Dist. 97 fast-tracks planning process

First strategic plan in 16 years will guide new leaders' planning

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By BOB SKOLNIK

Oak Park's District 97 school system is about to begin its first formal strategic planning process since 1989 which just happens to be the last year that District 97 had a new school superintendent.

At a special meeting of the school board last week board members decided, with the encouragement of new superintendent Constance Collins, to try to hurry along the strategic planning process so that the results of the process can help in budget planning for the next school year.

"I think as we are trying to move the district from good to great, it is good to know what the priorities are," Collins told the board. "I would appreciate us getting involved in this as soon as possible so it can inform the decisions we make in the district."

School board President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz also said it was an important time for the district to do strategic planning.

"There are all kinds of reasons to do this in addition to the new leadership we have," said Newberry Schwartz. "Our financial situation has changed and we have some tough decisions ahead. We have some very, very, important issues that haven't been looked at in a long time."

The board hopes to complete the process in three to six months. The first step is to select a firm to do the strategic plan. Depending upon the length and complexity of the planning process a strategic plan can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $150,000 according to district spokesperson Gail Crantz.

Board members hope to begin interviewing strategic planning firms soon and to hire a firm by mid-October.

Board member Marcia Frank expressed skepticism that the strategic planning process could be completed in time to impact the 2006-07 budget, but the consensus of the board seemed to be to try to do just that.

Board member Sharon Patchak-Layman suggested that the board rule out proposing a tax increase after the strategic planning process is completed.

"I would feel a lot more comfortable with this process if it wasn't leading to referendum" said Patchak-Layman. "I'd rather go into this saying we're not going to go to referendum."

But Newberry Schwartz refused to limit the district's options. "I am not willing to pre-empt this district from going to referendum," she said.

In other action at the special meeting, the board decided to continue its past practice of holding occasional school board meetings at schools in the district rather than holding all meetings at district headquarters.

The board also decided to make clear rules for public comment at school board meetings and to try to have a more systematic response to those asking questions or making comments during the public comment portion of school board meetings.

The board also reiterated that public comments should be made to the presiding officer and are not to be directed at staff or individual board members.

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