By Terry Dean
The plaintiffs who saw their lawsuit against District 97's tax hike referendum dismissed in the Cook County courts have decided to appeal that decision.
"First and foremost it is our constitutional right to appeal a judicial decision and we intend to exercise this right," wrote Oak Park resident Noel Kuriakos in a statement released Monday.
Kuriakos was a plaintiff along with Taxpayers United of America in filing the suit April 26. On June 30, a Cook County judge dismissed the suit, which sought to overturn the April 5 election result in Oak Park. Kuriakos and Taxpayers United argued that the district's referendum ballot intentionally misled voters and understated the financial impact of the tax increase. The district and entire elementary school board were named as defendants.
The judge, however, sided with the district, saying it was not done intentionally, and that the district was protected by a so-called "safety clause" in the law concerning potential mistakes on a ballot.
The referendum was approved by voters on April 5 by 55 to 45 percent. Speaking to the Wednesday Journal following the judge's decision to dismiss the suit, D97 school board president Peter Barber said he hoped that an appeal would not be filed, insisting that it would take time away from the district's responsibility to educate students.
Kuriakos has become a vocal critic of D97's board and administration. He has also spoken during public comments at board meetings following the election. After aligning himself with the Illinois-based Taxpayers United of America in filing the lawsuit, Kuriakos started his own local, anti-tax group—Taxpayers United of Oak Park. An Oak Park resident and parent, Kuriakos has argued that the district needs to prioritize its spending before asking voters for more money.
The referendum was approved with a total of 6,067 votes; the no votes totaled 5,084. As a result, the Oak Park elementary school district won a $6 million increase to its overall levy, bringing that to about $48 million for this upcoming school year.
Despite the referendum winning by roughly 10 percentage points, Kuriakos in his statement believes his appeal has broad community support.
"We are encouraged and supported in our appeal by the nearly 4,900 citizens of Oak Park who voted no on the recent property tax referendum," he said. "We would like to remind our detractors that the referendum only passed with the support of less than 12 percent of the citizens of Oak Park. We will continue to engage our diverse citizenry about fiscal responsibility and educational outcomes, and debate in a respectful manner with epistemic vigilance."