OPRF stuck with Trustees of Schools

? Harmon bill would allow River Foresters to vote on candidates for obscure township school finance board.

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By DREW CARTER

Oak Park and River Forest High School looks to win a minor victory with a bill before the governor, though its dreams of independence from an obscure government entity are all but lost.

Senate Bill 1493, written by state Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, would allow River Forest voters to weigh in on candidates running for the three-member Cicero Township Trustees of Schools board, and would allow River Forest Elementary School District 90 the opportunity to exchange its relationship with the Proviso Township Trustees of Schools for one with Cicero's.

River Forest voters currently cannot vote for the trustees, who oversee the investments of hundreds of millions in tax proceeds from six school districts in Cicero, Berwyn and Oak Park, including OPRF.

"Yes, complete franchisement is a good thing," said Susan Bridge, OPRF principal and superintendent. "We're very appreciative of all the work Sen. Harmon has done on our behalf."

But the measure would give OPRF a pittance of what officials there and Harmon had pushed for: the opportunity to completely divorce itself from the Trustees of Schools.

"No one can understand why that system is still in place," said Dist. 200 Board of Education President John Rigas.

Harmon said trustees of schools, a relic of old government now found only in suburban Cook County, are "quite entrenched" politically and have a "very effective" lobbyist in Springfield.

"I have run my head into a brick wall over and over again on this one," said Harmon, who originally wrote the bill to allow Oak Park schools out of the arrangement. "I think in the short run I may have run out of practical opportunities." Harmon said he has worked on getting independence for Oak Park schools throughout the three years he's been in office.

Last July, OPRF, and to a much lesser extent Oak Park elementary schools, began a push to sever ties with the Cicero Township Trustees of Schools and the Township Treasurer's Office. Oak Park school officials said the services the office provides?#34;budget oversight and accounting in addition to making investments?#34;are redundant and not worth the approximately $120,000 Oak Park districts have to pay for the treasurer's budget.

WEDNESDAY JOURNAL has reported that two of the three trustees have connections to the Cicero GOP. Only one trustee can represent each elementary school district covered by the Trustees of Schools, but Berwyn has two elementary districts. The Berwyn and Cicero vote could carry an election to take the traditionally held Oak Park seat.

The entity also holds title to school property.

In the April 2005 election, a Berwyn woman dropped her candidacy late in the race, and Oak Park attorney and Realtor Bill Sullivan won by default.

Absent getting Oak Park schools out of the arrangement, electing Sullivan was the next best thing, Harmon said.

"He seems to have made great strides right out of the gate and his dedication to the high school is unquestionable," Harmon said. Sullivan is a co-founder of the OPRF Alumni Association, and worked before his first meeting as trustee in May to lower expenditures recommended to the board by the township treasurer.

Other than via a new state law, the only way out of the arrangement would be by a voter-approved referendum, something unlikely to meet the approval of Berwyn and Cicero voters, whose schools would then have to bear the entire costs of the office. Thus the measure would likely be defeated, even with River Foresters voting.

"I would find it surprising if we were to get that to happen," Rigas said.

Harmon expects Gov. Rod Blagojevich will sign the bill before him.

"I think we have worked through all the controversy," Harmon said.Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

Although his bill eventually gave River Forest Elementary School District 90 the opportunity to change its affiliation with the Proviso Township Trustees of Schools to Cicero's, state Sen. Don Harmon didn't have that goal in mind.

"Given the recent history," Harmon said, "I wouldn't advise River Forest to move into the [Cicero] district."

"We're happy with Proviso," said Anthony Cozzi, business manager for Dist. 90. He added that he doubted if many voters would even know what they'd be voting on, giving the obscurity of the Trustees of Schools body.

 

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