By Terry Dean
Three Oak Park taxing bodies approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Collaboration for Early Childhood on April 24 to create a supportive care network of programs for young children in Oak Park and River Forest.
The village of Oak Park and school districts 200 and 97, last Wednesday, approved a contract for services with the Collaboration. Boards for each taxing body met in a special joint meeting, hosted at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
The votes for the IGA and contract were unanimous except for D200 board members Sharon Patchak-Layman and Dietra Millard, who voted against the two measures, both citing concerns with the language in the IGA and the contract.
The three bodies had already agreed to allocate funding for the initiative — the village of Oak Park committed last December and the two school districts this spring. OPRF is contributing about $216,000 in startup money. D97 has committed $248,000 and the village about $115,000.
Each taxing body will also allocate money to the initiative after the start-up year. The contract for services runs five years, beginning July 1.
The taxing bodies will make payments to the Collaboration on July 10 and Jan. 10 through 2018. The first payments this July and next January from OPRF, D97 and the village is roughly $108,000, $124,000 and $85,800 respectively for each payment period. The amount for each body steadily increases annually through 2018. At that time, OPRF's amount increases to roughly $223,600 and D97 rises to $256,500. The village of Oak Park will come in at roughly $177,600. A payment scheduled is outlined in both the contract and IGA.
A "governing board" will be set up to oversee the contract and agreement. That group will consist of two board members and one administrator from each taxing body. The group will meet at least four times a year and be subject to Illinois' Open Meeting Act. The governing board will also advise the Collaboration on its budget and services offered through the program, among other duties outlined in the contract.
Any of the parties can terminate its obligations under the contract for services "with or without cause," according to the IGA.
The Collaboration has been working with the taxing bodies for well over a year on its proposal. The nonprofit is looking to create a more integrated network of child care services across the two villages, as well as improve certain services already offered to families. This has been a goal of the Collaboration since its founding in 2002.
Last week's vote was accompanied by tears of joy from various board members, as well as members of the Collaboration who were present. In acknowledging the Collaboration, Village President David Pope was emotional in thanking Eric Gershenson, one of the Collaboration's founders. During his comments after the vote, Gershenson teared up as he talked about the group's long road to get to this point.
"On behalf of the Collaboration for Early Childhood and as a resident and former school board member, please accept our most heartfelt thank you," said the former D97 board member, fighting back tears.
As Gershenson spoke, several members of the various boards also wiped away a few tears.
The Collaboration has targeted 2015 as the launch date for its supportive care system. The idea, according to the nonprofit, is to streamline and combine the scattered services already provided to families into a more comprehensive, coordinated approach. More families who might normally fall through the cracks will receive services, the Collaboration maintains.
Several board members from each taxing body talked about the importance of funding early childhood services. They said the Collaboration's proposed initiative is supported by research highlighting the need to reach children at the earliest age.