Shocking that there is a lawsuit promised in the wake of the District 97 elementary school tax hike referendum. Agreed, there is an opening for a suit in the wording of the ballot question if you are inclined to file annoying lawsuits. And the Taxpayers United of America, a grandiose name for a couple of gadflies named Tobin, is nothing if not annoying.
We're disappointed though to see Noel Kuriakos, the local ringleader of the opposition to the tax hike, letting himself get pulled into this. We respected Kuriakos' passion in the weeks before the election. Now, not so much.
The Journal's reporting six weeks back spelled out how the inaccurate wording wound up on the District 97 ballot, as well as ballots in nearly a dozen other referendums across the Chicago area. The issue is with a dunderheaded legal interpretation of an inadequately precise state law regarding ballot wording. The goal, when the law was passed a few years back with a strong push from Oak Park's own state Sen. Don Harmon, was to add clarity to referendum ballots. And it did — just not enough clarity to prevent the aces at Chapman & Cutler, the noted Chicago law firm, from royally misinterpreting it. So now the state legislature is working quickly to add precise language requiring that the state equalizer be factored into the tax hike equation. The state house passed the new wording last week. The senate and governor seem sure to follow.
That ought to do it. That ought to negate any impulse to file suit. That, along with the "safety clause" in the current law which basically gives an out to any elected body which unintentionally passed any ballot wording that was incorrect. There is no doubt that the D97 school board acted honorably in preparing for this referendum and in campaigning for its passage.
Oak Park voters, with wondrous generosity and considerable trepidation, approved this tax hike in a climate where most referendums went dramatically down to defeat. We are certain that the voters who went to the polls did so with fair and accurate information despite the ballot snafu.
What both supporters and opponents want now is not an expensive lawsuit to distract and encumber the school board. They want the intense focus of school officials on school reform — tenure, pensions, merit pay vs. steps and lanes — and on effectively managing limited resources while improving student performance.
This lawsuit is nothing but a stunt to draw attention to the needy egos of those bringing the suit.
... vs. actual progress
While this likely lawsuit potentially gums up the works, District 97 officials are getting down to the actual work voters authorized with their support of the tax hike referendum. If one thing was clear from the intense discussion leading up to the vote, nobody thinks the referendum was a vote for the status quo.
We are in a moment of genuine, necessary change in education. From funding to technology, from parent involvement to teacher accountability, how we educate our kids is changing.
One aspect of that change is in how we evaluate teachers, what our expectations are for teachers. The decision this year by D97, with the input of the teachers union, to dismiss several tenured teachers is evidence that change is taking root. There is rightly a process in place that supports and mentors teachers. Now there is also a route toward severing employment with teachers who can't rise to expectations.