Teachers at Oak Park and River Forest High School ratified a five-year contract last week. We don’t know what the final vote was because it seems to be some odd secret. But if acceptance was by less than acclimation, teachers at the school ought to be sent for remedial math.

What is not to approve?

The board and the faculty, who have every reason to unite at this point in the face of community inquiry, would tell you pay raises average four percent annually over the life of this contract. Sounds almost reasonable, though four percent is on the high end of average in the world at large. The reality, though, is that teachers at OPRF and most everywhere start each year with a two percent pay raise that they call something other than a pay raise. Ah, yes, the step increase. The pay raise that just keeps coming.

So, truth is that in the first two years of this contract, every teacher in the district will get the 4.5 percent raise and almost every teacher will also get the 2 percent step increase. Adds up to 6.5 percent more money in the pay envelope. That’s rich. In the final couple of years of the contract, the combination drops to 5.6 percent. Still rich.

School board leaders at Oak Park and River Forest High School believe they’ve won continued “real world” concessions from teachers in the contract in the area of health benefits and retirement. Only in the rose-colored world of education can it be called a concession when the employee goes from paying five percent of their health care premium to eight percent. 

These communities have reached a limit on property taxes. Again, the high school board has failed to represent taxpayers. While this over-generous, taxpayer-last contract will extend beyond the life of the reform board elected by fed-up voters last month, we do expect the new board to find ways to change the culture of this school district, to impose fiscal discipline and to set tough and realistic priorities.

Clearly, Ridgeland Common needs re-do

There is good news and opportunity, as well as anxiety, in the consultant’s report last week that says Ridgeland Common is obsolete in every way imaginable. The $10 million the consulant has determined it would take over a decade just to make the place functional – but still totally outmoded – confirms that it is time for broad and fresh thinking.

This is no place, no time for half measures and hand-wringing. This park is pooped. It needs to be overhauled and rethought.

At just over six acres, Ridgeland Common is Oak Park’s largest park. It is the most centrally located. It is sheltered by the train embankment, the commerce of Lake Street and Ridgeland Avenue from worries over intrusion into residential neighborhoods. And it sits immediately adjacent to Oak Park and River Forest High School athletic fields. 

This gives the careful planners at the park district a wealth of opportunities to go along with the challenge of finding a variety of ways to fund this redevelopment.

Among the questions to be asked:

 – Does Oak Park need two outdoor pools as attendance slides at both year by year?

 – How many different ways can the park board and the high school find to cooperate on this venture? The only pools in worse shape than Ridgeland are those found indoors across the street at OPRF. The high school should take advantage of the ice rink, likely to remain a part of Ridgeland Common. How can the abutting fields at Ridgeland and OPRF be configured to allow more sharing of facilities for the school and community?

 – The village government, which is all about joint planning and intergovernmental cooperation, has a street (Scoville) that would be awfully attractive as park land. 

 – How does what might be incorporated at Ridgeland change possible uses at other more neighborhood focused parks?

As we said, while the price tag may be hefty, the opportunity to reimagine Ridgeland Common is exciting and necessary.

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