A good education costs money

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I'm voting yes for the referendum because, public or not, education isn't free. And it seems with education, like most things, you get what you pay for. I live in Oak Park for a variety of reasons; primary among those is that my children have the opportunity for an excellent public education.

I'm voting yes for the referendum because, in my son's first two years at Irving Elementary School, he has had passionate, talented teachers who engage him, challenge him, and, most importantly, fuel his excitement for learning. He loves school and, in first grade, is already learning more about word structure (blends, diphthongs and digraphs) than I remember learning in all of my 20-or-so years of formal schooling.

My son's favorite days, though, are the ones during which he has art and music classes. I'm voting yes on the referendum because I don't want to tell him that next year there won't be an art class anymore. I don't want to tell him that, in fact, his magnificent art teacher has already had her position cut for next year. Only if the referendum passes will her position be reinstated.

I'm voting yes for the referendum because, when my daughter begins kindergarten two years from now, I hope to enroll her in a school with the same small class sizes, the same focus on each individual student, the same broad range of learning opportunities, in short, the same academic excellence that I have seen and now expect from District 97 elementary schools.

I'm voting yes for the referendum because this is not just a "schools" issue. It's a community issue that affects quality of life and property values in Oak Park. It speaks to what we value as a community and how we choose to invest in our future, and our children's futures.

Please understand that it is not easy for my family to pay our tax bill even now. I would love to eat out more often, or take a vacation, or replace our ancient, torn and stained sofa. Yet I also feel extremely fortunate to live in a community that understands the value of outstanding schools. I hope you will join me in voting yes for the referendum. What greater advantage can we give our children than a first-rate education and love of learning? Every child should have this opportunity.

Amy Struckmeyer
Oak Park

Reader Comments

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Vote YES from OP  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 11:14 PM

It seems some of you believe that all of the cuts in staffing are not real and that D97 will find a way around them if the ref doesn't pass. Not true, they ARE happening if this ref doesn't pass....the board has voted, teachers have already been cut in preparation. This is all on the website, it is public knowledge. So, yes, we will "wake up" in quite a different OP if the ref doesn't pass.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 11:17 PM

Interested Parent is right! Every taxpayer is forced to make up the difference due to the tax exempt status provided to private schools. The land these institutions occupy is not on our property tax rolls. How much would Oak Park collect if private organizations paid their fair share? People should believe all they can believe but why should non-believers be forced to carry the load for them?

OP Resident  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 11:07 PM

Kathleen and Patti have stepped on to a slippery slope. They want the people who support the referendum to pay for it. "NO" voters would be exempt. Could we apply the same logic towards people who are against the illegal invasion of Iraq? I object to having spent more than a trillion dollars to fund the longest war in American history. And I'm not alone. Polls show the majority of Americans want our troops home now!

Interested Parent  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 10:41 PM

Public schools are funded BY ALL for the common good. Otherwise, they are PRIVATE schools.


Posted: March 26th, 2011 2:18 PM

You are on to something Kathleen. Instead of a referendum we could set up a fundraiser. Everyone who says yes would then contribute in $38/$1,000 of their taxes as a deed restriction on their home. This way even an unsuccessful referendum would save some programs and not needlessly burden everyone else.

kathleen from OP  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 1:17 PM

The best way to fund this so-called financial shortfall is for every "yes" voter to write a huge PERSONAL check to District 97. That way, those of us who believe that throwing more money at our schools will make no real difference are not forced to contribute to this likely permanent tax increase. I, for one, can no longer afford tax increases. It is not my obligation to fund extras for other people's children.

@Voting Yes in Oak Park  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 10:13 AM

My neighbor has been teaching art in Berwyn elementary schools for 10 years. Note: schools = plural. She goes from school to school all week--#5 in all. She is a full time art teacher, but not in just one school.

Paying for YOUR Child's Education from OP  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 6:45 AM

@paying: btw, Oak Park has a reputation for lots of things (parks, schools, historic districts, architecture, high taxes, socialist govt, etc.) ...but we simply can't continue to pay for them all. Referendum supporters may not expect me to raise their children, but they are certainly asking taxpayers to fund THEIR priorities, without regard to the priorities of the WHOLE community. The schools are important, but other things are too. The "pass the ref of the schools will suck" story is untrue

Paying for YOUR Child's education from OP  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 6:38 AM

@"@paying": What the state funds in terms of education is one thing, what Oak Parkers pay is quite high on a national basis. The $13.500 per student we currently fund should be more than sufficient to provide an "equal opportunity for quality education." If the district can't figure it out and provide art, music, FL for that amount, then that is a DISTRICT problem. Perhaps you should take it up with them. But, asking taxpayers to fund more is just not fair.


Posted: March 26th, 2011 5:59 AM

The state of Illinois is 49th out of 50 states in funding for education and is very often late in any payments that they give, which is why districts are in the position that they need to ask for referendums. Unfortunately, this is a common situation in our state. Please do not blame referendum supporters for not being responsible for their children and their education. We all want the children of Oak Park to have equal opportunity for a quality education.


Posted: March 26th, 2011 5:54 AM

Part of being in a community and paying taxes is knowing that you are supporting all of the families and public schools there. I don't know any referendum supporters who expect you to raise their children. The point is that if Oak Park wants to enjoy its reputation as a good place to raise a family, (and maintain property values) then the schools must maintain a quality level of education. I believe that art, music, and foreign languages are part of a well rounded quality education.

Paying for YOUR Child's education from OP  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 5:47 AM

I've been in OP over 20 years and have never complained about my property taxes. I want OP schools to be great and I have paid for this. But now what I'm hearing is that I should be willing to pay even more to educate everyone else's children because THEY are concerned. If I don't, I'm "anti-children"...despite paying more into the system in taxes than most. Newsflash: YOU are responsible for raising your kids, not the teachers, and YOU are responsible for paying for the extras, not others.

Be Brave from Oak Park  

Posted: March 26th, 2011 5:38 AM

@Vote YES: No one is doubting the value of the arts, but its the D97 Board and admin that has said they will cut them. Not anyone else. If you have a problem with that (and I would too), I suggest you take it up with them. As for your hysteria regarding "you will wish you woke up in Berwyn", your doomsday scenario for D97 is just silly. Please inform yourself with some data. Quality ed & the arts are important..and the D97 needs to figure out how to deliver them within the current budget


Posted: March 26th, 2011 12:12 AM

Amy, well said. My kindergartener also loves the days that she has art and music. To "done the research" your child must not be at one of our more diverse schools. "shooting fish in a barrel"? Have you been in the classroom? Do you know the challenges our teachers face? My kids are ahead of the game too because I am lucky enough to be a stay at home mom. Most families in OP don't have this luxery. That is why we need this referendum to pass.

@done the research from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2011 11:12 PM

your post is an insult to any educated person living in this village. Your implication that the teachers in D97 do not need any skills to teach Oak Park kids is just about the most ridiculous and condescending comment I've yet to read during these online forum "debates". Shall I assume that you have homeschooled your children with your superior intellect?

done the research  

Posted: March 25th, 2011 2:51 PM

My kids are well educated because of me. They were both reading before school and we have a house filled with books. Teaching most Oak Park kids is like shooting fish in an barrel - very easy and you don't have to be skilled or be great at your job. Some teachers here are, others are not. I'll happily pay tuition for arts programs here - at market rate. We get less per dollar than many places, do the math: http://iirc.niu.edu/ - a lot of data about how well we do per dollar. The fact is, we dont

Jake from Oak Park  

Posted: March 25th, 2011 11:16 AM

So shouldn't cutting teachers and special programs be a bad thing? Sure there are plenty of outside programs that parents can sign there kids up for but what about the parents that can't? Their child may never learn that they love the violin or want to be a painter when they grow up. Plus if teachers are fired then that'll be just more people unemployed, holding tightly to their money instead of helping build up the economy. Can the thousands Oak Parkers really not afford a slight tax raise?

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 2:55 PM

@Numbers. I also wondered about the 1% figure. But don't forget that the freeze, per D97, generated savings of $1.3M. How could a freeze generate 3x the savings of a cut? Makes no sense. I think that we need more details, but this is just another reason to Vote No and, adding in the $17M surplus, we then spend the months after the failed ref analyzing everything. Otherwise, per the D97 5-yr budget, deficit spending begins in 2016 and ANOTHER ref will be necessary!?!


Posted: March 24th, 2011 2:26 PM

According to what Noel said at Lincoln last night, the district has about $45M in staff salaries. A 1% cut would be $450,000, 2% would be $900,000, etc. To cover the deficit, it would seem to need to be at least a 10% cut in salaries. A "simple" 1% cut doesn't help much.


Posted: March 24th, 2011 2:00 PM

In it's own budget D97 is showing it started the year with $25 Million in positive fund balances (including $5 Million earmarked for Debt Service and $6 Million in Working Cash) and budgeted to finish the year with a surplus of over $1 Million. What is this referendum supposed to fund again?


Posted: March 24th, 2011 1:12 PM

OP is already in the top 5 in instructional expenditures among 46 large elementary districts in Cook County. Given the rational cutbacks other districts such as Elmhurst are making, that's not likely to change even without the referendum. And we are 19th of 46 in wealth as measured by property tax base per student. So we already support our schools at a disproportionately high level. Quality of community life also means living within our means.

concerned op resident  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 12:14 PM

Dis 97 teachers have been receiving 4-6% raises the past few years. Does anybody have a figure on how much of a district wide paycut they would need to take to keep these programs that will be cut if referendum does not pass? Is it 1% or 2% or 3%. If it is under 3%, wouldn't it be honorable to taxpayers,children,and other teachers for them to take a paycut to save jobs and core programs for the children?


Posted: March 24th, 2011 12:07 PM

Under current pay structure, most, if not all OP teachers that have worked for 25yrs will receive a minimum of $1-2 million dollars from their pension in retirement. Anybody else out there receive $2mm retirement gifts? Please don't skew the facts that avg pensions are $40k per year. What is the avg pension of an employee retiring in the past 5 years?

Vote YES from OP  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 12:01 PM

@Be Brave: That's right, you will wish you woke up in Berwyn....where each school enjoys a full time art teacher, 3 full-time reading teachers, and a computer teacher. The community of Oak Park cannot afford to make these very drastic cuts in our education system. To stay competitive in this market we need to keep moving forward, not backwards. Many families move to Oak Park for the wonderful schools...do you think they will move to a community that doesn't even offer art classes? Vote YES!!

Julie Nilson Chyna from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 24th, 2011 8:33 AM

Well said, Amy! The quality of our schools and the emphasis on the arts is an important part of Oak Park life, and a major reason that people decide to purchase homes here and otherwise become part of the community. I will be voting YES.


Posted: March 24th, 2011 8:17 AM

Amy, great letter! I've had the same experience at Whittier. I think most parents feel the same way. 20yrs and so much has happen in education. Technology being one. Since '89, Microsoft introduced Windows,3.0, 95, 98, XP and now Vista. AOL was not a household word. And remember that huge mandate, NCLB, mainly unfunded. There has been many of unfunded mandates that have added to the cost of education. VOTE YES

Be Brave. from OP  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 10:29 PM

@Bryn: Specifically, what are you afraid of? What's going to happen starting April 6th if the ref fails? The schools will still be open. The world will continue to turn on its axis. Life will go on. Tough decisions might actually get made. Some cuts will happen, but we won't suddenly wake up and be Berwyn. I promise.


Posted: March 23rd, 2011 10:19 PM

Great article. I feel the same way about Hatch our experience has been wonderful and I fear what will happen if the referendum doesn't pass.

Alan Reed from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 9:59 PM

Amy: Thanks for your passionate and well-written piece. I'm genuinely pleased to hear about your positive experience. No one thinks that a good education is free, and Oak Parkers have a long history of supporting their schools. In fact, today Oak Parkers fund schools at the top 1% in the state, but referendum demands even more. My family has funded the schools through our taxes for nearly 20 years without children in the system. We cannot fund the schools endlessly....so how much is enough?

Maxie's Dad. from Oak park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 9:47 PM

Go Irving Eagles!

thank you  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 9:25 PM

Thanks, Amy. My sentiments exactly.

Mel from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 6:29 PM

We cannot afford to make the proposed cuts that make our district distinct and desirable. As a community we must band together to protect our most valuable assets...our schools, our children, and our teachers. Vote YES!

Tee from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 12:44 PM

So much has changed in the 20 years since D97 last asked for a referendum for working capital. My house is worth 2-1/2 times what it was 20 years ago, even after the recent tank in home values. Technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Everything costs more. I've had kids in D97 schools since 2000, and I've watched various school boards work hard to keep expenses under control while maintaining a quality education for our kids. It's time. Vote Yes!

Jen P from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 11:22 AM

Well said! Amy's son and mine are sharing the same Irving experience in the same grade, and I could not agree more with her. We have a treasure here in our schools, and we need to support it and grow it. The Board and the schools have earned our trust. I will be happy and proud to cast my Yes vote when I early-vote this afternoon.

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