These are tough times. No one wants to see more people out of work, especially workers who are well regarded, who have put in the years, done the work.

That, though, is the possibility if Oak Park and River Forest High School moves forward with a concept to outsource custodial services at the school. A public hearing was held last week as a first step in determining the fate of the 28 custodians at the school. Inevitably those speaking out were in support of the men and women who clean the school, keep the systems running and provide the literal and figurative oil to keep this busy and complex school up and running seven days a week. Our bias is to support them as well.

However, the school has again set itself up for criticism by raising this possibility without providing any context of what benefits might be gained by turning custodial services over to a third party. The school has acknowledged that its custodians collectively earned just under $2 million in the past year. But what cost savings do they anticipate if the role were outsourced? The school will say that number is unknowable until it issues a Request for Proposals and hears back from motivated vendors.

Poppycock.

An institution doesn’t float this emotionally charged balloon twice in two years unless it has a fairly clear idea that significant money will be saved or service substantially improved. Or both.

District 200 officials have to publicly make a case for why this is a necessary step. All residents who pay taxes to the high school would applaud any effort to save money. But as a community, many of us have seen up close the work of the custodial staff. We’ve noted the detailed attention to keeping this school looking smart. We’ve been in the school on a weekend when a dozen activities were underway and all the right doors were open, all the right set-ups had been made, and the custodial staff was a positive presence at the periphery of all the action.

So this isn’t simple. And it isn’t just about money. OPRF needs to make a compelling case to the community.

A contest in River Forest

After months of intrigue, rumors, false starts and plain old political gossip, a race has taken shape for River Forest village president.

John Rigas, currently on the OPRF board, announced a few weeks back that he would seek the top job. Fairly or not, Rigas is being presented as the establishment choice to succeed Frank Paris as president after Paris’ long run.

And Monday, Trustee Steve Hoke filed his petitions for president after months of making noises that he was content as a trustee and wanted someone else to lead the charge. When that didn’t happen, Hoke presumably couldn’t help himself since he clearly wants no part in Act Two of “Head Banging, The River Forest Story.”

For the past 18 months, service on the River Forest board has meant an epic battle between loud and louder, rude and ruder. We’d allow that despite the angst, some progress has been made in sorting out the police department and confronting budget and management deficiencies at village hall.

That said, River Forest deserves, and River Foresters ought to demand, a positive campaign that focuses on the future of the village not its past two years.

The village is best served by a contested, yet respectful, election for president.

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