It's boom times in Oak Park. Construction cranes dot the village skyline, commercial build-outs are humming right along and, with home buying entering its high season, our leafy streets will once again soon play host to the familiar scene of moving trucks being unloaded.
Chances are, those folks schlepping boxes will be young families with toddlers in tow who moved from Chicago neighborhoods like Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Logan Square or Ukrainian Village. And more often than not, they — like my family a few years before — ended up picking Oak Park after an exhaustive, but ultimately unsuccessful, search to find a workable public school option in Chicago. In the end, Oak Park's all-in-one K-12 solution was simply too attractive to pass up.
So as village voters weigh the pros and cons of responsibly funding District 97's operating and capital needs on April 4, let's be absolutely clear about what's primarily driving Oak Park's current boom: new transplants from Chicago. And why are we continuing to move here? Schools. And not just good schools but great schools that hire the best talent and educate the whole student.
Yes, we love the diversity. And the proximity to downtown, the tree-lined streets, old homes, and vibrant involved communities. But my old Chicago neighborhood had that stuff, too. What it didn't have was what makes Oak Park truly unique: All of these important things plus great schools.
This could all go away in an instant if the D97 referenda fails to pass. Can we do more to trim education costs thoughtfully here in Oak Park? Yes. Are deep, immediate budget cuts to the exact types of programs that make D97 schools great the right way to do it? No.
Our entire community stands to lose if we're shortsighted about this. Housing prices will suffer and what makes Oak Park unique in the Chicago area will diminish considerably. Plus, all of us new arrivals have fallen in love with this community. We want to raise our families here and don't want to move again. But if our schools go from great to good, unfortunately, we might be forced to consider it.