The vote on the District 97 referendum was evidently a close one by historical standards. The rancor has continued in the wake of the April 5 vote. It is therefore refreshing to read a response [Time to shift focus to meeting D97's promises, Viewpoints, April 13] by opponents of the referendum (the Business and Civic Council of Oak Park) that endeavors to assume a constructive tone.
That said, the BCC's prescription for addressing District 97's budget issues is based on a questionable assumption: that there are "systemic problems that created District 97's structural budget deficits." District 97's budget deficit is the result of a long period of time during which the district had no revenue increases in real dollars, but experienced cost increases that outstripped inflation. So one might conclude that, if we want to maintain or improve the quality of educational services, we need to periodically increase District 97's revenues. That does not imply mismanagement or "systemic problems." It goes with the territory.
But by "systemic problems," the BCC apparently refers to its belief that District 97's teachers are overpaid and enjoy too much job security. Ultimately, that is an ideological issue, not a fiscal one. It starts with the question of how much we actually value teachers, i.e., whether teachers ought to be well-paid and have job security because of the value they provide to our society, and so that highly competent individuals will be attracted to teaching in general and to Oak Park schools in particular. I have difficulty understanding how business and professional people can begrudge teaching professionals earning only a fraction of what most business and professional people earn, and then also begrudging them any job-security provisions (i.e., tenure). With all due respect, which of the members of the BCC would be satisfied with annual increases in compensation that do no more than keep up with inflation? Which of them would be satisfied to have their annual income capped at five figures for life, all the while being vulnerable to termination at will? Teachers are not overpaid, and granting them tenure is a fair trade for their relatively low pay.
None of which is to say that we shouldn't look at ways to improve the quality of teaching, including merit-based incentives and the flexibility to terminate teachers who are underperforming. Tenure doesn't — or at least shouldn't — mean that a teacher cannot be fired for cause. But the focus on this issue by the BCC and others implies that the phenomenon of underperforming teachers is, in fact, a significant problem in District 97's schools. To my knowledge, no one has demonstrated that to be the case, much less that it is a significant budget issue. What we are witnessing here is anti-unionism disguised as a budgetary concern.
Daniel Hurtado has resided in Oak Park for 21 years and has one daughter who he says "benefited immensely from the D97 schools."
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