After voters approved increased funding for District 97 in last week's school referendum, it's time for Oak Parkers to come together on this divisive issue [Easy win for D97 tax hike, News, April 6].
Although the Business and Civic Council did not support the proposal, the organization is committed to working with proponents in seeing that the new funds are used wisely. Some advocates of the referendum, including the Wednesday Journal, counted on the tax increase to give policy makers breathing room to put the elementary and middle schools on a firmer financial footing. That is our priority, too. As stewards of our own businesses, BCC members have experience in financial restructuring, strategic thinking and other fiscal tools that could help the board, superintendent and other involved citizens going forward. We will be reaching out to find out what assistance we can provide in identifying and addressing the systemic problems that created District 97's structural budget deficits.
We're pleased that the board will not have to make the drastic cuts in extracurricular activities that were outlined in the event of a referendum failure. However, the outcome does not change the need to address long-term trends on the expenditure side that, if not altered, will lead to more red ink. The sooner we are proactive, the greater the chance that District 97's tax levy can be reduced once the middle school buildings are paid for.
During the referendum campaign, the District 97 board and Superintendent Al Roberts emphasized the need to enhance productivity in the school system. The BCC supports that approach. As the BCC has urged, the next teacher contract should strive for productivity gains, including merit-based pay incentives, changes in staffing levels and tenure policy, and an end to salary increases that routinely outstrip inflation. District 97 cited the need for investment in new technology as another reason for going to referendum. In addition to improving instruction, we hope that technology can ease budget pressures through cost reductions, as it has in our own businesses.
The sooner we all begin working together to effect the much-needed changes, the better. As someone is fond of saying, "Never let a crisis go to waste."
This letter was submitted by board members of the Business and Civic Council of Oak Park, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization "dedicated to advancing public policies that stimulate and encourage economic growth and civic vitality in Oak Park." Signees of this letter include Frank Pellegrini, Marty Noll, Bill Planek, Cathy Yen, Willis Johnson, Mike Fox and Greg Melnyk.