By Terry Dean
School PTOs or outside groups such as the Girl Scouts will not have to pay to use District 97 facilities, said Supt. Albert Roberts, responding to a misconception that the elementary school district was planning to charge parent groups.
Roberts said the district has never had any plans to charge PTOs or other school-affiliated organizations. But some parent groups believed that, based on their reading of Policy 820, which is currently under revision by the D97 school board. The policy states that "student and school-related organizations" are not charged to use facilities, but "other organizations granted use of facilities shall pay fees and costs."
Roberts said other groups are only charged if D97 custodial staff must work additional hours at their events. Parent and student groups, he added, will continue to have first-use privileges over outside groups.
Some parents thought otherwise, based on new language added to the policy concerning local government organizations looking to use D97 facilities.
According to the policy, "The use of school facilities for school purposes has precedent over all other uses." But added languages states, "…unless those other uses have been approved by the district via a written agreement with a local government or other organization that is not affiliated with the school or district."
D97 parents Jeanine Pederson and Joan Radovich said the policy language is too open-ended and asked the district to revise it. Both spoke at the June 11, school board meeting where the policy was up for a vote. Stacey Evenson, an Oak Park Girl and Boy Scout leader, also spoke out against the perceived policy. She was moved to tears, in fact, saying the scouts can't afford to pay to use D97 facilities and didn't want to have to hold their meetings elsewhere.
In response, Roberts said the district had no plans to charge these groups. Roberts noted that policies tend to be general in language but that administrative guidelines govern district operations.
"There's no plan to charge Scouts or community groups fees, except for those times where we are required to bring in custodians for overtime, which has been our practice. I don't know how this has gotten blown out of proportion, but there's never been a plan to charge the groups that have been working us," Roberts said, adding, "There won't be a plan to charge groups that work with us as long as I'm superintendent."
The D97 board opted to send Policy 820 back to its policy committee to clean up some of the language.
June 25 vote on amending TIF settlement agreement
School District 97 is scheduled to vote next week on whether to open the Downtown TIF settlement agreement.
D97 is scheduled to take action at its June 25 regular school board meeting on the proposed amendment. The village of Oak Park last month sent a letter to both Oak Park school districts, asking that the 2011 agreement be amended to allow Downtown TIF dollars to go toward developing the Colt-Westgate site.
D200 has already stated its openness to amending the agreement.
Both school districts would benefit from tax revenue from newly-developed Colt-Westgate properties. D97 and D200 each could net $900,000 annually in property tax revenue once those properties come back onto the tax rolls, according to preliminary estimates from the village.