Dear Willis Johnson,
Unlike many of my neighbors — who have understandable concerns about noise, congestion, etc. — I have been a vocal proponent of business development in downtown Oak Park, and of the possible expansion of the Lake Theatre, even if zoning variances would be needed. I have done so because I understand that the greater good of a community may outweigh what is most convenient for an individual. I have always assumed that you, as an Oak Park business owner, shared that same commitment to our community values, and to keeping all aspects of our community strong and attractive to families. After all, the success of the Lake Theatre depends on the continued appeal of our local community to families.
However, after examining the Business and Civic Council statement that you cosigned in opposition to the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 referendum, and the factual misrepresentations within that statement, I regret that I can no longer assume that the BCC has any interest at all in working toward building a stronger Oak Park community [Business leaders urge no vote on referendum, Viewpoints, March 23]. I can no longer assume good faith on your part; going forward, I will have no choice in the future but to act accordingly.
I believe strongly that quality public schools are a bedrock to building a strong community. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I serve as a co-chair of The Committee to Support Oak Park Schools. I have served for several years as either a PTO co-president or PTO Council co-president, and have worked hard to arm myself with the facts regarding quality public education. In writing this letter, I speak solely for myself as a private citizen.
Let me be clear: It is entirely appropriate for you and for the BCC — as a group of bankers, real estate developers and business owners — to weigh in on a tax referendum's possible impact on local businesses. However, it is offensive for the BCC in its statement to make forays into educational policy on a variety of issues (many of which are beyond the control of local school districts and are set at the state and federal level), especially when, in doing so, the BCC willfully misrepresents the positions of educational policymakers like Arne Duncan in order to give your policy advocacy a false veneer of legitimacy. I have no problem with your opposition to tax referendums; I do have a problem with the use of misstatements, whether intentional or not on your part, to bolster your position.
To quote from the BCC statement: "According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the latter (larger class sizes) wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing: He says better-performing educational systems in Japan and Korea have up to 36 students in each class, compared with a U.S. average of 25: 'In fact, teachers in Asia sometimes request larger class sizes because they think a broad distribution of students and skill levels can accelerate learning.'" However, the reference to larger class sizes comes from Arne Duncan's speech "The New Normal," in which Duncan is referring specifically to high school education. In fact, just a few sentences prior to the statement that the BCC misrepresents, Duncan mentions the research that shows that smaller class sizes can boost academic achievement in grades K-3.
Elsewhere in Duncan's speech, he recommends some of the very actions that District 97 is trying to take in asking the community to approve a referendum: maintenance of the arts as part of a complete education, and investment in classroom technology to bolster student achievement.
I hope you will not resort to pleading ignorance of Duncan's publicly available statements. I ask my 11- and my 13-year-old children to perform due diligence before they affix their names to anything, and I think it is reasonable to hold the board of directors of the BCC to the same standard.
Here is the question I am forced to ask: Since you and the BCC have published a statement about something so essential to our community as our children's education that is either careless or duplicitous, why should I have any confidence in the honesty and accuracy in any past or future BCC position?
Carolina Song is an Oak Park resident and co-chair of The Committee to Support Oak Park Schools.