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In the ongoing saga of the Village of Oak Park v. the local high school, the village presented a payment schedule Tuesday, detailing how and when it’s going to make payments owed to both Oak Park school districts. 

But only two members of the school board from Oak Park and River Forest High School were at the table to hear the village’s pitch as a lawsuit lodged by OPRF still hangs over any discussion of the controversy.

And while the limited exchanges were civil, the messages sent between the high school and village government were stark reminders of the divide that exists over TIF payouts. A village government official described his financial presentation of the issue as the “textbook” on the subject. A high school board member responded that the village was simply presenting its own “interpretation” of the disputed 2003 intergovernmental agreement and not an accepted “textbook” accounting.

Under the plan presented by the village, Oak Park would pay District 200 $1.79 million and District 97 $1.55 million, which would come in quarterly payments. Oak Park’s other taxing bodies – the library, park district and township – would also receive payouts from the village’s downtown TIF (tax increment financing) district.

Tuesday’s meeting between the village and two school districts was some seven years in the making. When the downtown TIF was set to expire in 2003, the village reached an agreement with the school districts to extend it until 2018. Under the agreement, the village would make annual “carve outs” of properties to send money back to the schools, and hold joint meetings of the three elected boards to review the TIF each year.

But District 200 says those meetings haven’t been held, and sued village hall in February seeking $3.3 million.

The first payment to other taxing bodies would be made in July, according to what Craig Lesner, the village’s finance director, says is the “textbook” the village created to help interpret the complicated agreement. Oak Park wants to spread the payments out quarterly, to help with problems it has with cash flow.

Peter Traczyk, president of the District 97 board, questioned why Oak Park couldn’t start making the payments immediately.

“Why can’t you pay us now?” he said.

Village officials say they could likely make the payments all at once, but would have to take on debt to do so.

“I, frankly, would love to be able to pay you now,” said Village President David Pope. “I, as one of the seven voting members of our board, have no desire to be in hock, no offense, to either of the school districts any longer than we need to be.”

Officials say the payments have been delayed for various reasons, most notably that developments in downtown have been pushed back by years and couldn’t be “carved out” of the TIF when planned.

Ralph Lee, a member of the District 200 Board of Education, thanked the village for holding the long-delayed meeting, calling it a “very positive first step.” He stressed that what the village presented was simply its “interpretation” of the 2003 agreement and not textbook, as Lesner said.

“The District 200 Board of Education intends to address the calculations with great care, due to the magnitude of the dollars to be paid annually over the next nine years,” Lee read from a prepared statement.

The meeting was held at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. The crowd was small, with only a couple of members of the public present. Also sitting in the audience were outside attorneys for the high school, elementary schools and the village.

Most every member from the District 97 and village boards were in attendance, but only two members from the District 200 board sat at the table – Lee and Vice President John Allen. A third member, Sharon Patchak-Layman, sat in the audience.

For more on this story, see the June 9 print edition of Wednesday Journal.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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