were scheduled for hearings last Wednesday, were not called.

At a Dist. 90 school board meeting last Tuesday, board President Juliann Geldner relayed a message from Harmon that any upcoming bills would focus on voluntary consolidation as opposed to forced consolidation.

But Hagerman said this week that village residents should keep an eye on the issue anyway. "I think it's important that the community continues to monitor this, stay involved and be sure they're sharing with their representatives, their senators, their concerns about doing any sort of a forced consolidation because there seems to be a lot of momentum behind these fairly large-scale changes being made right now," he said. "My understanding around that [is] there are going to be clear parameters for no forced consolidations."

At last week's board of education meeting, a Dist. 90 parent spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation. "We are brand new to River Forest. Like many others, we came here for the school," the parent said, adding that she and her family have not been disappointed.

Despite reassurances that the bills have been tabled, the parent said she's still concerned about the proposed legislation and "the manner in which they limit stakeholder input." Her list of concerns included cuts to salaries, changing property values, and a strained school system overall. "Schools that are now high performing in the state might decline. ... Our children would suffer while all this was being negotiated," she said.

The Senate bill in question, if passed, would require the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to conduct studies to determine the costs, benefits and feasibility of consolidating school districts within the same geographic region. The ISBE would then recommend districts for consolidation. A similar House bill calls for the creation of a commission charged with determining optimal candidates for consolidation and increased enrollment across the state.

"My colleagues and I understand that school consolidation is a sensitive issue, one that may make a great deal of sense in some circumstances and may make very little sense in others," Harmon wrote.

At the Dist. 90 school board meeting, the parent placed River Forest firmly in the latter group. "I speak on behalf of many parents in the community when I say we support the district," she said. "This Robin Hood plan is half-baked and threatens the very keystone of our community, our exceptional schools. ... Let us know how we can help preserve our district."

"I think we all need to be kind of vigilant, keeping an eye on the process," said Hagerman this week. "I think some of the bills have been shelved, but again, I would be cautious about saying it's a foregone conclusion at this point."

Reader Comments

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former private parent  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 2:47 PM

FYI - some private schools also get to pick up the pieces and put the kids back together again after their public school experience. Although private schools can turn kids away if they do it too often they don't have enough revenue. Public schools keep the kids, but can blame them (and their parents) as much as they want. Bottom line - advantages and disadvantages to both situations.

Just curious  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 2:04 PM

@NO on REFERENDUM: "Coy?" You give me too much credit. Lack of knowledge of the facts? Yes. Nonetheless, it appears that the private schools get to pick and choose whereas the public schools don't. Not being critical, but those sound like the facts on the ground. I would expect the private schools to be outstanding under those circumstances.

OP parent 2  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 1:23 PM

Taxpayer from RF - not sure if your 25% of $$ but 19% of students is correct, but if you are concerned about parity between OP and RF, I'm assuming you are also concerned that having 3 (or maybe 4) members of the OPRHHS school board coming from RF as placing too much of a demand on RF and, as a result, will be supporting the election of board candidates from OP. After all, OP should be providng its fair share of leadership.

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 7:19 PM

@Just asking: In response to your coy questions -- I have not inquired about either school's Special Ed services, so I honestly wouldn't know. As for "have to accept all that apply", both schools work hard to ensure that all that wish to go there are able to attend regardless of ability to pay. There are, of course, academic requirements. And if these schools received public funding to the tune of the nearly $200 million/year that OP public schools get, the rules would obviously change.

Just asking  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 5:40 PM

@NO on REFERENDUM: Just curious, but do those private schools have to accept all who enroll? Do they provide Special Ed services as public schools are required to by law? I have no clue, but would like to know.

op parent  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 5:07 PM

Forest Park, I wouldn't put much stock on what you are reading here as being representative of typical attitudes in Oak Park. Many people I have spoken to have just read the comments on the threads here in mute horror and haven't added their comments. Most of the River Forest people I've met are pretty nice too, and if they don't want their children to mingle with mine, they haven't told me, to my face at least. :-)

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:55 PM

@Just the Facts: Or rather than racial bigotry, perhaps it's because local private schools like Fenwick and Trinity are so outstanding.


Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:31 PM

Just the Facts, you should check your facts. Over 85% of River Forest students attend OPRF when they graduate from Roosevelt Middle School (this is based off of the last 4 years of student data). I would guess that most of those who do not attend OPRF choose a different school based on the education opportunities rather than what you are suggesting.

OPRF Parent from River Forest  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 12:27 PM

Apparently, "Just the Facts" didn't hear the President when he encouraged more civility in public discourse. It seems that those who do not have a justifiable basis for their positions, resort to name calling, the most popular names seem to be racist or bigot. The reason I wanted to send her away was a toxic learning environment. A concern that was born out by the freshman "List" and the school's failure to deal with the root causes resulting in it happening again this year.

Just the Facts from River Forest  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 11:04 AM

A few actual facts: The consolidation proposal would not affect River Forest - it's intended for those very small districts mostly in rural areas. Oak Park Public Schools are excellent by nearly every measure. River Forest's pupils do better on tests largely because they come from wealthier families (there's a strong correlation between household wealth and student performance). Half of District 97's graduates go to private school rather than OPRF - I speculate that racial bigotry is the cause.

OPRF Parent from River Forest  

Posted: March 7th, 2011 12:00 PM

Dear "Just adding", before moving to Oak Park to send your son to OPRF, I would seriously consider private school if you can swing it financially. (Be sure to take in the tax differnet in your anlysis.) I wanted to send my daughter to private school, but my wife was opposed. She has since admitted that she should have listened to me.

Just adding my input from Forest Park  

Posted: March 6th, 2011 11:22 PM

I am seeing a lot of posts about the concern for the education of the River Forest students but aren't they already intermingling with the Oak Park Students at OPRF? Maybe that is the concern? The parents of high school students don't want to see their elementary children interacting with the OP elemnetary students? I'm in Forest Park and plan on moving to Oak Park so my son could attend OPRF but with all this tension I am reconsidering.

Charles - RF  

Posted: March 6th, 2011 4:07 PM

@Jan Explain How They Save Money - I am interested to hear how we all can save Money.


Posted: March 6th, 2011 8:49 AM

Not Taking on Unions - that is why Quinn and Harmon are floating this Consolidation idea. How can we save money by not taking on the VERY thing that is crushing budgets. Why - just look at RF police and fire. Those Pensions that are STATE mandated have put RF in a long term deficit position - this cannot be sustained. How can teachers retire at 200K pensions and lifetime heath care paid for my RF taxpayers?

Taxpayer from River Forest  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 9:02 AM

Consolidation does not always save money. If District 90 and 97 were to be combined, we would have a case similar to District 200 where RF taxpayers contribute 25% of the tax revenue, but send only 19% of the students. District 90 is a lean operation and any consolidation would likely result in a tax increase for RF taxpayers.


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 11:58 PM

@Jan if you believe in consolidations (and I agree some could have merit) than you must admit that Townships are a waste of Taxpayer money. The county does ALL that a Township does like those in OP or RF. If the State wants to look at savings -- this is easy pickins. And as you say Jan - "consolidations save money. Wonder why Sen Harmon does not start with Townships?? Do you have any reason why?


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 6:14 PM

Consolidations save money, whether you like the idea or not.

Charles - RF  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 3:18 PM

Robin Hood - A Failure in the Making. Just ask Texas. Harmon is trying to be a big thinker - this is not it. Occasionally, however, there's a policy disaster so catastrophic that everyone agrees that something has to change. California's convoluted attempt to deregulate electricity was one example. Texas's decade-long experiment in school finance equalization -- universally referred to as Robin Hood -- is another. ''In less than a decade, the system is approaching collapse"


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 1:07 PM

The Robin Hood plan was a nickname given to 1993 legislation in Texas to provide mandated equitable school financing for all school districts. Similar to the legend of Robin Hood, the law recaptured property tax revenue from property-wealthy school districts and distributed those in property-poor districts, in an effort to equalize the financing of all districts throughout Texas. 10 years later, this law was modified to allow districts to have discretion in setting higher tax rates. Failed plan.

Concerned Parent   

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 11:02 AM

Judging one person or an entire community based on one article is truly unfair. This issue is not about where you live. It's about the future of our children! There are real issues to discuss regarding District Consolidation. The real issue is that this would impact all the children in Illinois not one community. There are other ways to address the budget,not at the expense of children! We need to focus on a real plan for our children, not waste our energy on name calling!

Union Issue?  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 11:02 AM

Is this the action of someone who doesn't want to confront the unions? -ok, alternative is to consolidate districts?


Posted: March 3rd, 2011 7:46 AM

Bad Idea, Bad Bill! Nothing but show. Harmon needs to LEAD introduce real reform. Reduce/Consolidate Townships - this is an EASY Fix - and REAL Savings. Start there, and show to the TAX payers that consolidation can be done. Much of what Townships do (authorized by State Law)NOW done by Counties. There are more Townships in Illinois that all of the US. Allow creation of regional fire districts and police. Sen Harmon needs to show Leadership - not pandering to Madigan and Qu

John McCarthy from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 12:37 AM

This is just one of those "trial balloons" that will continue to be floated in townships everywhere until reality sets in. The reality is that a major consolidation of taxing bodies in inevitable and necessary. Not to mention LONG overdue. This is true not just for school districts, but for park districts, police & fire depts.,and municipal governments themselves. Just like gay marriage & estate rights, and idiotic marijuana laws, future generations will wonder what all the fuss was about...


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 9:29 PM

Parents who were concerned about the direction of our schools showed up to a Board meeting, listened and voiced opinions. We don't all have to agree on a direction for our schools, but I hope we would not pass judgment on the intentions of parents who took time to attend. Passing such quick judgment is exactly what some of the below residents would object to. I also hope our local press is responsible when reporting on community meetings and not just trying to divide communities and sell papers.

Someone from RF  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:25 PM

Jan, you nailed it. People are always complaining about entitlements others receive. But when it effects what they feel they are entitled to, watch out. Its the "what's good for me is good for me only" attitude. For the record, I am from RF and support the Wisconsin protesters. Its interesting to hear conservatives complaining "its not fair and equal". All of a sudden they become a "socialist" when someone else tells them, here's the new deal, and they realize the control is out of their hands.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:03 PM

Where did the distraction about racism and elitism come from? The issue is about making our schools better for all our kids. And the evidence is clear. Consolidated schools fail (see Miami Dade) and ones that don't consolidate succeed (see Boston). Oh and by the way, consolidation ends up costing school districts more money, as the Trib's own investigation showed. There sure is a lot of anger out there. How about some ideas?!


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 7:56 PM

Laura, the goal is to save money. I do hope all the River Foresters opposing this legislation are supporting teachers in WI. Wanna bet??


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 7:54 PM

I keep hearing people saying the key to fiscal responsibility is to cut administration costs. Cutting 500 superintendents and administration offices sounds like cutting administration costs to me. Illinois has a lot more districts than most states. That said, I doubt any of this will come to pass, but Stay Classy, RF.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 7:29 PM

I don't see anyone saying why consolidation is a good thing here. How is creating ever larger and more inefficient districts (bureaucracies) helping kids? Is the argument just to call anyone who opposes it a racist?


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 6:11 PM

RF voters overwhelmingly elected Quinn who said there is no spending to be cut and then followed with his consolidation plan. RF voters elected a Village Board and school board who say there is absolutely nothing that can be cut from their budgets - nothing. Those who said otherwise were just fear-mongers. Welcome to the real world now - bad bad things, like the consolidation plan are going to keep coming at you. You have lost control of your own destiny and we all deserve what is coming.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 5:42 PM

Keeping property taxes sky high keeps out the "undesirables". If the limousine liberals really cared about minorities they would keep down the property taxes. Instead, they spend money on the schools simultaneously saying that as soon as their kids graduate, they are leaving. Way to build a community guys. Racist in intent? maybe. In practice - for sure. Harmon - RF Frankie?? People buy his ridiculously hypocritical excuse that he has to be a member of the Gestapo to change it. LOL


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 5:27 PM

And this is what really gripes me, "We moved here for the school". Guess what, FP has excellent schools, so what you really mean is "We moved here for the almost minority- free school." My son spent 8 yrs in FP schools and I was exceedingly happy with the education he received, so you either crave an RF address or no diversity. Take your pick!

Sarah from River Forest  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 5:26 PM

I've often wondered by our Dist. 90 and Oak Park's Dist. 97 weren't consolidated, Now I know why: Far too many of my fellow white and wealthy River Forest neighbors are racist snobs who don't want their precious kids to attend schools with African American or Hispanic kids -- or even worse, kids from low-income households. And Don Harmon certainly won't let a good government bill like this get through -- he's turned into a wh*re for the rich. Shame on him and shame on my neighbors.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 5:17 PM

Offensive comments from RF as usual. God forbid anyone not lily white and moneyed set foot on their hallowed ground...and fyi I am white.

RF Frankie  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 5:10 PM

So much for the diversity charade in RF. Can't have our kids mixing with the unwashed masses of Forest Park, or God forbid, Maywood! Kids aren't stupid - they'll get the real message - we only want minorities who can afford $20k property tax bills. As for Don Harmon, this was floated by his caucus - remember what an important person Don is in Springfield now! The spin on this will be Don saved us, ignoring the obvious fact he and his crooked caucus cronies started it in the first place.

Anne from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 4:57 PM

A River Forest parent references "this Robin Hood plan" - meaning state law would allow schoolchildren to "steal" an education from the rich (town), and give to the poor? She shouldn't fret - our political leaders know where their bread is buttered, and the priviledged will continue to be disproportionately protected.

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