One of the guiding principles of the conservative movement-limits on public spending-is also a cornerstone of our nation’s history. Asserting that, “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” the sons of Liberty dumped taxed tea into Boston Harbor, despite the British having lowered the price of the product to offset the tariff. Frontier hero Davy Crockett, while representing Tennessee in Congress, famously refused to support a pension for the widow of a naval officer although he did agree to donate one week of his own pay for her cause. Crockett reasoned he had no right to use the power of the law to force taxpayers to contribute to a charity they may or may not wish to fund.

I offer this short history lesson because the groups charged with teaching our children history in Oak Park, specifically District 97 and District 200, have been drinking at the taxpayers’ trough for so long they have lost sight of one simple fact: every time they indulge one fancy or another from their respective wish lists, they are effectively picking the pockets of ordinary taxpaying citizens-like you and me.

Susan Bridge-and before her, Donald Offerman-demonstrated that one person can successfully fill the dual position of principal and superintendent of schools. (Let’s not forget that this “district” consists of only one actual school, Oak Park and River Forest High School.) Nevertheless, the school board has decided to split the position, necessitating two search and approval processes ($$), two salaries ($$), two benefit packages ($$), and two pensions ($$). None of this is meant to criticize Supt. Attila Weninger, who has presented a well-thought-out vision for the district, and a plan to raise the achievement levels of all students. Of course, Dr. Weninger has ample time to think great thoughts, as he is blessed with assistant superintendents for human resources ($), operations ($), and curriculum/instruction ($), as well as a CFO ($) and community relations coordinator ($), and, of course, a new principal ($).

The principal will also have plenty of time to refine philosophy, being ably assisted by three assistant principals ($$$), and an athletic director ($), who are in turn assisted by an assortment of directors, deans, and coordinators ($$$$$$$ and on and on and on). The next time the district comes hat-in-hand to hike up our school taxes, I promise you they will neglect to mention their top-heavy administration, but will limit their pitch to ominous rumblings about increasing class size and curtailing popular extra-curricular activities.

Dist. 97, charged with administering the eight elementary and two middle schools in Oak Park, has already adopted a strategic plan with 71 goals that include the usual platitudes of helping each student reach his or her full academic potential. (For goodness sake, is there a school anywhere in the world that has an objective of not helping children reach their full potential?) The plan has a $4.5-million price tag, and buried within it is the stated aim of passing a successful referendum in the near future.

The taxpayers should take a long hard look at this district’s spendthrift habits before giving them another penny. These are the folks who convinced us we needed to build two brand spanking new middle schools to replace two perfectly serviceable existing ones. (Although I must admit they didn’t waste any money trying to pleasingly blend them in with the historic architecture in their respective neighborhoods.) Suitably housed, they then proceeded to staff one of the schools with a high-salaried principal who turned out to be a disaster. Like its elder sister 200, Dist. 97 continues to have designated coordinators of this ‘n’ that, all well paid, and receiving generous benefit packages.

Twenty years ago, the village had a somewhat unique vision of diversity, and I suppose a case might be made that our elementary school district benefited from a special coordinator for multicultural curriculum. Now the rest of the country has caught up with Oak Park, and virtually every textbook and academic material in the country has a multicultural component. The same can be said for information technology. Twenty years ago, many teachers were not computer literate, but that has all changed. In today’s world, a well-paid classroom teacher should be able to implement multicultural and IT curriculum goals. Frankly, any teacher who cannot do so should be replaced.

I am not claiming that pricey facilities and bloated staff actually harm the students. I suspect they do not, and may even provide some benefits. On the other hand, lower taxes provide benefits too. Wouldn’t it be nice if more OPRF graduates were able to afford homes and raise their families in the village, and our senior citizens weren’t forced to spend their retirement years someplace else? In fact there are a multitude of very worthy aspirations that many of our citizens share. Sadly, we cannot get them publicly funded; rather, we must choose only what we can afford.

Local school districts should be forced to do the same.

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