Lawsuit filed over D97 referendum

Asks that results be overturned; district says suit 'has no merit'


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Click here to see the lawsuit.

The lawsuit against Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and Board of Education over the district's April 5 tax hike referendum was filed April 26 with the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The suit seeks to overturn the April 5 election, where the district's rate hike referendum was approved by voters 55-45 percent. The attorney for the plaintiffs — Oak Park resident Noel Kuriakos and Taxpayers United of America — charges that the April 5 ballot language "misrepresented" the true impact of the tax increase.

"We want a finding that the ballot was invalid, and we want the election set aside," said Andrew Spiegel, who represents Kuriakos and Taxpayers United.

All seven D97 board members are also named as defendants in the suit.

In response, the district released a statement expressing disappointment that "certain individuals have chosen to file a lawsuit that will seek to invalidate the important decision that the citizens of Oak Park made regarding the District 97 referendum."

The district also insists the allegation of "misleading" voters has no merit.

"It is unfortunate that fighting this lawsuit will force the district to waste valuable time, energy and money that should be invested in meeting the needs of the families we serve," the statement reads.

The ballot language has been disputed since well before the election. The state equalizer, which is used to calculate local tax bills, was not factored in when D97 finalized its ballot wording. That was also the case with nine other school taxing bodies in the area seeking a referendum April 5.

The district has said it was following the advice of its bond counsel, Chicago-based Chapman and Cutler, in not including the equalizer. Chapman also advised some of the other taxing bodies.

The firm cited an Illinois statute that does not expressly state that the equalizer has to be used. Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar was among those arguing that the same statute doesn't expressly state to ignore the equalizer either. An Oak Park resident first alerted ElSaffar and Wednesday Journal about the discrepancy on the local ballot. As a result of not factoring in the equalizer, the wording on D97's ballot question was off by a factor of three, ElSaffar has said.

That point is also made in the lawsuit against D97.

"Prior to the general election, the district and its members became aware that the tax rate increase, and the estimated amount of said increase on a property valued at $100,000 as stated on the ballot did not include the state equalizer ...," the suit reads. "As a result, the district and its members understated the estimated amount of the tax increase by approximately two-thirds — $37.40 per $100,000 of assessed valuation instead of $126.04 per $100,000."

The suit also charges that D97 was aware of this discrepancy and OK'd the ballot language anyway. The district and board used a different and more accurate figure — $38 per $1,000 in property taxes—in their public campaign, which all sides have agreed was a correct assessment of the impact.

"The district was fully transparent throughout the process, and supplemental information was widely available and communicated in a timely fashion, using resources that were easily assessable," according to the district's statement.

In related news, the Illinois House of Representatives voted April 15 to amend the statute. The law now specifically says to use the equalizer "for the first levy year for which the new rate or increased limiting rate will be applicable." The state Senate is currently deliberating the bill, sponsored in that chamber by Oak Park state Sen. Don Harmon.

Taxpayers United filed a separate suit last Tuesday against Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 and all seven members of its school board. That suit alleges that D208 engaged in "illegal electioneering activity" to advocate for yes votes in their April 5 tax rate referendum. Voters, however, defeated that ballot measure with nearly 77 percent of voters opposed.

The RB lawsuit is asking for damages not to exceed $50,000 and that the school board members be required to pay, out of their own individual funds, any damages that might be awarded.

The Oak Park suit is not seeking any monetary damages.

Bob Skolnik contributed to this report.

  OP Petition

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:18 PM

Pretty to think so, Rodney, but it seems that some people would rather go crying to mommy, or the local court, when they lose.

Rodney King of Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:54 PM

Can't we all just get along.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:38 PM

PMO, I'm the other OP you prob are referring to. Give me one example of me personally attacking anyone. I defend, but never offend. if you have evidence, please refer.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:30 PM

Ok, I did call the Tobins "busybodies." But I think that's pretty factual.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:29 PM

I fear you may be talking about another OP. I'm pretty nice.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:14 PM

Lord knows OP is far from above personal attacks. They are his forte in fact.

sam from OP  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:04 PM

I agree. Noel set the tone and created this hostile environment. Now he acts as if OP has turned against him for having a different viewpoint. Trust me, nobody wants your hugs Noel! Not because of you having your viewpoints, but because of how you have behaved towards others who have a different viewpoint than yours. Good luck to you.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 4:55 PM

Noel is all about the personal attacks. I don't see why he should be handled with kid (npi) gloves.

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 4:38 PM

@Curious, trying to come up with a time when I thought, "man, good thing I attacked that guy personally!" p.s. I know him well and we used to be friends, although I think he is mad at me currently.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 3:00 PM

@Steve - Have you met Noel? He is the same guy who openly insulted D97 officials at the forums, calling them suckers and other descriptors. He strikes me as the kind of person who was bullied a lot as a kid because he was so annoying. His arrogant, know-it-all attitude wears thin pretty fast. He could be making meaningful, collaborative change in D97, but he's burned those bridges already.

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 2:51 PM

After reading the referendum facts in March, I supported it. Now let's get the facts on whether or not there was a mistake and go from there. But the personal attacks on Noel? Shameful. Knock it off.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 2:45 PM

How on earth is Noel going to "improve the learning outcomes & teaching effectiveness at D97" when D97 won't even let him in the schools? What qualifications does he have to do this? Sorry, but hating taxes isn't enough. Pretty confident that D97 doesn't want your ideas, especially now that you are suing them. Quit wasting everyone's time and money.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 2:28 PM

Look Savior K has come to our rescue. He's the answer to all that we've waited for.

Your Neighbor  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 12:52 PM

It would seem that the lawsuit is finding fault with the district for following the law as it was written. The law may or may not have been poorly written, but from what I have read, it appears the district made a good faith effort to conform to the law.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 12:48 PM

Noel, you ignorant patsy! You should check in with your co-conspirators before speaking out. Since you are a party in this lawsuit, they should recommend that you shut your pie hole. Litigants, as a rule, should keep a low profile and not communicate except through their lawyer. Take it from me, I know.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:46 AM

Noel, will Christina give hugs along side you? She's very interesting.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:37 AM

Ok, I told you guys not to say Beetlejuice 3x

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:36 AM

Gooooooood Morning OP. It is nice to see the gaggle of posters back in their usual form. I will be @ Scoville Park on May 1 giving out free hugs & I would love to give some of you a special hug for your amazing comments below. It is a pleasure to be the object of your affection. BTW I started UTOP to bring responsible RE taxation polices to OP, StudentsFirst of OP to improve learning outcomes & teaching effectiveness at D97, In Lieu Of - a microfinance org funded by k-8 kids. Plz support them

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:35 AM

I agree, OP. Mr. Kuriakos has elected to take the extraordinarily hostile step of suing the District, which has the corollary effect of indicting all of us who voted yes and supported the referendum. No one should be surprised that his hostility is met in kind.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:29 AM

I don't agree that people must be polite, but could you please point me to a post that is impolite? I think people have been amazingly restrained, given the circumstances.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:18 AM

You can disagree to your heart's content (that is good), but please be polite and show us all that you (the posters) have at least a high school education or that your (the posters) parents taught you some manners on CIVIL discourse.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:14 AM

(that was to the respectfully and courteously named "WTF," not Daniel.)


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:13 AM

Who's not being courteous? Who's going off topic? Are you saying the only way to be civil is to agree that the lawsuit has merit? Or that its specifics (like trying to extort the board members) are reasonable?

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:07 AM

This matter requires closer analysis, but I am skeptical that individual board members can be held personally liable, unless it can be shown that they engaged in some type of fraud. And even if they could be held peronally liable, there is probably a mechanism by which they would be indemnified by D97. As to benefiting all of OP's taxpayers, the majority of OP taxpayers voted for the referendum. I think OP taxpayers are competent to determine for themselves what is in their interest.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:07 AM

I don't see how it's possible to make the board members pay out of their own pockets unless there was criminal activity. They are protected by Errors and Omissions (? I think that is what it is called). No one in their right mind would volunteer (and remember, board members are unpaid volunteers) for a position that might possibly open them up to this kind of liability. This is clearly intended to harass the board members. Nice work, Ms. Tobin.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:06 AM

The IL House passed a bill that addresses the flaw in the referendum ballot language used by D97 under the advise of Chapman & Cutler. Sen Don Harmon is the Senate sponsor of this bill. Clearly there is something WRONG with the current law and the way it was used in the last election. Stick to the facts people and PLEASE do the decent Citizens of Oak Park a favor and take a few lessons on being respectful and courteous.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 11:00 AM

Christina, what is it about our little village that makes you want to move here? I'm just curious, because as an anti-tax person, why move to a place with very high property taxes, inside a county with the highest sales taxes in the state, close to the city with the highest gas taxes in the country. Enjoy Oak Park it's a great place to live. I love it.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:56 AM

Christina, thanks for that "clarification". But you can't think that the board would not consult an attorney first before this even makes it to a judge. Thus, taking money out of our (people already living in Oak Park)kid's education. I would think that a volunteer board could not face any "individual" lawsuit.

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:52 AM

@ Ms. Tobin-Are you, as of the time of your posting this morning, an Oak Park resident? The information available said that you were planning to relocate to Oak Park shortly.

Christina Tobin from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:44 AM

The lawsuit is asking the court to order the individual board members to pay any costs, expenses, and fees won by the petitioners, as well as their own legal defense from their own pockets. It should cost the property taxpayers of Oak Park nothing. The suit is for the benefit of every property taxpayer in Oak Park.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:32 AM

That's a good question Not a Constitutional Lawyer. Most of us assume that TUA does not have standing, but generally any plaintiff has to be able to show injury in order to have standing. Perhaps he could argue that his increased tax bill is the injury that confers standing.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:19 AM

Well, in terms of costs, here's to hoping that once TUA gets bounced out for lacking any standing to sue, D97 gets a judgment requiring the remaining plaintiff to pay their attorneys fees and costs.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:04 AM

Maybe he voted "Yes"!

Not a Constitutional Lawyer  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 10:03 AM

How can you be a plaintiff in a case complaining about misleading referendum language when you voted "No"? It is not like he can claim he was tricked into voting "Yes" by the referendum's wording. How does he have standing to raise this argument?


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:57 AM

Parker, we can all dream. In this case it's more like a fantasy. Hopefully, when the district's attorney files the response they will seek to have the plaintiffs pay the district's attorney fee if they courts find in favor of the district.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:52 AM

Bottom line is, this is costing D97 $500 an hour in legal fees. Mr. K is supposedly concerned about the district using resources wisely. Ignoring him won't make this go away. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of dollars later...


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:52 AM

@OP it is possible that Tobin is not funding this one. CAOP has a website that takes donations. Maybe other concerned Oak Park residents are helping with this effort. And the attorney has been censured, don't know why. But maybe he likes this kind of stuff and is doing it pro bono.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:49 AM

If only that were true, Confused.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:44 AM

I agree with Patricia. Let's stop all of this. Let's not post comments. It is possible that these posts are fuel for the fire. Deny the fuel and the fire dies out.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:21 AM

I am tired of Noel saying he is unemployed. His wife is employed as a physician, so it's not like he is destitute. He is a stay-at-home parent. Or maybe this is his new career, tweaking liberals. It wouldn't be the first time someone made a living doing that.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:20 AM

I agree with mudslinging. Oak Park has a history of intimidating those who have a different opinion. I don't happen to agree with this lawsuit, but I do think that we need to respect everyone's rights to have an opinion without getting nasty.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:19 AM

It's being paid for by the Tobin Busybodies. Or maybe the attny is doing this pro-bono. Mr. K is being used as the one person with standing, since he's the only one of the aforementioned who lives in Oak Park, and therefore has standing as a plaintiff.

Mudslinging gets everyone dirty  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 9:18 AM

There are many people out of work who are looking for employment. Suggesting that someone is not looking hard enough for work is not your business. You people are very cruel.

Voted yes from oak park  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:55 AM

The majority of voters have spoken. YES was the answer we gave. I agree with the posting from WOW, If this Mr.K spent this much time trying to find a job instead of being a pest I'm sure he could afford the tax increase , by the way without a Job how is planning on paying for the cost of a law suit ?


Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:43 AM

By the end of the day, the district will rack-up a legal bill. Even if this gets tossed out, the legal fees will hit 10s of thousands. There goes new learning upgrades.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 8:12 AM

I supported the referendum. And I doubt the wrongly-worded ballot question had any effect on the outcome. Still - and I have not yet read the statute - it's hard to see how invalidation of the vote is not potentially an appropriate remedy for a ballot question that significantly misrepresented the impact of passing the referendum. I think the suit is ill-considered, but perhaps we now will get some inkling as to thinking behind Chapman & Cutler's interpretation of the statute.


Posted: April 27th, 2011 7:54 AM

I looked at his website too. This guy was in marketing? Doesn't seem like he could sell ice in a desert. I suppose if he litigates as well as he markets, this lawsuit should go away in a jiffy.

Getting to know Noel  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 7:24 AM

Not only has he filed this lawsuit, but now he's filed a complaint with Ill Board of Ed and Attorney General, according to his letter to the editorial. Why...Why...Why. He should just home school his kids. Oh, he said (facebook)that he thought about it but his wife said he would drive the kids nuts. Even she gets school is better than...

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2011 6:22 AM

@C. Donovan @epic lulz - the statute that dictates how the language/multiplier appears on the ballot is already being amended by the State Leg. It already passed the House and is pending in the Senate so the lawsuit will have no impact on improving the language for future ballots, thats already being addressed.

Getting to know Noel  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 11:21 PM He has lots of opinions.Now, he's using Oak Park as his lab rat.


Posted: April 26th, 2011 11:01 PM

Well, education seems to have become a passion for Mr. K. He's not going away and will find other ways to remain a pain in the (you pick the body part) District 97. He should just run for the board. But that's a no pay, no glory position.

Gene-o from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 10:34 PM

Perhaps Dist 97 should take the offense and countersue TUA for champerty, the common law claim againt one with no legitimate concern in the suit who bargains to aid in the prosecution in the hope of receiving a benefit in the event of success. Or The Dist might countersue Noel K and/or the attorney for barratry, the common law claim against a plaintiff or attorney who brings a groundless claim? Ready to take the offense?


Posted: April 26th, 2011 9:36 PM

Wait, didn't that law firm write the statute? Why wouldn't you hire them?

epic lulz  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 9:07 PM

My hope is that this lawsuit has two effects, that the law gets tightened up to assure that nothing like this happens again, and that the law firm that advised D97 never gets hired again by any taxing body.

OP Parent  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 9:02 PM

@ good faith, you said, "And so the torch has been passed from Mr. Golden to a new generation, Noel." HAHAHA. So very very true.

C. Donovan  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 8:03 PM

Despite the lack of merit to the lawsuit, perhaps it would be a good move to make sure that the error never happens again and that the true cost (including the multiplier) is specified on the next referendum by District 97 or any other taxing body. And you know there will be one.

sam from oak park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 7:56 PM

yes, it is very clear that this Noel fellow is clearly looking for his 15 minutes. If he really cared about the taxpayers or children for that matter, he would let go of his misdirected anger and work on something more productive than wasting more tax dollars with a lawsuit! He should be ashamed of himself.

good faith? from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 7:49 PM

And so the torch has been passed from Mr. Golden to a new generation, Noel. Let us hope the history of tearing down, criticizing and obstructing doesn't last as long for Noel as it did for Mr. Golden.

good faith? from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 7:46 PM

Carol - you assume winning the lawsuit was ever the intention. This has more to do with the media coverage and making a name for themselves than it does about winning anything. But thats for the courts to decide.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 7:22 PM

#fixtypo: strike out "don't" in the first sentence below.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 7:21 PM

Am I alone in thinking that none of the sections of IL code cited in the petition don't really support any of the relief being asked for? Any other lawyers care to comment?

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 7:10 PM

The attorney hired by the plaintiffs seems like an interesting fellow:

Gail Moran from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 6:13 PM

Shameful. May it die a quick death and not cost D97 revenues that can better be spent on education. Which, is the point after all, is it not?


Posted: April 26th, 2011 6:05 PM

Just reading the lawsuit, it looks like a "savvy" attorney could get this throw out for any number of reasons.

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:55 PM

@voted NO-Here's the salient point from the article: "The district and board used a different and more accurate figure-$38 per $1,000 in property taxes-in their public campaign, which all sides have agreed was a correct assessment of the impact." @John Murtagh-I don't watch a lot of TV, and I've never seen that particular show. For their sake, TUA had better hope that the quality of the legal advice they are getting is better than the proofreading.

The bottom in is this:  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:43 PM

The district and board used a different and more accurate figure %u2014 $38 per $1,000 in property taxes%u2014in their public campaign, which all sides have agreed was a correct assessment of the impact.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:39 PM

Carolina - you are spending too much time watching The Good Wife. Minor typos, misspellings, etc. are correctable.

A. District 97 parent voted No  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:35 PM

The difference in the figure on the ballot and the $100 per $1,000 is significant. Will someone explain why it's not important to nail down an exact figure before this goes into effect? Or are there money trees in the yards of Yes voters? At this rate I need one to continue living here.


Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:12 PM

This is such a waste of time, money, and energy!

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:05 PM

Question-Is the lawsuit invalidated by the fact that the petition misspells the names of three of the District 97 board members?


Posted: April 26th, 2011 5:02 PM

Unbelievable. You know, if Kuriakos would have put this much effort into finding a job within his past three years of unemployment, I bet he'd have found something more worthwhile to occupy his time.

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