OPRF teacher is voting yes

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I am writing in response to the many comments I have read in the local papers regarding the District 97 referendum. I am a teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and I grew up in Oak Park.

Many of these comments, particularly those of Jack Crowe, target teachers who are alleged to be collecting exorbitant salaries and pensions. Most of the teachers I work with in District 200 would be hard-pressed to afford a home in Oak Park or River Forest. The only reason I can afford to live here is because my husband used to work as a stockbroker and we saved during his years on the floor. Many of those bemoaning exorbitant teacher salaries earn significantly more than my colleagues or I earn.

Perhaps they, like the pundits on Fox News, believe that stockbrokers, CEOs, doctors, and lawyers work harder, are more educated, and therefore deserve higher pay than teachers. I asked my husband, who left the floor to become a teacher, which occupation was more difficult. Without a second thought, he replied that teaching was much more difficult. I asked him to consider that he does not teach, but only prepares in the summer. He replied that teaching was still more difficult

With respect to education levels, I will grant that some doctors and lawyers have more years of education than the average teacher. However, I would argue that some of the best teachers at Oak Park and River Forest are those with the highest education levels.

A "private school parent" complained in one comment that he pays one-third the amount that District 97 pays to educate a child for a year. As a former member of the board of education at a local Catholic school, I can attest that the tuition paid does not cover the entire cost of a child's education in many Catholic schools. The tithing of parishioners and the contribution of the archdiocese subsidize the remainder of the per-pupil cost. In addition, private schools can elect not to accept all students, and are not required to provide the full range of services — particularly in special education — that public schools are required to provide. When Jack Crowe talks about teacher/student ratios, I am certain the seemingly low ratios at Oak Park public schools are the result of the excellent work being done in the area of special education.

I also support the referendum because I don't want the district to cut positions in areas deemed "fluff" by some commentators on this newspaper's website. I have seen, at the high school level, how an innovative program including the arts, athletics, and "extracurricular" academics can motivate a student who may not otherwise see a reason to even attend school, much less strive for success. While I understand the call for parents to provide more financial support for such programs, I also know that not all families in our village have the means to contribute to these programs. It would be troubling if those students were excluded due to an inability to pay.

Katie O'Keefe

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Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:17 AM

I was never really passionate, nor good at anything other than art in high school. I failed most subjects, but did well in art. Today I'm a professor teaching art, and I've feel I've made a positive impact on my students educations and lives. Without art I would probably be working in a burger joint. One thing I've learnt is that people are not wired the same way, some will excel at math, and some at music... to deny a student a chance at what his/she is passionate about is criminal in my mind.


Posted: April 1st, 2011 1:16 PM

@OPTaxpayer - I don't know what numbers you found for Winnetka, but they don't pay LESS than D97. Winnetka 36 pays $9600 in instructional costs and over $17,300 in operating costs based on 08-09 data. They also have less than 1% low income. Their only AYP subgroups are White and IEP. Even with all that, their district overall ISAT passing rate is only about 7% higher (96% to 89%). Gads, D97 is actually doing a better job because of the additional learning issues they must address.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 12:59 PM

@Erin Jackson. NO. D200 give OP Township $$ for substance abuse awareness programs because D200 students benefit from this. Similarly, D200 can fund D97 & D90 programs. This does not necessarily mean the D97 & D90 will have administrative control as you incorrectly imply.

E. Jackson  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 12:53 PM

Would you be referring to the Joint Educational Programs section of Illinois School Code that also states - "The director and other professional workers may be employed by one district which shall be reimbursed on a mutually agreed basis by other districts that are parties to the joint agreement." So, if D97 and D90 have to reimburse D200, how exactly will this save money?

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 12:48 PM

D97 tax levies has increased 50% over the last decade while the CPI only increased by half that rate. Instead of being fiscally prudent & saving for the rainy days, they spent more than revenues yr after yr. Fiscal mis-management & unsustainable pay practices have created this financial crisis. A vote NO is a vote for change. It will force the board to do its job; rationalize pay practices like paying for performance & analyzing expenses & programs before funding them.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 12:44 PM

To be clear D200 can invest in programs in D97 & D90 that will benefit D200 in the long run. If D200 believes that foreign language, arts & music will create a more engaged student with high academic performance, less behavioral issues etc then, it can invest its $$ on hand to fund these programs. When these students reach HS, D200's cost per pupil may be lower; less $ spent on intervention & remedial & behavioral adjustment programs.

Private School Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:16 AM

@Katie:I respect your passion and your hard work. Some of us are not attacking teachers, but asking that the nearly $80million/yr budget of D97 be scrutinized and transparent so that issues can be addressed without raising taxes. As a former member of a Catholic School board, can you share just how much less a private school student costs to educate that the ~$13K spent by D97? Can you also share what costs the parents of private school kids cover that D97 currently pays for?

oak park taxpayer  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 11:40 PM

Katie - I have done the math. We spend more per child then Winnetka or many other north shore communities (especially in administration) with poorer results. Another fun fact - OPRFHS is officially a failing school, especially for children of color. The high school is actually less effective than 97, especially per dollar. I don't agree with AYP, but it is the measure currently in play.


Posted: March 31st, 2011 3:16 PM

Unfortunately, people equate job compensation as the moral value of a position, and the person holding that position. People are paid what they are paid based on the value that they bring to an equation and the difficulty in replacing the person with another qualified person. Teachers make less than CEOs because CEOs add more value and because competent CEOs are difficult to find. Don't take it personally if you make less. You are morally valued, but you are more easily replaced.


Posted: March 31st, 2011 3:13 PM

There are repeated references to how long it has been since District 97 has had a referendum and somehow I should be grateful. Let's not forget the significant tax increase to build new, supposedly "state of the art" middle schools that we are still paying for. And how about that 67% income tax increase from which the District will get its piece.

Never ending referendums from Oak Park  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 2:53 PM

There is a phrase that keeps being repeated amongst the YES crowd as ajustification. "...considering how long the district has waited for a referendum..." The logic seems to be that every few years, for the rest of time, a referendum is the normal thing to have. Each time they have one, property taxes go up again, forever. Even without a referendum, they get more tax money each year. The referendum just increase the cut. When does it ever end? Never if you are an administrator or teacher.

John Condne  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 5:01 PM

Katie - great job. Thanks for putting it out there.

OP tax payer/D97 parent  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 4:15 PM

I was not being glib with the "return the tax surplus". And I am well aware of the collective bargaining monster. Tax payers should certainly be able to ask if fitness can be delivered more efficiently than paying $160k/year for a gym teacher that can retire and get paid $125k/year increases for life. Yet a most excellent statistics instructor can be dismissed in favor of a lessor performer, and can not be paid what she is worth, simply based on lack of seniority. The union IS a problem.


Posted: March 30th, 2011 4:15 PM

@Robert T-just curious-why are you so certain that this ref will pass?

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 4:07 PM

Grateful Reader: I wish you peace.

Grateful Reader from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 4:04 PM

@Adele, I never said I wasn't flawed, but I WAS making the implication that you were incredibly rude to Ms. O'Keefe in your previous assessment that she a professional slack off by posting at 3:11 PM. Your continued rudeness is really not getting you very far. Since you know so much about unions then you will know that the contract wording allows for a certain number of "paid" v. "unpaid" days, thus, Ms. O'Keefe's comment. And, don't worry, this is my last post on the subject and to you.

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:53 PM

@grateful: enough plz. Yes, I made a typo that I recogfnized as soon as it posted. I typed too fast. Of course, you'll now see in your rush to judge that you too made a typo: "I MANY". Glad to know I'm conversin' with a fellow flawed human :))

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:51 PM

Katie: again, my bad. shouldn't have made that accusation. You sound like a dedicated, accomplished, and committed educator. I may regret asking this, but what is meant by, or what is the relevance of, the statement you don't get paid for spring break? Just wondering...

Grateful Reader from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:50 PM

@ Adele, how could your comment be construed as anything other than rude? Why don't you reread it. Also, "you're" not "your" = you are. I many have jumped to conclusions about Ms. O'Keefe's spring break plans, but having worked as a high school history teacher for 10 years (not at OPRF), I have a pretty good idea of how teachers spend their "free time". I see that Ms. O'Keefe just posted....funny how I was right and I've never even met Ms. O'Keefe. Wish I could buy her a cup of coffee.

Katie O'Keefe from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:42 PM

@Adele: We are currently on Spring Break, time for which we are not paid. I am posting between grading papers and e-mailing students. I tend to work a large number of hours beyond the regular school day. In the summer & on weekends, I have deepened my content & teaching knowledge in two National Endowment for the Humanities grants and one Organization of American Historians grant for three summers at Northwestnern. I have also taken other courses in the summer to improve my teaching.


Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:37 PM

@grateful: my bad - I didn't really mean it to sound like a ream, but it struck me as odd. Of course a break is fine (though you do leap to conclusions on what she's doing on break). I'm well aware of unions - that is the whole point.

Grateful Reader from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:34 PM

@Adele, it's SPRING BREAK. Ms. O'Keefe doesn't have students this week. Way to ream her for trying to help protect D97 schools on a designated vacation day. My guess is she is also preparing lessons for her next unit and probably grading a backlog of papers from the previous few weeks because she spent so much time creating great lessons for her students. You also seem to forget the teachers are represented by a union. They can't just say, "hey, I'll take a pay cut this year!"

Richard L from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:30 PM

I've lost track of who is married to whom, but I do know that I will join in a yes vote. I don't think the sacrifice they are asking of us is unreasonable considering how long the district has waited for a referendum. To me, it's that simple.

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:21 PM

@grateful: I don't think asking employees to share in the sacrifice is an emotional ploy. When we're asked to sacrifice more money or lose programs, while guaranteeing payroll increases regardless of performance, it seems actually reasonable. @Katie; given your a OPRFHS teacher, it doesn't serve your cause well to be posting online at 3:11 when the last bell rang at 3:06

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:19 PM

Ms. O'Keefe: My wife will appreciate the clarification. Thanks.

Grateful Reader from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:15 PM

Thank you, Ms. O'Keefe, for putting into words what many of us on the "yes" end of the referendum spectrum believe and support. @ OP tax payer/D97 parent--enough already of the "if teachers REALLY cared about students, they'd take a pay cut" business. This is right out of the "vote no" playbook of emotional "logic". Did you ever consider that teachers are often the primary earners of their own households and if they take a pay cut then THEY could lose their homes, too?

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:15 PM

@Childless. I've always felt that the overall solution to OP's and D97's problem HAD to include D200. For instance, they should forego the TIF money that'll be coming from RF this year. Next? Promise to not take the TIF money from OP in 2018. As many have noted, their pay AND benefits (health insurance) is significantly more than D97 and they also have hundreds applying for their openings. My kids have had many great teachers, but have you noticed that most college grads can't get jobs today?

Katie O'Keefe from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:14 PM

Sorry, I just realized what Decimus meant. I am married to neither Tom Scharre nor Robert T.

Katie O'Keefe from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:11 PM

Sorry, but my husband is not Tom Scharre and is actually leaning towards a No vote. We have some spirited debates, but his remarks are generally much more civil than comments I have read on both sides of the debate on this site. Perhaps his civility exists only because it is much harder to attack people without the anonymity afforded by these forums. Or perhaps he just respects his wife and prefers statistics, facts, and logic to emotional appeals.

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:08 PM

@Tom Scharre: I agree. Plenty of peeps who professionally SERVE the lives of young people who have sacrificed/ hurting financially. It grossly contrasts with the sense of entitlement revealed in inflating salary schedules and perks. The ref is required at least in part, to support ballooning and never ending pay increases. We out spend and out tax more than everyone. Maybe fiscal conservatism would support our diversity mission?

Childless in Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:06 PM

Vote yes -- even though I don't have nor plan on having children. I will say there is no legal structure to move dollars from D200 to D97 and there may not even be a legal way to create one. Anyeone thinking a 'vote no' means D200 can turn over cash to D97 is dreaming. Asking D200 to reduce their levy based on their fund balance, which would return cash to the taxpayers is possible -- but not a cash transfer to D97.

OP tax payer/D97 parent  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 3:00 PM

District 200 is a far greater tax burden than D97, and one of the big reasons the taxpayer well is dry for k-8. OPRFHS has $93MM in the bank and climbing. If you look at salaries (I like the $160k gym teacher), they are significantly higher. I understand high school math instruction should cost more, but should the librarians really run $140K? If Ms. O'Keefe cares for the young student, she should encourage her cohort to hold wages, trim fat and return our dollars for redirection.


Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:55 PM

I'm not, but you and your wife are moving alot of votes to the dark side. I hear brokers are making a comeback. Give it a try and make some room for a new teacher.

Adele from OP  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:54 PM

Many tax pyrs feel exploited by the village's inability to delay gratification and gluttonous approach to spending our money. This ref is one of many straws breaking our backs. Whether Million $ brick street projects, or salary schedules annually rewarding all regardless of merit. Burden of cost always on taxpyr, not D97/D200. One yr salary frz is symbolic, out of touch w/ today's reality. Prprty tax up 40% in 8 yrs, house value back at 2001 level. Sorry, voting no.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:50 PM

And by the way, Decimus, that kind of crap is totally uncalled for. Be kind, rewind.

Robert T  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:45 PM

And if you are representing the no side, I am fairly confident this will pass.

Paul Noble, OPRFHS Teacher, OP Resident  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:45 PM

OPRFHS stands to gain nothing from this referendum; you'd hope people arguing here would at least be able to distinguish between taxing bodies. OPRFHS teachers aren't even the best-paid teachers in the Chicago area, much less the country. And anyone who compares teachers to lumberjacks can't see the forest for the trees. How many anonymous commenters here are actually the same disgruntled person(s)?

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:45 PM

You sound like a caring, competent, motivated teacher who wants the best for all students. I salute you. But according to the supt.'s report, the D97 ref reflects the "Preferred Future." Allow me to report the "Harsh Present" for 3 relatives: 1) Big 10 U. adm./M.A./unemployed for 2 years/facing foreclosure. 2) Social worker/M.S.W./25 years/earns less than 45K. 3) Older Male/Laid off after 36 years with same company/2 weeks severance/no pension. It's ugly out there. Count your blessings. Peace.


Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:42 PM

@Robert T--so you must be the husband. You're hurting the cause.

Robert T  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:36 PM

And, taxpayer, she isn't a D97 teacher so I am not really sure how she is voting yes "for her own pay raise."

Robert T  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:34 PM

@Decimus - perhaps you should heed your own advice. Lumberjacks? Really?


Posted: March 30th, 2011 2:17 PM

Does "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt" sound familiar, Mrs. O'Keefe. Being a lumberjack is hard to, but they are not paid very well. You should have thought through your logic before writing. Or better yet, not write at all. You have just done irreparable harm to the Yes vote.

Taxpayer from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 1:54 PM

So you want to vote YES for your own pay raises? No surprise there. Whether you can afford a home in Oak Park or not has nothing to do with the referendum. Whether a teacher is paid more or less than CEO's, lawyers and others isn't a reason to have a referendum either. Go do that job if you can. The people being asked to pay for what you say, they call fluff, have every right to question it - it's their money being spent. We are saying NO to the overspending.

oak park taxpayer  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 12:29 PM

Good points - however, these programs aren't the problem. Fat teacher salaries and administrative costs are - including yours. OPRF teachers are among the highest paid in the United States. Of course you support it - you're feeding from the same trough!

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