By Terry Dean
The District 200 Board of Education on Sept. 23 re-approved a resolution originally passed in January 2009 calling for the board to work toward controlling costs at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
The sponsor of the resolution, board member Ralph Lee, has argued that OPRF's expenditures are outpacing revenues, and that the school should work to bring those more closely in line.
Doing so, he said, will prevent the high school from having to go back to taxpayers for a referendum, which the school has projected by 2018.
The resolution passed 5-2. Amy McCormack and Terry Finnegan voted against the measure. Both were elected in April 2009, months after the previous board approved the resolution. At the regular monthly board meeting last Thursday, members spent more than a half hour discussing the merits of the resolution, if it needed to be changed and whether the school has lived up to it.
Board member John Allen, who also voted for the measure in 2009, said the school has lived up to the resolution.
"I think voting this resolution down sends a bad message," he said.
Allen also noted that administration, and in particular the school's chief financial officer, Cheryl Witham, has been able to reduce costs. The board on Thursday also approved the school's 2011 fiscal year budget, showing OPRF fund balances totaling more than $80 million and a $5 million surplus from the previous year. All seven members approved the budget. The school's revenues were $69 million and expenditures roughly $64 million, 74 percent of that amount being allocated to the education fund.
Allen, chair of the board's finance committee, credited Witham and the administration for containing costs and finding savings. He said their work has allowed OPRF to hold off going for a referendum until at least 2021. He noted that the school's financial management has been recognized with awards by the Association of School Board Business Officials and Illinois State Board of Education.
Allen, again, recognized Witham for helping to secure those honors, an acknowledgement that was followed by applause from some in the audience.
Concerning the spending resolution, Finnegan and McCormack voted against the resolution over specific language in it, but also maintained that the school has succeeded in controlling costs.
McCormack, Allen and Finnegan, though, insisted that it's unrealistic to think that a school district will never have to ask voters for a tax hike. Lee insisted that the school work to keep revenues and expenditures in line for a prolonged period of time.
"Yes, we have very, very hard work to do in our school district, and every school district in our community, to keep our costs down and delay a referendum for as long as possible," McCormack said.
"It is very burdensome to our taxpayers to ask for more money. I've only been on the board for a year and I've been pleased and amazed at what we've been able to accomplish in extending our period out another year before we hit deficit spending."
McCormack added that she wouldn't have voted for the measure in 2009 but agreed with the spirit of the resolution in wanting to control costs. Finnegan suggested some changes to the measure that was before the board last week but ultimately voted against it as those amended changes weren't approved.%uFEFF