The importance of any meeting held to discuss details of financial assistance to another taxing body should have dictated greater planning. It came as a surprise not only to citizens, but what is more troublesome, to most of the trustees. To hold this discussion without adequate notice and without the facts was a disservice to fellow board members, staff and citizens. To be discussing two options (both TIF-related) for assisting District 97 with so little review and preparation was poor judgment.

I am also concerned that despite the lack of public notice, the school board and PTOs were able to turn out such large numbers. Why did only one part of the community get notice of this meeting? This allowed pandering to the audience on this emotional issue and an opportunity for grandstanding on the part of some board members. I was amazed that one trustee was pushing for a decision that night, insisting that the proposal from the Township Assessor (for whom I have a lot of respect) was the only way out of Dist. 97’s dilemma.

Before holding the meeting, staff should have had the opportunity to review this matter in depth. They are the ones with the knowledge to address the financial ramifications to the village. The board’s authority is to set policy, not to develop the financial details of such proposals or discuss them without staff’s prior thorough review.

Lastly, I am concerned about any additional village funding of the school districts for a few reasons. The schools should not be beholden to the village in any way. They need to remain independent from local politics. As a few trustees pointed out, the village recently ended a similar relationship with the Park District of Oak Park because of the problems it created. The village started down the road of creating school dependency when they “bribed” both districts into supporting the downtown TIF extension with

1) the promise of $4 million to each-District 200 in the form of a “community” garage (for a real cost of $7 million when interest on the bond is added), and Dist. 97 in the form of assistance for busing and the diversity program, and

2) a convoluted TIF carve-out arrangement based on Mike Chen’s development projections.

Now you are discussing an additional $5 million, bringing the total assistance to approximately $16 million over the period of a few years. This does not include additional costs such as attorneys’ fees and staff time. And what will Dist. 97 do after this two-year period of assistance? Will citizens be more likely to vote for a referendum then?

When the TIF extension was proposed by the prior village manager, some residents spoke before both school boards, asking them to vigorously oppose the extension and to appeal to the community for their support, neither of which they did. I attended the last three annual Joint TIF Review Board meetings and asked many questions about inappropriate expenses being charged to the TIF and the inordinate disparity between soft costs and expenditures on public infrastructure (almost nothing, leading to Crandall Arambula’s rating of downtown Oak Park as “fair to poor” after 23 years of a TIF and over $60 million spent) while the taxing bodies (except the township) blindly approved the reports.

While I am very sympathetic to the schools’ problem, the solutions have not been thoroughly investigated and to have proceeded this far down the path of assistance without adequately evaluating the situation is contrary to public interest. David Pope, Ray Johnson and Galen Gockel supported the TIF extension with a deaf ear to those who argued against it because of its potential negative impact on the schools’ finances, and here we are a few years later facing the consequences. Twenty-three years of diverting significant tax dollars from the schools to private developers has been devastating, and the TIF extension has turned it into 35 years.

Please look carefully at the long-term impacts of any decision and be wary of quick fixes.

Since David Pope suggested at the meeting that he would welcome other suggestions, here are mine:

My preferred alternative would be for David and Ray Johnson to sit down with Dean White, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country, to re-negotiate the estimated $10-14 million TIF subsidy they voted to give him for his Whiteco apartment project. Just a 50 percent adjustment would give Dist. 97 what it needs. I also suggest they arrange a meeting with the DTOP Business Association and the self-appointed Business and Civic Council of Oak Park, both of whom issued letters of support for the Whiteco subsidy and the TIF extension, to discuss any creative ideas they may have to help Dist. 97.

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