Children march in support of D97 referenda

The district has projects around $14 million in cuts if ballot measures fail

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

A few hundred people, mostly current and former District 97 students and their parents, crowded into Scoville Park on Saturday afternoon to show support for the district's two referenda that will appear on the ballot on April 4. 

The first referendum calls for a one percent limiting rate property tax increase that amounts to around $13.3 million that would go toward operating funds to pay for employee salaries, benefits, classroom technology and programs, among other day-to-day expenses. On average taxpayers will see an increase of $74 for every $1,000 they currently pay in property taxes. 

The second referendum calls for the issuance of $57.5 million in school building bonds that would pay for basic maintenance and repair, mandatory life and safety upgrades, classroom modernizations and building expansions at three elementary schools, among other capital expenses. District officials have said that this capital referenda will not increase taxes due to the expiration of bonds that were used to help pay for the construction of Julian and Brooks middle schools in 2002.  

Last month, district officials laid out a worst-case scenario if both referenda fail that entails making at least $14 million in cuts over three years, which would mean the elimination of dozens of teachers, support staff, teacher librarians and most non-essential programming like music, foreign language and art. Many basic building maintenance operations and proposed building expansions and classroom modernization will be put on hold.  

The many past and present D97 students who spoke during the March 18 demonstration expressed anxiety with the proposed cuts and delivered testimonials about the importance of those non-essential programs.  

"My life would not be the same if it weren't for the arts," said Paul Berleman, a Julian 6th grader. "Every day, I look forward to going to school, singing in chorus and going to Bravo afterward."

Josh Czuba, a former Brooks student and current sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest, recalled his first audition with Bravo, the performing arts program at Brooks.

"I walked in and learned so much more in that one moment about being able to work with others to create something incredible," he said. "I learned so much about taking risks, choosing to be a leader and creating positive change in yourself and the people around you." 

Emmy Belmont, a 1st grader at Irving, took to an elevated podium to list all of her favorite subjects, many of which district officials say would be cut if the referenda don't pass.

"My favorite classes are Spanish, arts and computer labs," she said. "When I am in middle school, I want to do tap and put on plays. Support our schools."  

After an hour-long rally inside Scoville Park, the crowd walked west on Lake Street and back, chanting, "Whose schools? Our Schools!"  

Jassen Strokosch, a representative with the pro-referendum group Ref Yes, said that the gathering was the result of roughly two weeks of planning by parents and students.  

"It was mainly students and parents, they sort of did this on their own," he said. "It was a sort of grassroots effort that led to this." 

Strokosch said that the district officials, who by law are prohibited from advocating for or against the referendum, had nothing to do with the planning. There were, however, at least two District 97 school board members in attendance — Board Vice President Amy Felton and board member Holly Spurlock.

"The most important reason for the referendum is our kids," said Spurlock, whose daughter attends school in the district. "I am so happy to see all these kids here … It's really important that we're all here making this decision together as a community. We all support public education."

Contact:
Email: michael@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 26th, 2017 10:21 PM

https://d97factcheck.com If you are looking for some good information, here is an excellent resource.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 26th, 2017 1:19 PM

Nick: I chose Evanston because it is considered our "sister" city in terms of ideology, economic diversity, racial diversity, etc. When we seek a comparitor high school (to OPRF) the first school that comes to mind is Evanston HS. Hey it ain't just me, I've seen this done all the time by "officials" seeking apple to apple comparisons. Your point about D65 is thought provoking. And in response I say: "yes you would think, wouldn't you?" Why indeed?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 26th, 2017 8:46 AM

@Bruce - I question whether Evanston D65 is an actual peer district. D65 has 2 magnet schools, a behavioral school, and a special ed school for students up to age 22. Yet D65's operating expense per pupil is only $200 more than D97. You'd think with all those specialized services, it would be much higher.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 8:03 PM

Tom, I agree. It is very bad indeed. What the supporters of this referendum don't seem to realize or acknowledge is that equity does not end at the school doors - but must exist within the community as a whole. This outrageous confiscatory tax is simply inequitable. It is disgraceful. And when Ben raises the issue of D97 peer districts, the one and only truly peer district comparator is D65 - Evanston - and we pale in comparison in terms of transparency and financial stewardship. How does D97 with 1,400 (23%) fewer students than D65 justify asking for approximately (92%) the same amount of extra dollars to cover "loss of state payments" and "growth in enrollment" when the larger district - D65 - hasn't benefited from a recent referendum like ours has? In my opinion D97 has been poor stewards with our tax dollars. Vote NO!

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 1:55 PM

@BC. Do I understand this earlier comment correctly: "@Dori - the sub admin position replaced another position that was eliminated, so no additional FTE."? Are you saying that the "sub admin position" is currently empty or doesn't even exist? I ask because many people told me that this position was "gifted" simply because, well, the board didn't want the Lincoln principal to return and so, because it's not their money, in order to bulk up her pension, "gifted" this job to her. Is this true? And in the same breath people are saying how "frugal" this board is? If this is evidence of D97 "frugality," then a NO vote today - followed by vetting by a new board and the community - is TRULY necessary of D97 finances. Please, please, tell me that that I am mistaken. Or is this another "it's for the children" thing and I'm cruelly voting against the Scoville Park kids in the above photos?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 12:53 PM

Responding to one of Ben's 50 posts here, where he says "all families with kids in D97 schools will suffer, but some more than others". YES, the 18% of kids whose parents qualify as poverty level at D97 will suffer more when their rent is jacked up $90 a month because of the Referendum. Taking money from the poor to pay for tap dance lessons, drawing classes and more elaborate Bravo stage productions is bad. Saying you are doing it for the kids is worse. Open your eyes, its not a crisis when a few luxuries are not being provided.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 6:57 AM

Regarding the FTE increase over the last 30 years... that's a fair question, and in my view there's a good answer. Quite a bit has changed during that time. Examples include (1) technology, (2) full-day kindergarten, (3) foreign language in the elementary schools, (4) introduction of the IB program, (5) new special ed teachers and specialists to both comply with law and to maintain the level of support to this program that parents of special ed kids would expect. Some of these initiatives are driven by the Board's equity efforts, some by law, and others by just the demands of the modern classroom. If you question these responses and/or whether these new hires were necessary/required, the best way to assess is to compare D97 to peer districts. It's important to note that D97's spend-per-student is within 7% of the peer group average. See slide 43, here: http://www.op97.org/d97referenda/documents/ExpandedReferendaPresentation.PDF

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 6:46 AM

Bridgett, happy to explain. I asked Bruce what time frame he was looking at. He said "By the way Ben, my earlier post (@ 08:26) quite clearly addresses your question as related to specific epochs and FTE utilization in relation to enrollment." So, I looked to his 8:26 post and he only cited three years. He does list them as "examples," but given that he says his post "clearly" addresses the time frame, I have to assume that's what he was referencing.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 2:02 AM

Hi Ben, Can you explain your comment to Bruce about picking three years out of 30? I'm looking at the chart from the link he posted, and I don't understand your comment. Over the last 28 years, according to the chart available on D97's website, comparing 1989/90 with 2016/17, enrollment has increased 28%, and Full Time Equivalent employees have increase 65%. That's what can be extrapolated from the data.//I have looked at the same chart, as I asked D97 if they had data on enrollment going back at least 20 years, because 10 years is not sufficient for proper analysis. I was sent a link to this chart, and I too noticed that FTEs have increased at more than double the rate of enrollment. Payroll is the highest expense of most any organization. So this is something that is important to look at for any budget.// So while it's alarming when I hear that if the operating referendum doesn't pass, that 20% of teachers & staff will be cut I can understand the perspective of asking: Why do we have the numbers of staff/teachers that we have in the first place? What is the bigger picture, and can all these positions be justified? What is different in 2017 than in 1990, which would require FTEs to more than double the enrollment rate?//And just to add some further detail: The staff cuts of 80-90 would reduce the budget by $6-9M, while not replacing the 26 retiring teachers would reduce the budget by $4M.//So looping back to my original question, I don't understand your picking-three-years comment. Thanks.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 12:15 AM

@Bruce - I think it's safe to say we have fundamentally different perspectives on the role privilege plays in success in life. I'll leave it at that, because I doubt we'll see eye to eye on the matter. Hope you're enjoying the trophy.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2017 12:10 AM

Hi Dori - Given your response, I'm realizing I did a bad job explaining. I'd encourage you to reach out to the Board for a better understanding of the position. Their contact information is here: http://www.op97.org/BOE/Contact.cfm. In terms of your comment regarding the salary, I'm reluctant to weigh in. Personally, I prefer to have an understanding of the job description and its relevant responsibilities before opining on a public forum as to whether the salary is an appropriate level.

Dori Bernstein  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 9:12 PM

@Ben Does D97 needs a Super Sub for $83,000 to fill in when the regular substitutes pull out at the last minute? If D97 had to they could find a more financially responsible solution.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:43 PM

@Dori - the sub admin position replaced another position that was eliminated, so no additional FTE. BTW, if you're concerned about whether this was a prudent hire, I'd encourage you to reach out to a Board member or, frankly, any of the teachers. My (very limited) understanding from talking to teachers is that historically the sub situation created real problems. Subs would pull out last minute, and schools would be left scrambling to fill the classrooms. More often than not, specials teachers (librarians, music teachers, art teachers, and in some instances, even the principals) are pulled into the classroom so the children are not left unattended. Then, it creates a ripple effect where every class that was supposed to visit that specials class that day has to fill the specials period. By the way, if the referenda fail, there will be no more specials teachers... Again, my understanding of the situation is very surface, so I'd encourage you to do your own research before forming a conclusion. (I don't think the Board materials you've cited truly provide an accurate picture.)

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:39 PM

Well Ben soon the citizens of Oak Park will decide this issue - as it should be. As an aside, I often make fun of the "everybody gets a trophy" culture amongst our young kids and their parents (I remember those days well from my youth soccer coaching year)...that's the so called participation trophy. But I sense you agree to some extent with me and Woody: just showing up is really, really important for "success" in life. Our family imperatives made it essential that we showed up.(of course once you showed up you had to perform, but showing up - like Woody said - was essential).

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:18 PM

@Bruce. You're correct, your 8:26 am post did appear to pick three of thirty years to make your point. I have a suspicion of why you chose those three and disregarded the rest, but I'll let others draw their own conclusion.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:14 PM

@Bruce - I'm glad that your family values education, and from your description, it sounds like it served you well. I similarly come from a very fortunate background where my parents had enough resources and valued quality education, so I was given quite a bit of a head start as compared to my peers. I'd like to think I'm where I am because of hard work, but to be honest, it wasn't as hard given my starting point. Not every family in my hometown had the same resources, and many kids struggled to keep up. I suspect our community is the same. If the referenda fail, all families with kids in D97 schools will suffer, but some more than others.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 7:32 PM

Tom, you cut to the chase on that one. I absolutely agree with you and why this NO vote is essential in restoring financial sanity here in Oak Park and at D97.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 6:39 PM

The argument that education is not valued unless it is given unlimited blank check quantities of additional tax dollars makes no sense. Value comes from not spending more than you need to. We can provide all the education essentials and not increase taxes, but it takes better management and less spending on nice-to-have luxuries. No one is going to manage the schools better unless they have to, so a NO vote sets that in motion. They can moan, blame others -- but they also can adjust and thrive with less. Marching for a crisis of cancelled tap dance lessons and art classes is the ultimate spoiled behavior.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 6:13 PM

Ben: Interesting argument you make. I presented data not only over thirty years but @ my 08:26 post addressed a specific recent epoch. I say your argument is extraordinarily interesting because in many respects one could argue just the opposite: with advanced technology FTEs/enrollment should decrease NOT increase over time. As far as respect for education well you grew up in Kentucky ... I grew up in NY in a sectarian Jewish household which as you might expect revered education and scholarship. Me? I'm one of only two physicians in the country with board certification in anesthesiology, internal medicine, cardiology and critical care medicine. Does that make me a genius? Far from it. It just confirms what Woody Allen said: 90% of success is showing up, and I showed up a lot and I revered education as much as you did! (Hey, I didn't finish residency and fellowship till I was 34 yrs old). But that being said, learning how to think critically is part of education. And in my opinion D97 arguments just do not hold up to critical analysis. I also think - sad to say - that people like me, and you, and this community in general - who value education - can and are taken advantage of by school districts who know we can never say NO to anything they request because of our high regard for education and the guilt it will ensue if we in fact say no. It's similar psychology to the kidnapper asking a loved one for a ransom for his victim. How can you possibly say no? As another highly (self) educated skeptical Jew once said (and I paraphrase): "all government bodies lie." (Izzy Stone). But Ben ultimately the beauty of our system is If this community believes as you do, and agrees with D97's argument then the referenda will pass. On the other hand if they believe as I, then it won't. Its as simple as that. And that is as it should be.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 4:59 PM

@JS. "but not why you think the comparison is apples to oranges." I thought my post/point was self evident and I apologize if it was not. Your initial post concluded with "Oak Park residential property taxes are about average." And you based that on tax RATES. It is NOT true, though, that OP TAXES "are about normal." A closer apples/apples would be to compare Evanston and Oak Park. Per your site, the Evanston tax rate was 9.7 and OP was 12.3. OP did not "fall in the middle" for the Chicagoland area - it was at the very high end. Further, all of those "higher" communities had home values much lower than OP. Translated: they pay A LOT less per house (OP combines high prop values with high tax rates). I therefore disagree with your conclusions and strongly believe that it is incumbent to vote no today and get this right - before the goose with golden eggs is killed.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 4:49 PM

@Bruce - I actually grew up in Kentucky where they didn't invest in education, so I hope you'll forgive my struggle. I specified the time frame I was looking at: 2011-present. Are you suggesting we go back 30 years and look at the actions of those Board members? Also, computers didn't exist in 1989, which means at least two things: (a) they didn't need technology instruction, and (b) sadly, the WJ comment section didn't exist. Education (and state/federally mandated teaching positions) have evolved significantly in that time period. I don't know if I could cover it in 2000 characters, but I think that much is obvious.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 4:34 PM

By the way Ben, my earlier post (@ 08:26) quite clearly addresses your question as related to specific epochs and FTE utilization in relation to enrollment. The financial resolution - if you call it that - with a principal who voluntarily resigned her position and now wanted to come back for pension purposes shows beyond a shadow of doubt the lack of regard D97 has for the tax payer. And the focus on State dysfunction - while convenient - mathematically can not account in any way for the whole or even a major part of D97's budget woes. To imply otherwise is startling..

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 4:10 PM

Hey Ben: These (https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39571135) are the raw numbers from D97 itself (pg 9). So, Ben, take out your little calculator and do the math yourself. If you bothered to do this little exercise in basic arithmetic ?" you don't need to know calculus to get this right by the way - you would see that over the years depicted in the table there has indeed been an increase of 28% student enrollment accompanied by a 65% increase in FTE (Oh, I originally said 24% and 68%, my apologies). So those are the numbers. It is indisputable evidence of bloat and inefficiency. And since 2012, the State (until this year where the State has recommitted to pay 100% of its obligations) has reimbursed D97 at 90% of it's commitment (http://www.op97.org/d97referenda/How-did-we-get-here.cfm) In no way do those numbers support a community busting confiscatory tax. Vote NO!

Jim Svehla  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 4:02 PM

I well understand the math you cited and don't dispute it, Michael. You address how tax RATES work but not why you think the comparison is apples to oranges. And I'm not arguing for or against the tax rate or the referendum at this time only stating that the residential tax rate in Oak Park is roughly the median for the metropolitan area.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 3:22 PM

Utilizing tax rates is truly an apples/oranges exercise. I'll explain. Say that the median home is $75K in Maywood and $350K in OP. In order to raise $10,000, the tax RATE in Maywood would be about 14.0, but around 3.0 in OP. Yes, I know that the "assessed value" from the county is not the actual market price, but the logic is the same.

Dori Bernstein  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 3:21 PM

Here is one example of D97's failure to be good financial stewards. The February 28, 2017 D97 School Board Minutes (https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=40231280) show that :D97 intends to appoint someone as District Administrator for Substitutes and Teaching Assistants for the 2017-2018 contract year, with an annual salary of $83,000. This position was not budgeted in 2016 (http://www.op97.org/business-office/documents/9CompensationILCS510-20.47FY16a.pdf). With this enormous tax referendum, I would expect D97 to tighten their belts, not add new administrative positions. Will this position end in a few years when the new Administrator has maximum pension? It's nice D97 can afford to take care of their friends, but taxpayers should not be expected to shoulder make work jobs for people that need financial help. Who has been scheduling the substitutes all this time?

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 3:11 PM

@JS. Once D97 wins their ref in 3/18 they will receive a large sum of money about one month after the 6/30/18 date which I referenced. If, for whatever reason, they perceive a potential shortfall between those dates - they can sell "tax anticipation warrants" for very, very low interest rates. We therefore have ample time to review this info and get it right in 2018. Next question? What I'd also like to know, though, is why did D97 have high/static end-year balances in 2012-2015 and then the numbers began dramatically falling? See page 12: http://www.op97.org/communications/documents/D97ReferendumPresentation-12-6-16.pdf. This can't be attributed to minor shortfalls from the state.

Jim Svehla  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 12:58 PM

Most people in most places believe their taxes are high. I hear all the time that our real estate taxes are among the highest in the state. That often gets accepted at face value but runs counter to what I often see. So I went looking for context and was able to find the following article and data: http://www.chicagotribune.com/ct-compare-your-property-tax-rate-database-20151111-htmlstory.html I haven't independently verified all of this but it's a pretty straight forward database. The Oak Park residential rate falls in the middle for the area. I'm not arguing here that is should be higher or lower, just that Oak Park residential property taxes are about average.

James Hall  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 11:53 AM

It depends on the cost.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 10:40 AM

@Jeff - Thanks for sending the revised link. @Bruce, explain to me how FTE percentage growth outstripped student growth from 2011 (the time the referendum was last held) until now? I don't follow the math. I see you've selected a few years that support your position, but you've ignored those years that don't. Or am I misinterpreting? I'm looking at the deck you provided, and the slide you cited. @James - I'm not an ADA expert, but my understanding is that the law grandfathers certain older buildings from the accessibility requirements. About half of the D97 schools are grandfathered, and as a result remain (legally) inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Okay by you?

James Hall  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 9:49 AM

Sure Ben. ADA accessibility is a requirement by law. We should follow those laws. Any other pressing questions?

Jeff Evans from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 9:23 AM

Fixed link from below: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39571135

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 9:21 AM

@James - glad to know where you stand on those issues. Willing to go on the record regarding the need for ADA accessibility?

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 9:09 AM

Link does not work. Please re-post.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:26 AM

Ben, in answer to the question about the FTE vs Enrollment figures, look here https://v3.boardbookorg/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39571135 (page 9) - from this chart, as one example, enrollment grew by 38 students from 13/14 thru 15/16 and during that same period FTE grew by 15.5 positions - that's more than 15 new hires to serve 38 new students. In fact, from 14/15 to 15/16, enrollment dropped yet FTE's increased by 4.5 positions. Fortunately that slowed down over the past year - so kudos for that. But then again, when the board decides to create a new position in the district administration to provide a job for a popular principal who resigned and then wanted her job back so she could get a larger pension, well, that just furthers the impression that there is bloat in the system. As to your comments on state aid, that $9 million shortfall over 5 years is about $1.8 m/year - a fairly trivial amount inn the context of a $61.34 million annual budget. And the state has promised FULL PAYMENT for 2017.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:10 AM

@Ben I would hesitate to cite to the WJs opinion on anything. Bear in mind Dan and Ken supported a tax increase for the "obscene overtaxing" high school a few months ago.

James Hall  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 8:08 AM

Regardless of Ben Conley's opinions, the taxes in Oak Park are already extremely high. And yes Ben, if the budget is truly in crisis, we should get rid of some librarians, art teachers, and music teachers. Thanks for these suggestions. Maybe you are catching on.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 6:49 AM

On what do you base your opinion, Bruce? Because what you've cited are not the facts. Here are the facts: "According to district data provided by Chris Jasculca, District 97's senior director of policy, planning and communication, the district's full-time personnel have grown by approximately 19 percent over the last 10 years while student enrollment has grown by approximately 23 percent during the same period of time." http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/3-21-2017/Residents-debate-D97-referenda-at-Journal-session/ "Since 2012, the state has only been making partial General State Aid payments on an annual basis, which has cost our schools approximately $9 million in anticipated revenue to date. Based on our current operating spending per pupil, we could educate nearly 650 children in a year with those funds." http://www.op97.org/d97referenda/How-did-we-get-here.cfm And here is the WJ's opinion: "we see a school district that has spent wisely, implemented the most fiscally and educationally progressive faculty contract this town has seen and, when compared to the past obscene overtaxing which still rightly hounds the high school, has been a study in fiscal accountability." http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/3-21-2017/WJ-Endorsements:-D97-referenda/

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 24th, 2017 1:12 AM

We can safely vote No, Mike, because D97 is full of it. As someone who has worked in both private and public sectors, the tell tale signs of bloat at D97 are overwhelming. First red flag: 24% increase in student enrollment accompanied by a 68% increase in FTEs. Second, the continued demonization of the state as the source of all of D97 woes. Woe is me. That's total BS. The state has met 90% of its financial commitments to D97 over the past few years (since 2012) and is committed as of Feb 2017 to fulfill 100% of its financial obligations. All smoke and mirrors, basically hiding, in my opinion, incompetence and bloat. The D97 proposed tax increase is outrageous, confiscatory, and community destroying. Vote NO!

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 10:48 PM

@Michael Well there is where we definitely don't see eye-to-eye. I don't agree it is "safe" to take the district down to a fund balance that represents less than three weeks of operating funds. Late payments from the state (common) or any number of factors could easily require the District to borrow funds just to make payroll. "Isn't that the Oak Park way?" I think the Oak Park way will be decided on April 4th when we cast our votes. Regardless of the outcome, I hope to see you involved sharing your ideas.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 10:46 PM

@Ben - To be honest, what exactly was the WJ expecting from the opposition? I went to 2 referenda sessions, and in both they said their proposals took over a YEAR to compile, including local input from financial experts (FORC). Any opposition would be a an ad-hoc, grassroots effort with minimal time to provide detailed alternatives, which makes Bridgette and Co's efforts regarding the pool last year seem so remarkable. Plus the opposition doesn't have $10K burning a hole in their back pocket like the Committee to Support Oak Park Schools. That said, I left those referenda sessions extremely impressed with the current D97 board. I think they have been vigilant and done their vetting. I may not agree with some of their conclusions and comparisons, but they are reasonable. Their stewardship is not the problem. When this referendum passes (I think the operational one will; bonds, not so sure), it will signify a tipping point in the village. The state's not coming to help, and if they ever do, it will only be a shell game.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 9:45 PM

"When Wednesday Journal invited critics of these referenda in to make their case, there was not any clear, organized opposition to the added tax, just a suggestion that the vote be delayed a year through defeating the referendum to allow further financial review. Running the cash balance to break even, however, is no way to run a complex educational program in our opinion." http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/3-21-2017/WJ-Endorsements:-D97-referenda/

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 9:34 PM

@JS. But my point is that we can safely vote NO today and then, after support that goes beyond the small/insulated community of parents that show up at board meetings.....we can have a much better plan in one year. Isn't that the Oak Park way?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 9:31 PM

@Susan - The State Education Commission Report states "It will take a minimum of $3.5 billion more over the next decade for schools to REACH an adequacy level for funding. If the state wants to pick up more of the tab for funding education, it could take an additional $2.5 billion." The first part of that sentence pertains to poor districts, the last part is everyone (ie D97). By using the word "reach", I assume they mean we need to eventually get to a point where the state is paying an additional $3.5 + $2.5 billion EVERY YEAR to fund education. If so, that's an extra $6 billion needed to impact D97 funding and maybe lower property taxes. To put that in layman's terms, that would equate to a 1.50% increase in the income tax rate with ALL that extra money going to schools. So you're at 5.25% state income tax, and you haven't addressed social services, higher ed, billions in unpaid bills, and nearly $200 billion in pension and retiree health care liabilities...each one begging for money. Hence, my 7% target rate. So to answer your question...no, nothing will come of that report unless Springfield has planted magical money trees. Sadly, they view us as that money tree.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 6:49 PM

@Michael...yes, the plan for those cuts are phased in. $14M in cuts don't happen on April 5th if the referenda fail. What cuts take place are ultimately up to the new Board and significant community input will, i am sure, continue to be a part of those discussion as it has over the last year. I know I will continue to be a those Board meetings. But to be clear, the math doesn't change with a new set of Board members. We know what the revenue problem will be without a referenda. That doesn't change. And we know what the fund balances are and what level they need to restore them to. No amount of discussion, with a failed referenda, changes those variables.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 6:24 PM

@JS. I appreciate your comments, but I have two points to add: your 5:40 post discussed "that cuts have been made" - I'd be grateful if you told us what they were (and Fast Forward doesn't count)? Second: you make it seem as if a No vote today equals a $14M cut tomorrow. You are aware that D97 figures show that $4M is in savings on 6/30/18 (more than a year from today) and so it's simply not true that ANY CUTS would be necessary tomorrow. And then in the next nine months the new board and the community has the time to do some serious vetting of the budget. We are a bright and patient community and voting NO today reflects those virtues.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 5:51 PM

just a reminder about tonight's PROPERTY TAX FORUM hosted by Sen. Don Harmon and OP Twp Assessor Ali ElSaffar at the 19th Century Club from 7 PM - 9 PM (178 Forest Ave, just north of Lake St. and the Vantage building) http://www.oakparktownship.org/news/march-23rd-2017-public-forum-property-taxes

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 5:40 PM

@James Hall....I think we understand that cuts have been made. The referenda is exactly that, a chance for the voters to decide if we want more cuts. If we need to cut $14M out of the budget, we know what that looks like (arts, foreign language, larger class sizes, etc.) and for some voters, that is ok. For others it is not. We the voters get to choose. It is a great way for everyone to have their say on April 4th.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 5:33 PM

@Lisa, I am sorry that happened. Nobody on the RefYes team in any way condones such actions. We have worked very hard with our volunteers to make sure they treat everyone with respect regardless of how they are voting and to acknowledge that this is a tough ask and that many voters will simply disagree.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 5:31 PM

@Kevin...to be clear, "For those who claim the State is only paying a portion of the legislated General State Aid" are making that claim on fact. Paying 100% of this year doesn't make up for or change the lack of previous payments.

Lisa Saxon Reed from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 5:07 PM

A 12 year old boy just tried to take my neighbors "vote no" sign. I think he saw me which is he did not try and take my sign. I asked him 2x if he had permission to do so. He said he did not and then returned it. Wow. Let's keep it clean out there. The 4 "no" signs on my block are our right. Just like the right to rally is your right.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 4:41 PM

For those who claim the State is only paying a portion of the legislated General State Aid, that is no longer true. It paid 100% this year. Follow this link to the State Board of Education: https://www.isbe.net/Documents/gsa_overview.pdf

Susan Raphael  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 4:05 PM

@Nick Binotti- Do you think anything will come out of that State Education Commission Report called forth by Rauner that was released in early February?

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 3:21 PM

.....like libraries, music, art, foreign language, ADA accessibility and air conditioning?

James Hall  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 2:46 PM

I think Ben Conley and D97 are having a hard time understanding that cuts need to be made. They are too focused on spending other peoples money on unnecessary programs.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 12:44 PM

For those using the state as an alibi, it's time to find a new excuse. The state can not and will not be able to fund education for Oak Park children. When Illinois finally gets around to raising its income tax rate to 5% this year, OP97 will probably recover that 10 cents we're owed (see Bruce's comment), but that's it. If you add another 1% to that income tax rate, D97 will see a bump, but the majority of that money will be consumed by the "poor" districts. To get the state to "properly" fund D97 would require an income tax rate of 7% or greater. In other words, OP resident will have to pay an extra $3,000+ in state income taxes with maybe a small (if any) property tax reduction. Remember, in the end, it's always about OVERALL tax burden. A hike in one rate without an equal deduction in another will not help. It's way past time for Harmon and Lilly to represent us and get a larger piece of the Springfield pie. OP and its counterparts simply cannot carry the state any longer. The only other way the ship is righted is if Durbin and pals lobby the Feds to allow states to file bankruptcy. Harmon should be pressing Durbin for this as well. Absent that reset button, our situation will not change.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 9:29 AM

@ B Kline. This current front page article on the Trib says it all: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-census-population-loss-met-20170322-story.html. What do I mean? OP is fiddling while Chicagoland and Illinois are slowly burning. People are fleeing for a variety of reasons but one is very, very high taxes. As one gets older (and the kids are gone) it becomes harder and harder to rationalize staying And so a few of the slowly boiling frogs are starting to jump - and this is BEFORE the 10% overall increase hits. How many more times will we say "thank you sir, may I have another?" when Albion-types want in (and dangle before us more taxes.....which NEVER lead to any relief!)?

Kyle P. Eichenberger  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 8:28 AM

Bruce, I can't speak for others but my two D97 kids were asked if they wanted to go to the march last weekend and it was their own choosing. Most of the speakers were kids who were using their own words about how the loss of music and the arts will impact them negatively. These kids are out there trying to make sure they get a good education despite the decision being in the hands of adults. I was happy to see each and every one of them. They're not being "brought out"...they're fighting for their right to a good school.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 8:20 AM

non-essential kind of says it all perfectly. Lets vote NO to non-essential spending.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 11:38 PM

@Bruce, your statement that "no one from D97 can explain" a reduction in fund balances after FY16 is interesting. Revenue leveled out and declined while student enrollment went up so the district served more children with less money. If you take a look at the slides starting at around slide 22 on the District website (http://www.op97.org/d97referenda/documents/ExpandedReferendaPresentation.PDF) that might help. Or, if you contact any Board member, they would be happy to walk you through it in detail. I have heard this questioned answered at 5 or 6 of the information forums so I am sure they would be happy to give more details than are in the deck I linked to. If you don't have their emails addresses, you can find them here (http://www.op97.org/BOE/Contact.cfm). I hope that helps.

Jassen Strokosch  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 11:27 PM

@Bruce, I have seen you quote the FTE numbers a few times. Help me out with where that number comes from? Based on the data from the Districts 2016-17 personnel and student data report (https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39571135) it looks like FTEs grew by about 19 percent over the last 10 years, while enrollment grew by approximately 23 percent. And since the referendum in 2011, FTEs grew 7.3 percent, while enrollment grew approximately nine percent.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 10:33 PM

Hey Ben I agree its' not unfair to use the kids in a March. After all all's fair in love, war and politics. And if you got an "advantage" well use it. But bringing out the "kiddies" is - in my opinion - always the last refuge of true believers who lack the ability to couch their argument in solid facts and critical analysis. It is indeed a cynical move. Stop blaming everything on the State. Granted the State is a convenient punching bag. But in fact, the State - according to D97 - pays 90 cents on the dollar (http://www.op97.org/d97referenda/How-did-we-get-here.cfm). That means the state is withholding from D97  $1.53 million. That is a small fraction of the total D97 budget. So cut the crap, and sob stories and put the blame where it belongs: on a spendthrift, financially incompetent D97. And how's this: that no one from D97 can explain: it is only since FY 2016 that the operating fund balance starts to nosedive. Everything is fine prior to that - FY 16 - despite the fact that the State's contribution to this is small and the increased student enrollment is a mere 3% in 2016. So D97 can not explain this other than to blame everything on the state, that is clear BS.. And then of course there is this little inconvenient fact: a 24% student enrollment over the years accompanied by a 68% increase in FTEs. Yeah, the truth is so inconvenient, isn't it? When the truth is damning, bring out the cute little kids. Because D97 got nothing else to bring out. Oh yeah I forgot. They brought out the usual "sky is falling" routine. I urge everyone to Vote NO! on this outrageous, confiscatory, unethical, and unecesary tax.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 9:37 AM

Yes, but I'm not talking about the year leading up to the (next) referendum. I'm talking about the size of the referendum and the consequences of a smaller referendum, which is what you seem to be taking issue with. D97 has said (whether you believe them or not), that this is the amount of money we need to maintain services at the level Oak Park residents have come to expect. If your point is that they should be asking for less money, my point is that asking for less money would inherently lead to significant staff cuts (scaled to the amount of the reduction in the ask). So inherently the Board would be forced to pick winners and losers, and while a smaller referendum might save the arts, the District might still be forced to cut music. The number here wasn't pulled out of a hat. The Board has put thousands of hours into studying the issue. By the way, the Board considered a smaller ask(and a larger ask) already, but determined that it would lead to significant cuts and would force the Board to operate in violation of ISBE standards. You can see the consequences of a smaller ask in their December Board materials.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 9:13 AM

I was not being flippant either. I do not pretend it will be easy, but then again, I didn't create this problem. I presume that the 20% administration costs will bear a higher percentage of the cuts. I presume that some open staff positions will not be filled. Some will need to be, but not all. D97 will have to run lean for a year until a more reasonable referendum can pass.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 9:04 AM

So enlighten me - what will happen? I'm not being sarcastic here - I'm genuinely curious as to how the math would work. I see a budgetary gap with most of the budget devoted to teacher salary and benefits. If there is no new revenue - where will the cuts come from? Perhaps not 1 to 1 in terms of size of referendum and cuts (see my use of the term "roughly"), but there will certainly be significant cuts if there is less revenue than what the Board has brought to the table. The alternative is cuts to educational programs, which is also bad, but which only make up a much smaller fraction of the budget, so you'd still have to go back to teacher cuts. And re: attrition, why that helps? If the school's only music teacher retires, and they don't hire a new music teacher, isn't that pretty much the same thing as a cut? Again, sincere questions here - I'm just having trouble following your argument.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 8:46 AM

@Ben you presume that cuts will affect staff proportionally. Which will undoubtedly not happen. You also forget that many/most "cuts" will be by attrition.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 8:25 AM

If no additional revenue is received or no major cuts are made, the district runs out of cash next year. The amount of cuts needed to balance the budget and restore the fund balance to even a 15% level ?" still 10 % lower than ISBE recommendation ?" is roughly 20% of the staff by fall 2018. 80% of the budget is salaries and benefits. So, even if the Board came back with an ask that was 50% of the original ask, that still means cuts to roughly 10% of the staff.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 7:47 AM

@Stephanie - speaking for myself, I am not confident that all these cuts will actually happen. Either way, it is not my fault D97 overreached. My expectation is that if the referendum fails, they will come back next year with a more moderate and nuanced request. And I plan to vote yes then.

Stephanie WP  

Posted: March 22nd, 2017 6:05 AM

Those of you voting no--you are okay with all of the cuts that will happen?

Kristen McKenny Lee  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 10:31 PM

@Chris - I get that - I was just trying to say that the decreased money from the state impacts the amount they are asking for.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 10:16 PM

@Kristen - again, I am not questioning the need for the referendum, only the amount. Everyone is taking a hit because of the state budget mess. Not to mention I also have an objection to the retroactive tax increase for 2016.

Kristen McKenny Lee  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 9:53 PM

@Chris, you are leaving out the millions of dollars the district isn't getting from the state that they are owed. Its not just increased enrollment, its the combination of decreasing revenue at the same time. They also knew at the 2011 referendum that they would have to come back in the future, they just anticipated it would be a few years from now. Unfortunately then the funding from the state was cut and enrollment increased and they had to push it earlier.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 9:12 PM

@Ben Actually the district admit enrollment has only gone up 10% since the last referendum (2011). They are seeking a 25% increase. And remember that doesn't count the annual 1-2% increases they can do without a vote. I accept there must be a referendum but they are asking too much. And I say this as one whose kids will soon be in D97. Source: http://www.op97.org/communications/documents/D97Referenda.pdf

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 7:17 PM

One young marcher went unnoticed: Kindergartner Joe. Kindergartner Joe marched next to his 18 year-old future self, who was out $20,000 because his parents had to divert 13 years worth of college savings deposits towards this property tax hike instead. Marching next to 18 year-old future Joe was 32 year-old future Joe, whose own retirement fund was out $37,000 from having to instead pay off that student loan incurred as a result of that tax hike. Finally, there was 67 year-old future Joe, never having known the joys of compounded interest, lamenting the $400,000 lost at the time of what would have been his retirement, all from a mere 13 years of just one taxing body raising taxes. But he could carry a tune...to his job bagging groceries that will substitute for the retirement dream that never came to be.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 6:50 PM

I guess it would be helpful if someone could explain why it's unfair for the impact on kids to be part of the discussion? Inherent in a referendum on elementary/middle school funding is the potential impact on the children who attend those schools. Of course, those cuts have to be balanced against the impact on the taxpayers, which is not insignificant. But I don't think anyone is arguing that it's unfair to bring the impact on taxpayers into the discussion (and to the extent they are, I disagree with that argument). By the way, I'm sure folks saw the WJ piece on the referendum, but there was one pertinent piece regarding D97's fiscal prudence that I thought was worth reiterating here: "Taxpayers in D97 have benefitted from a decidedly frugal and progressive school board over the past 15 years. While critics will point, with reason, to a misguided expenditure such as the half-million-dollar FastForward software expenditure, we'd say such misfires have been rare in this district. Instead, we see a school district that has spent wisely, implemented the most fiscally and educationally progressive faculty contract this town has seen and, when compared to the past obscene overtaxing which still rightly hounds the high school, has been a study in fiscal accountability."

Brian Souders  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 5:48 PM

I always hate when people use their kids to try and make a point. Like a few years ago the parents having their kids pose with signs in front of the tree they didn't want cut down. Ugh. Did the parents show their kids their friends standing next to them who will be moving away because their parents cant afford Oak Park taxes any longer? (I know...I know...this is Oak Park and these little ones are very well-versed on school funding and tax policy.)

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 4:07 PM

@James - Evanston, Berwyn, Wheaton, and LaGrange are all in the same situation due to state funding. Also budget mismanagement? Your comment was a bit light on substance (heavy on meaningful, quality zingers though) so I'm not sure of the basis for your argument. @Chris - enrollment has increased by 25%. It costs $13k to educate each student for one year. Also, add to that the state that Illinois has only paid 89 cents for every dollar promised, and from my perspective it's unsurprising the level of "ask" from D97. No less painful, but in my view justified. By the way, I don't think anyone's suggesting that persons voting against the referendum are anti-art, libraries, foreign language or music. But, the result of a failed referendum will be decimation/elimination of those programs. So regardless of the reason for the "no" vote, it's worth reiterating those consequences.

James Hall  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 3:33 PM

Ben Conley needs to get a grip on reality if he thinks this is not budgetary mismanagement. The familiar cry of "It's for the children!" is the only argument the D97 groupies can come up with.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 2:06 PM

Kristen, your parents were right: money doesn't grow on trees. That's why it's necessary to vote NO today and Yes in one year (the next election). The children/parents of OP are being held hostage to a spending plan (and subsequent scare tactics) which has not been properly vetted. After the election you can then ask Don Harmon (#2 in the IL Senate for a long time and an OP resident) why he's been alright that Illinois is the financial laughingstock of the country? Finally, Ms Alten,, as D97 acknowledges, this is not the highest enrollment ever, but the highest since the 1970's.

Chris Costello  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 2:06 PM

The issue is not whether revenues have to increase or spending decrease. Both have to happen. The issue is not whether arts/music/theater are good. They clearly are. The issue is whether D97 has demonstrated that a 25% increase in their budget is warranted at this time and will be well spent. I have come to the conclusion that they have not met their burden. While I can support a smaller referendum I must vote NO/NO.

Kristen McKenny Lee  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 1:31 PM

I'm sure I'm not the only one whose parents frequently told me, 'Kristen, money doesn't grow on trees.' And try as I might over the years, I haven't been able to make that happen. So when the state doesn't pay the school district millions of dollars that it owes, that money isn't going to magically appear. I am extremely unhappy with what is going on in Springfield, and you better believe that I'm going to be much more involved in the next state elections. But that doesn't change where we are now. With revenues decreasing at the same time costs are increasing (due to quickly increasing enrollment), something has to give. Either programs have to be cut, or revenue has to increase. It's as simple as that. If you do not believe in the value that the arts adds to the education of our children, I'm probably not going to change your mind, although I will strongly disagree with you. I believe it is so crucial that I will make sure that my children get this education and will enroll them in after school activities if these programs get cut from our schools. However, I realize that I am blessed in being able to do this for my children. Many families in district 97 won't be able to do this for their children, and they will be at even more of a disadvantage. We talk a lot about the achievement gap, and cutting the arts in d97 will only increase it. I am voting Yes/Yes because I believe all children deserve a great, well rounded education, not just the children that happened to be born into a family that can afford it.

Kristen McKenny Lee  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 1:05 PM

@Pat Koko, the change in reassessments does not increase the amount of money the schools get. Quoted from the insert from the assessor's office that was included in the last OPFYI, 'assessments do not impact the total tax burden, but they can change each property's share of the burden.' I also confirmed with Ali ElSaffar from the assessor's office to confirm that I understood it correctly. The assessments do not change how much money is collected, it changes how much of the pie each property contributes.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 12:33 PM

@Kevin - Great point! I agree with you and Nick that it was extremely emotional to see so many children using their (tiny) voices to fight for something they believe in. When you hear a third grader explain the significance of the arts in her life and plead for voters to save these programs, it really puts a human face on what's at stake. And when study after study demonstrates the importance of libraries, art, music, and foreign language on overall educational performance, it takes the argument out of the emotional realm and into factual reality. And just to reiterate the point Nick so eloquently made, the fact that so many school districts are in similar situations confirms that this is not an issue of budgetary mismanagement within D97, but rather a systemic problem at the state level.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 12:03 PM

@Ben Conley: I think you mistook Nick Polido's point. He has a wry sense of humor that sometimes goes over people's heads. He's suggesting that both communities are making appeals to emotion only.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 11:21 AM

@Nick - thanks for raising what I think is an important point. As Nick notes, many other communities in Illinois are facing similar situations (and it isn't just Oak Park and Evanston). I think Nick's comment lends credence to the fact that this is not an issue of budgetary mismanagement, but rather a perfect storm of state under-funding and enrollment exceeding projections.

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 9:45 AM

Not to be shown up, Evanston's young students (orchestra) performed outside of its board meeting advocating for their referendum needing to raise 14.5 million. As Reported "Locals say the school board has done a great job balancing the books through the end of the year. But then District 65 needs another 14.5 million dollars." http://wgntv.com/2017/03/20/with-music-programs-in-danger-student-orchestra-plays-outside-budget-meeting/

Jennifer Alten from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 9:24 AM

I'm voting YES because I care about my children and all the children in our community. Generations of Oak Park children have benefited from excellent schools. The current and future crop of kids deserve the same and if these referenda don't pass, it's our kids who will suffer. If you ever had children who went through Oak Park schools, it behooves you to give the same consideration to these children as previous voters gave to yours. We need the referenda due a basic, but difficult-to-solve math problem. D97 currently has 1,000 more students than ever before (and it's not due to the new high-res developments, which have only added about 12 kids to the district.) Our tax base has not increased, because the current way that our schools are funded depends largely on single-family homeowners. And our district is owed more than $9M by the state that we will likely never see due to the sorry state of Illinois politics and finances. D97 has cut the per-student spending at a greater rate than what they said they would in 2011, so they are clearly trying to meet this budget shortfall, but the only way to solve this equation is to cut services or increase taxes. Naysayers are being penny-wise but pound foolish. A no vote may save you a few bucks now, but the results will harm property values and the futures of our children. Do the decent thing and vote YES.

Margy Feley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 7:40 AM

I'm voting NO and I encourage all my Oak Park friends and neighbors to do the same. As a relatively recent retiree, I'd like to stay in Oak Park for a little while longer. Significantly higher taxes will force me to consider if I want to alter my lifestyle just to stay in Oak Park. I've been here for 33 years, I'd like my infant grandchild to at least have a couple memories in this old house.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 8:53 PM

It's simple, per D97, they will have $4M in the OP Fund on 6/30/18. This is with the continuation of all existing programs and provides the rationale to vote NO in 2017 and then YES in 2018. We can then use the next nine months to address the various issues raised in this post and many other venues across Oak Park. Rob Reinert won't have to move and we can properly determine if the "scare tactics" should be believed or whether they are just an extortion effort by some people. We have the time (and money) to get this thing right.

Ben Conley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 7:58 PM

On the budget issue, facts matter. On both a total cost and per-student basis, the district has been under budget (as conveyed to taxpayers at the last referendum) every year, despite enrollment far in excess of projections.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 7:56 PM

@Rob - school quality measurements have very little to do with whether the latest Bravo play has superior sound systems and costuming. Parents wanting more elaborate art classes and club type activities could self fund those productions. Take your kid to the Art League. When middle school plays and art classes turn into excuses for multi-million dollar expenditures. all grasp of reality has been suspended. The school knew this was coming and added staff and activities they specifically knew were unfunded, so they created this situation. You want taxpayers to cut their family budget, let the school cut its budget.

Rob Reinert from Oak park   

Posted: March 20th, 2017 7:31 PM

Please vote no. Then you won't have to worry about the value of your home going up anymore because it will just go down when word gets out that our schools are crap. And accessed values went up across the state/country not just our perfect little op. And really would you sell your house for the number they say it's worth? No because it worth more. So if your taxes are going up 700$ and you have 2 kids in school where can you put your kids in top notch schools for that amount of money extra each year. Let me know and I will move. And if you had kids in op schools someone helped pay for them just like I will continue to pay my share when my kids are gone to continue the cycle. But yes I am sure some cuts can be made anyway like in all areas of our town? Like where is the money that we didn't have to spend on plowing and salting streets this year?

Natalie Stein  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 6:43 PM

Drag your children out for the sympathy vote. Doom and gloom is always being cried by the district for more money and perhaps they should better manage what they have. There will be children not benefiting from the school system here as families will have to leave due to our obscene taxes which, is something I suggest these protestors think about. There is only so much money people have to shell out . Make do with what you have as so many in life must do.

Mel Smith  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 6:34 PM

I was a teacher for D97 during the last referendum. I remember many of the same reasons being stated back then. "If the referendum doesn't pass, there will be cuts. No more art, music, band, or PE etc." I was worried then, like some residents are now. I watched the spending after the referendum passed, and was not too pleased. "FastForWord" program purchased [ http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/1-25-2012/Oak-Park-school-board-approves-purchase-of-Fast-ForWord-program/ ]. Close to 500k spent, with renewals close to 50k a year. I had a co-worker who planned to speak out against this program and was told NOT to show up at the board meeting. I ask how much money was spent on the "Treasures" language arts program, only to be abandoned a year later. iPad minis rolled out to 5th graders, and then to all grades the following year. What about the 500k+ that was stolen from the district by the head of the building and grounds? How did that happen? New furniture purchased for ALL the elementary schools. Student and teacher desks replaced, rolling cubbies with plastic bins purchased. Yes, some of the desks were past their useful life. The teacher desk I had in my classroom didn't lock, most of the drawers were badly bent and broken, but there were many desks and other furniture that was NOT in bad shape and was replaced anyway. Why not replace the pieces that needed replacement? After recently paying my FIRST 2016 tax installment on March 1 (More than double the amount when we bought our home), and then opening my 'fair market value' letter showing over 100k increase, I cannot say that I am in favor of this referendum. I believe that building background knowledge and offering art, music, BRAVO, and other classes help students grow and learn... BUT I CANNOT agree with how finances are managed by the school district. (in my opinion from what I have seen as a former teacher and a resident in Oak Park 24 years). I will be voting NO

Barbara Purington  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 6:24 PM

@Tom, agree. Doom and gloom pre referendum is standard propaganda. Cutting Art, Music, Spanish is always threatened, to get out the Yes voters. I am pro schools, but throwing money at problems isn't helping anyone. If adults don't manage money carefully, they don't expect their employers to hand out more upon request. Better management of school monies is what's needed. No more Fast Forward fiascos. Reduce district office staff, top heavy in $100,000k admin.-- three curriculum specialists that do what all day? We can have pools, the Arts, A/C, with careful and improved management and spending.

Pat Koko  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 6:17 PM

I agree Tom, It is my understanding the schools will get a bump in revenue due to the recent reassessment and increase in taxes. Yes the elementary and high schools should be good but the raising taxes is hurting seniors and single parent and marginally employed folks. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. LIVE WITHIN YOUR CURRENT INCOME we must.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 4:30 PM

Yikes. Renters see their rents go up 9 to 12% per month when they renew. A homeowner paying $12k in taxes now gets clipped for $900 a year extra, $9000 over the next ten years for middle school plays. The worst case scenario is that these big tax increase referendums could pass. Need to vote NO, bring sanity back to this town.

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