There is an important election coming up on April 5 which will determine who will represent the community for the next four years on the OPRF District 200 Board of Education. Four of seven positions are up for election. This election is about our children and our ability to continue to find real solutions to the dilemmas which surround education in our communities. We are the candidates endorsed by the 2004 Community Caucus of Oak Park and River Forest: John Rigas, Paul Wolfman, and Jacques Conway together with Valerie Fisher. We offer true commitment to academic excellence for all our students, proven leadership in addressing educational and financial issues, and diverse experiences as incumbent board members, parents and active participants in District 200 and the communities we serve.
We have continuously acted over our collective 14 years of service to OPRF to direct our efforts in several critical areas: Enhancing efforts for all students to reach academic excellence, especially efforts to eliminate the performance gap; Closely monitoring District 200’s financial resources by better oversight of property tax dollars to ensure sound fiscal management, including negotiating a fair but fiscally responsible teachers’ contract; expanding cooperation between District 200 and feeder Districts 90 and 97, concentrating on transitional programs for middle school students; and engaging in cooperation with our village trustees and state legislators in arrangements crucial to student success. A glimpse of the initiatives created, funded and enhanced over the past four years shows a solid and uninterrupted dedication to our high school, its students, faculty and staff. We have been unstinting in our support and follow-through for constructive change to improve educational opportunities for all our students whether in the classroom or in co-curricular activities.
True commitment to education
OPRF has never wavered from its commitment to excellence in education for all students. The State Report Card reveals that each year we educate our students to a level of excellence found at few other high schools. In 2004, 11.5 percent of the graduating class received some form of national academic achievement scholarship recognition. Even so, there remains a performance gap that has not yet been eliminated. Over the past four years we have supported many initiatives designed to address these concerns. District 200 together with Evanston Township High School founded the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). MSAN continues to seek the best ideas each member school district can offer and supports educational research initiatives with national educational experts. In May 2003, through the diligent efforts of community members, OPRF staff and administrators, and research professionals from our university community, the African-American Achievement Study Team published its findings in a report titled “The Learning Community Performance Gap” detailing efforts and recommendations for student success. The recommendations presented to the board were accepted and are being progressively initiated or enhanced where already started.
Academic excellence also means a well-rounded education. Last year we directed the Administration to hire a full-time Director of Student Activities to manage over 65 student activities because statistics prove that students who participate in activities do better academically. We established both an academic and a co-curricular transcript for each student so dean-counselors would counsel students to join activities and gain self-esteem as part of a peer group educational experience. Many of our students participate in clubs, activities and intra-mural or interscholastic sports. Other students are involved in vocational experiences either at OPRF or at Triton College. At OPRF we offer a tutoring center, a summer program for mathematics step-up opportunities and science field trips in ecology, biology and marine biology.
Our special education faculty work as committed professionals and partner with parents and the community to foster success for these students. Monthly informational meetings with parents and special community partnership programs like CITE, and employment programs at Rush Oak Park Hospital help our special needs children prepare for independent living. Our partnership with the hospital provides scholarship funds so these students can continue their education. The program is so well-regarded that we are able to secure grant monies to fund the program’s educational aide. .
One of the most critical tasks facing the new board may well be the need to find an outstanding new Superintendent to replace Dr. Sue Bridge who may retire in 2007. The continued educational excellence of our district needs the focus of strong board leadership. Valerie Fisher brings to our slate her experience of co-chairing the search process which resulted in the hiring of Dr. Bridge
Proven financial leadership
Our communities’ residents pay property taxes funding 85 percent of District 200’s expenses. We have been strong advocates for reorganizing OPRF’s business office. John Rigas and Paul Wolfman directly participated in hiring a new Chief Financial Officer who brings C.P.A. credentials and significant business experience to District 200. Zero-based budgeting techniques have been implemented, together with new, enhanced insurance broker relationships, pooled purchasing arrangements and significant expense reduction efforts. In 1996 the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee of which Paul Wolfman was a member, introduced the five-year strategic financial planning process. That five-year plan has evolved into an important planning tool for appropriately spending our communities’ property tax dollars. John Rigas headed the negotiating team that just concluded a new teachers’ contract placing our teachers’ salaries in the top one-third of their peer group. We raised entry teachers’ salaries to remain competitive and negotiated teacher participation in controlling health care costs. With the help of Senator Harmon we are challenging the need to remain in the Cicero Township Trustee’s Office. District 200 will be required to pay over $100,000 this year for inefficient, duplicative financial oversight it does not need. We are determined to end this wasteful arrangement.
Tax increment financing has also received our attention. TIF districts promote economic development, but directly rob schools of needed educational dollars. We strongly supported the inter-governmental TIF Agreement with District 97 and the Village of Oak Park. Whether or not the village decides to extend the downtown TIF, District 200 is assured of property carve-outs which will return to District 200 significant dollars for education.
Being watchful stewards of property tax dollars requires our continual vigilance. Local commercial taxpayers have attempted to recoup tax payments from our schools by filing for abatement of previously paid taxes. We have stood firm and directly challenged these efforts. We have been successful in recouping over $195,000 in the current fiscal year. Sustaining innovative approaches to school finance is absolutely necessary. The Caucus candidates are best positioned to continue our district’s efforts through the next four years.
Ongoing communications with Districts 97 and 90
Articulation with our feeder school districts, particularly in transitioning middle school students to the high school, remains a high priority. Our intervention programs include: Learning Seminar and Learning Support, Tutoring Program, Project Scholar; College Scholar,4.0 Assessment Program, Reading Across the Curriculum, Essentials of English, Summer Math Step-Up Program, Freshman Information Research Study and Tutoring Program, Females Reaching for Excellence in Education, Males United in Reaching for Excellence in Education, and more. District 200 staff meets monthly with a middle school transition group, Pipeline to Success, and uses its inter-district Consortium for Educational Change meetings to design ways to strengthen the student’s transition experience. These are real programs the caucus candidates have supported with a strong commitment to academic success.
Communications among our school districts has never been greater both at the board level and between our instructional faculties and administrative staffs. We continue our joint board meetings to discuss important issues. Our administrative staff in the Instruction, Special Education and Pupil Support Service areas of the high school has been deeply involved in efforts at Districts 97 and 90 to further engage in professional dialogues on educational issues and student interventions.
These past four years we have worked tirelessly with local taxing bodies to enhance working and financial partnerships that serve as a foundation for the success of our students. Our cooperation with Oak Park Trustees in facilities and parking matters has been given much needed attention. Our strong support for close associations with the Youth Network Council, the River Forest and Oak Park Councils of Government, the Oak Park Community Foundation, the West 40 Educational Board and Triton College are representative of the efforts put forward for building constructive relationships. We continue our outreach with our State legislators. Senator Lightford, for example, was key in obtaining crucial funding for our minority student initiatives.
John Rigas, Paul Wolfman, Valerie Fisher and Jacques Conway have experience in finding creative, real solutions to the complex academic and financial issues which come before the District 200 Board of Education. We are leaders committed to maintaining the excellence of our high school and enhancing efforts for all students’ academic success and personal growth. You know us as your neighbors, as your friends and as a Slate who deeply care about the young adults in our communities. Please vote on April 5 and support us as active and responsible Board representatives.