Every time I read more details about the TIF spat between the village and District 200, I become more furious.
I understand that in some roundabout way (as it always is with TIFs, especially in Illinois), the village owes District 200 and District 97 money. What I don’t understand is how this has gotten to the lawsuit stage. Even District 97 – which actually needs more money, money that would go a long way to improving the high school’s performance – thought this was ridiculous.
In his letter to the Journal when this whole thing started, acting school board president Dr. Ralph Lee did a nice job of telling us what the problem is. But he didn’t tell us why, with $85 million in reserves sitting around, the district needed the approximately $3.3 million it is owed so urgently that it had no choice but to resort to costly litigation.
Really? This could not have been hashed out between the two entities in further meetings and phone calls? Breakfast at George’s?
According to Lee, the district sent Village Manager Tom Barwin a letter asking for a progress report. When he didn’t answer in four weeks (including the holidays), the only solution was a lawsuit? Did anyone call the village to see if he received the letter? Ask him why he hadn’t responded? Ask him what his timeline for a response was? Heck, if it was so urgent, couldn’t the district have started out with just a threat to sue to get things moving faster?
And now, after they’ve lost their first court battle, the school board and administration are trying to recruit other taxing bodies to join the lawsuit and strengthen their case – and to spend even more of our money on legal fees. Are you kidding me?
When this thing is finally resolved, it will probably cost us already-overburdened taxpayers $250,000 in legal fees at a time when the village is laying off staff and the high school is belt tightening. A quarter-million dollars is real money that could be spent on real things that deliver real value: tree trimming, alley paving, special education teachers, vintage building maintenance, drug and alcohol prevention, narrowing “the gap,” etc.
Times are tough for government entities everywhere. They’re tough for a lot of citizens, too. It shouldn’t be too much to ask our elected officials to work a little harder at cooperating – for all our benefit.
P.S., This episode, along with the superintendent fiasco, continues to make me wonder why we have a whole school district for just one school.
Brian Souders is a south Oak Park resident who attended Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect – one of the nine schools in District 214.