At the Sept. 13 school board meeting in Oak Park, it became clear that District 97 finds itself in a dire financial situation. The school board has enacted deep budget cuts during the last four years in order to address the structural deficit.
New Dist. 97 Assistant Superintendent for Finance & Operations Donald Robinson suggested increasing class sizes to 35 students, going for a referendum, or a combination of the two in order to reduce the budget deficit.
To its credit, the school board made it clear it will not and cannot request help from already overburdened taxpayers, nor will it consider increasing class sizes to 35 students.
It was opportune to have [Village President] David Pope at the meeting advocating for collaboration between the school and village boards. Collaboration now must mean helping close Dist. 97’s structural financial deficit. Over the past several years, the library, District 200, and the park district have successfully passed referendums; all the while, Dist. 97 has been belt-tightening in an effort to prove to the public that all that can be cut from the school budgets has been cut. After four years of deep cuts, the school board can’t go for a much-needed referendum, despite the fact that their last increase was 19 years ago.
At Wednesday’s meeting, school board member Sharon Patchak-Layman made an important suggestion regarding the many millions of dollars that the school district has contributed to the TIF fund over the last 20 years. At her urging, the board has decided to ask for a portion of those TIF funds. I am writing to support this investment. Investing those funds now in our elementary schools is critical to the future success of Oak Park schools.
Oak Park is an attractive community because it has a reputation for good schools. Oak Park schools must excel at educating our children. This will not happen with class sizes at 35 or under-funded programming. Let us encourage the village board trustees and David Pope to financially support our exemplary public elementary schools. Let us also applaud the school board for directing the administration to keep class sizes at current levels and in seeking additional funds that do not result in an increase in property taxes.