Arts critical to development of young students; vote 'yes'

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I write in response to my friend Jack Crowe's column of March 16, 2011. Jack must not have had access to information I believe critical to deciding how to vote on the April 5 District 97 referendum. So [here's the] information and a few thoughts:

District 97 has not been cost conscious? It has been cutting its budget for the last nine years, including the following examples, to name but a few:

1) $1.8 million in 2003 staff reductions;

2) $1.4 million in 2004 reductions to staff, equipment and materials;

3) $719,000 in 2007 staff reductions and savings on materials and supplies; and

4) Saving $1.5 million in 2009 underspending on operating expenditures.

We should eliminate language, music and arts programs designed specifically to foster the development of elementary school children? There is no longer any debate about how critical early education is to a child's development. Period. Why would we want to retard our children's growth by reducing challenging classroom activities?

We should eliminate middle school sports and after school activities? Sports, in Oak Park? Really? Again, there is no doubt that, at a minimum, keeping middle school students engaged reduces the risk of their behaving in ways that, as parents, we really don't want.

We should eliminate CAST and BRAVO at Julian and Brooks? Experts have demonstrated a direct correlation between participation in the arts and improved classroom performance. I have been on the CAST parents' board since the late '90s. Yes, I'm biased in favor of the arts. I saw how CAST was the foundation for the artistic careers of each of my three children and how it provided so many useful skills to students who took other paths. The programs integrate what students learn in their core subjects, to say nothing of giving them self-esteem at awkward ages and teaching them necessary collaborative skills. And their non-CAST friends come to the productions in droves. I know the same to be true about BRAVO. As to finances, yes we've raised some money annually for the CAST program, but if we had to raise all the money to keep the program operating, it wouldn't exist.

If the referendum passes, I would have to pay roughly $450 a year in additional taxes. I buy a cup of coffee per day at $2 a cup. Over the course of let's say just 300 days per year, that's $600. So, I think I could figure out a way to pay the tax increase.

Realtors tell us there is a direct correlation between property values and school quality. Do we want to make our homes even less valuable in these difficult economic times by stripping our schools of their quality?

Sorry, Jack, I disagree. It's our children we're talking about here. We didn't bring them into the world only to short change them.

Lance Taylor
Oak Park

Reader Comments

37 Comments - Add Your Comment

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@Question  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 1:20 PM

You are missing my point. This referendum is not about smartboards or lcd projectors. It is about maintaining a quality of our schools through retaining the programs, staff, and teachers that make it strong. Tech is only a small part of that. Keeping the teachers who interact with our kids are what's really important here. Many of the schools in D97 have unique programs outside of tech: multi-age, spanish immersion, etc. Many parents move to those schools for these reasons as well. Peace

question for parent  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:01 PM

And, please do tell how you think teachers will use smartboards in a way that an elmo connected to an LCD projector can't do? Elmos are not just overhead projectors. And if they are, then Mann's PTO used a lot of money to buy something completely unnecessary. Maybe that money could have paid for the arts!

question for parent  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:59 AM

I am actually aware of the tech plans, but you are totally missing my point. If the "main reason" people move to OP are the schools (which I think is false), then they would live near Mann, which has the most state-of-the-art tech of any D97 elems and great test scores. People don't just move to Mann because (1) they don't move here mainly for the schools and (2) they can't afford that area. Passage of the referendum will make other parts of OP more unaffordable than they already are.

@Question  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:20 AM

I'd like to point out that Elmo's are overhead projectors. They are extremely different from smartboards.

@Question  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:16 AM

Are you aware that part of the referendum, if it passes, is to implement more technology into all of the schools? The goal is to create an environment more balanced so that all of the schools can utilize technology for all of the students. Again though, it truly is the teachers who matter as they are the ones in direct contact with our children. You can have all of the technology you can provide, but if they can't/don't use it, who cares? We need to retain the best teachers that we can.

question for parent  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:04 AM

According to a handout from a recent school board meeting, Mann has 27 LCD projectors and 20 ELMO document cameras. I get that those aren't smartboards (which is why I didn't say they were), but they can do some of the same things as smartboards. Mann is the only D97 elem school with Elmos, but both middle schools have them.

@Question  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 10:56 AM

As a Mann parent, you should know that Mann has three smartboards in the classrooms, not every one as you implied. Several of the other schools do as well (I know of at least 3 others). BUT, it truly is the teachers who matter, regardless of their tools - smartboard or otherwise! I'd also like to point out that all of our schools have positives and negatives - test scores do not make any one school better than another. We should strive for a consistent quality for all of our schools!

JennyWren from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 9:14 AM

Housing values are not just dependent on schools. When housing stock deteriorates if owners can't afford repairs, values go down. When homes need to be sold at a loss values go down. If crime goes up values go down.

Question for parent  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 7:36 AM

If one of the main reasons people move to OP is for the public schools, wouldn't everyone choose to move to the area served by Mann (which already has smartboard-like technology in its classrooms)? Oh wait, that's right . . . because lots of people can't afford the houses in Mann's area. Price matters. In fact, I (like many other OPers) did not move here for the schools. OP--with an easy commute on public transportation to the loop--had housing stock in my price range.

Another Parent from OP  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:08 AM

@Parent: So, by that same logic we should blindly vote YES to every Referendum that comes down the pike to ensure that we protect our housing values. So, line up, taxing bodies...Park District (gotta redo Ridgeland Commons), Village (I mean more heated roads and bluestone roads are CRITICAL), Triton (we NEED a good community college), D200 (our giant reserves aren't quite enough), Township (seniors are underserved in OP)...so when does it stop? Only when the taxpayers make it stop.

Parent  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 11:31 PM

cont. People pay taxes for aesthetic additions to the area which makes the OP seem more attractive not only to people living there, but to outsiders and potential home buyers also. You may never step foot on that piece of brick paid for by tax payers, but you know it's an investment for a larger purpose. The schools and their programs are another investment, even if you don't have kids, or kids that attend them.

Parent  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 11:24 PM

One of the main reasons people move to OaK Park are for the public schools. Once public schools start cutting programs, it's the first step in becoming less competitive, and start to lose their luster. Long term ramifications are that property values go down and Oak Park looses one of it's main attractions. Declining schools ultimately mean declining area, so it's in everyones best interest to keep the schools top notch, whether you take advantage of programs or not.

fuzzy logic from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:51 PM

Given all the business Starbucks will lose if this ref passes, we really should've asked them to subsidize these programs. I mean let's face it, all these kids are future coffee drinkers. Hang a few logos from the stage, and we're all set!

Curious  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 3:20 PM

Thanks for the response. Is that the total operating cost or the instructional cost? If it is instructional, the private school is only about $700 less per pupil. Part of D97's operating cost includes the jump from building the new middle schools in 1999-2000. That seems to be where the operating cost shot up. Transportation and multiple buildings to maintain also raise the cost.

another private school parent from op  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 2:18 PM

@Curious: I have been told that the fully loaded (i.e., total costs plus any subsidy from the church or archdioces) costs per student at St. Giles are about $7,000, which is higher than others in Oak Park. If true (and I have no reason to believe it isn't), it means it costs 2x as much per student to get a public school education - at the current before ref rate. Just one more reason that private school parents look at this increase and ask tough questions about d97 efficiency.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 1:14 PM

Lance, have you drafted a letter asking why D97 is cutting music & arts programs? We all know that these two programs are part of the 21st century core curriculum, along with math & science. So why is D97 cutting these programs? I have asked multiple times but I have not received an answer. That is why I am voting NO. It will force the board to find cuts to fund these programs. It will force them to cut salary & shift the cost of increases in benefits to employees.

Curious  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 10:04 AM

It would interesting to someday hear the actual instructional and operating costs per pupil for the private schools. Those costs are certainly more than the tuition paid for each student. This would level the playing field for the discussion about costs for educating our young people. Just wondering...

another private school parent from op  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:54 AM

@OP Resident: Yes, and it's a choice I can reconsider each day. Regardless, it has taught me that $13,500/year/student is more than enough for a solid education. If taxes keep going up, I'll be forced to send my kids to public schools anyway, so the point is almost hilarious. Get ready, district 97....1,000 more students could be coming your way with little more in taxes to fund them!

OP Resident  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:37 AM

With all due respect, the vast majority of us living in Oak Park send our kids to public school because we believe our schools are good. I understand that there may be a variety of reasons that someone would choose to send their kid to private school. However, that is a choice. Not everyone can afford to pay tuition for private school education that I know isn't cheap. You have a choice and you chose private.

E. Jackson  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:31 AM

So, just for the purposes of conversation, what services offered by D97 would private school families be interested in?

Pay For it Yourself from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:28 AM

I'm pleased to see that at least some services offered by the district are being utilized by pvt school parents. My experience is that pvt school families are marginalized by the district, and services are provided begrudgingly, and only when required by law (others are now reflecting the same). As part of a "community" one would hope that fellow taxpayers would at least be treated with respect and welcomed to the services that the community pays for, in theory at least, for all to enjoy

another private school parent from op  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:22 AM

For what it's worth, I have been through the process of getting tested for and asking for special services (PT, OT, Speech) twice (once for each child) through district 97 and have been twice rejected for a variety of reasons. They recommended that I should definitely get special services for the children, but, alas, my children weren't "qualified" for district services. I had to pay for them myself...

Question  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:16 AM

I know there were several Ascension students who participated in CAST throughout the years (as an example). So there are ways that private ed students get benefits from the public schools (and that's not even touching on special ed. students),

question about special ed services  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 9:02 AM

@OP mom: do you know what those private school parents have to do to get those services? They have to register at D97 to get evaluated, and then they have to enroll in a D97 school to be guaranteed services. Not saying it isn't amazing, but it's hardly as easy or amazing as you make it seem.

E. Jackson  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:59 AM

I don't know the number of kids, but D97 is required by law to offer services for children with special needs who attend private and parochial schools, as well as those who are home schooled.

Pay For it Yourself from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:42 AM

@op parent: I will be happy to explore just how many pvt school kids benefit from all D97 services. @OP Mom: Yes, and as part of the community, we should ALL benefit, right? So, we essentially agree and it's time that every group gets a return on their "community investment" @question: I will have to confirm what the law says.

Oak Park mom voted yes  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:40 AM

@question - I'm sure you could get that information from the district, but it's the law. Anyone enrolled in any school in OP can call and request assessment and services through the district for their child. (I know of several private school kids myself offhand who receive services.) You can call D97 offices today and ask and I'm sure they can give you the general info. It's actually pretty amazing, what is available to help kids through the schools, compared to when I was a kid.

question about special ed services  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:29 AM

Although any child who requires services can get them, those kids have to enroll in the public school to be guaranteed those services. (As I understand it, if they don't enroll in the public school, they are NOT guaranteed services.) Does anyone know how many K-8 private school kids actually get services from D97?

Oak Park mom voted yes  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:22 AM

@Pay for it yourself. You seem to be confused about the concept of public education. You do realize that the 30% or so of taxpayers who will never have kids fund schools, too, right? My eldest child didn't enter school until I was 37, and I paid taxes all those years before that. Public schools are a COMMUNITY INVESTMENT, not a commodity you get to buy. (& before you start your political activity, you should note that the public schools DO provide sp. ed. services for private school kids.)

op parent  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:20 AM

@Pay for it, the public schools do provide services for private school children. Any child who requires services can get them from the public school. The public schools are legally required to provide these services. And those kids who get the services from the public schools also make good use of CAST etc. Maybe you didn't know that.

Pay For it Yourself from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:13 AM

@Help Me: Yes, something like that. I've also funded the schools without complaint for nearly 20 years. No worries...based on your logic (and that of others), I'll be organizing the families of the 1,000 kids currently attending private schools in Oak Park to show up at D97's doorstep demanding services. We pay taxes, too, so there's no reason we shouldn't all get every penny of value that we fund.

Help Me Understand  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:01 AM

So if I hear you correctly, you are a private school parent and this referendum makes it harder to pay for tuition. If that is the case, I totally understand and would respect your "no" vote. For me, I have lived here a long time and these non-core classes have been a part of the schools as long as I can remember. And they are not classes I personally think we should lose. But at least we kept our conversation civil. I appreciate your response.

Pay for it Yourself from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:57 AM

@Help Me: So, I hear your concern, but if by paying for your children, I'm unable to pay for my own, what kind of parent am I? I'd love to provide "equal access to all", but when that comes at the expense of my own kids, how I can support it? Yes, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money....

Pay For it Yourself from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:53 AM

@Help Me Understand: You take care of your kids, I'll take care of mine. Okay? But when you ask me to take care of yours, I get worried....because you're not taking care mine when I need it. if we're a community, we should all be working together...I'm not "well to do" either but you're asking for me to pay for your kids, while you have no interest in paying for mine. That's called "patently unfair"

Help Me Understand  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:41 AM

cont.-etc., become disposables to us as a community? Isn't part of what we value about our village is the richness of our diversity and the desire for a better life. Many schools don't have these extras but we also don't want to live in those communities. I am just confused as to why we want only the kids of well-off families to enjoy the arts and other opportunities.

Help Me Understand  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:38 AM

I'm confused, Pay For It Yourself. Can you explain why you live in Oak Park when you don't see great schools as a community commitment. All these programs have been in place and have been wonderful assets to our community and great advantages to our students. Are you saying that only children of well-to-do families in our community should experience these opportunities? That is great for making kids whose families can't afford these (mine included) feel bad. When did art, music, language,

Pay For it Yourself from Oak {Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 6:37 AM

Lance: Interesting note....I love your passion about these programs and I agree that they have value. But, interested parents should pay for the programs themselves and not hoist it on taxpayers. It's the parents' job. Not ours. You're asking too much...and the "cup of coffee a day" is a nice handle, but irrelevant to those of us who long ago gave up such luxuries. But thanks for making me feel even worse about my current financial situation where I can't even pay for my kids' lessons.

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