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The good news is that Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has crafted a far-reaching technology plan that will, in dramatic fashion, change the way we teach kids. The bad news is that District 97 is broke.

Let’s start by saying that we like the school district’s plan. It’s not about technology for its own sake. It’s about integrating great new tools into instruction. It’s about providing teachers with real options to differentiate instruction. It’s about getting to the genuine upside of testing, which is to allow ongoing and instant assessments of a student’s needs. And it’s about bringing these technologies to every classroom and to every student.

Over just a few years, the district is planning to implement strategies that will alter the way teaching occurs in our schools. This is a fundamental shift. And so, of course, it’s a shift that must occur equally across the district.

But if the district doesn’t have the money to pay for implementing the changes equitably in every school – and the overall price tag ranges from $4 million to $8 million – then what do you do?

Here are three options:

Pass a tax hike referendum. That’s hard to do these days and any modest increase District 97 might, in a long shot, win would first have to go to replace dollars being lost from the state.

Turn to the PTO’s legendary fundraising prowess. Oak Parkers can always use more wrapping paper. Market Day Salisbury steak? Hmmm. And there will always be money to be made in a silent auction of Bears tickets. Two problems. The PTOs already raise a lot of money and find worthy ways to spend it at their home schools. And, as parents and staff from Irving School made plain to the school board recently, different schools are able to raise varying amounts of money.

Having an inequitable funding source for the rollout of something as fundamental as technology is unacceptable to all Oak Parkers. We have an intriguing letter today from Libbey Paul, an active District 97 parent, suggesting a shared technology fundraising effort among all PTOs, or a method of splitting money raised based on enrollment, or some other measures.

The school board is not unaware of this challenge having addressed a “gift policy” in past years. To sort this out, we’ll need good minds and good will.

Here’s a final thought and a direct challenge to the powers that be at Oak Park and River Forest High School – yes, the school district with $80 million plus change in its bank accounts. How logical is it that the elementary and high school district would share a plan for expanding technology in the classroom? Why can’t there be a shared funding mechanism that would allow District 200 to invest in its feeder districts?

These are two districts (and, throw in, River Forest Elementary School District 90, too) that have not worked particularly well together over the years. Whether the subject was curriculum, discipline or data sharing, there has been poor communication. District 90 has a still-new superintendent. District 97 has no superintendent. And District 200 has a brand-new leader who has a strong interest in technology and instruction. The need is real; the timing is right. Who’s making the first phone call?

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