Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200’s action to sue its own taxpayers (via a lawsuit against the village) is the most outrageous, brazen and disconnected-from-reality local governmental act I have seen in 30 years. Extortion is a polite way to describe what is being attempted.
In recent years the village has sent millions in checks to District 200 as well as building a parking garage for teachers, funding school resource officers, crossing guard services and being enthusiastically supportive of OPRF at every juncture. And what has this insatiable thirst for resources led to?
With a fund balance projected at $83 million, District 200 is one of the most overfunded school districts in Illinois, and now wants the recession-depleted village (also Oak Park taxpayers) to cut it another check for $3.3 million or some astronomical number.
Not to downplay the importance of what District 200 is in business to do, but these folks have one building to manage. They are now 130 percent overfunded, and want more. Somebody pinch me and get me out of the Twilight Zone. I’ve rarely seen a local government sock away more than 35 percent. Good fiscal practices require a 90-day cash flow cushion, or a quarter of the government’s annual budget. District 200’s surplus funding would be respectable and appropriate at $20 million, which would be a 33 percent fund balance.
When I served on a school board, the educational process began with the board and administration by setting good examples and following some semblance of a sound moral compass and basic civics.
Rather than stomping its feet up and down and hiring lawyers to further bloat its cash mountain, District 200 might consider setting an example of community responsibility. In the worst economy since the Depression, a responsible action would include consideration of rebating gross surpluses to struggling taxpayers, or more central to their mission, supporting the hard-pressed and hardworking elementary district with the excess District 200 over-funding surpluses.
Rather than suing to further drain and strain taxpayers, District 200 should be working with all other taxing jurisdictions in the best interests of the overall community and its taxpayers.
District 200 should cease the never-ending demands to the village to keep cutting it checks until the recession is over, the housing market rebounds and all local governments and taxpayers are stabilized.
If District 200 really wants to burn tax dollars on lawyers, it might want to get an opinion on the legal limits of overtaxing people.
Tom Barwin has been the Oak Park village manager since 2006.