In response to Wednesday Journal’s July 14 Our View [Sure, just sue everybody], the District 200 Board of Education attests full support for our Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Witham. She is an outstanding asset to our high school and our communities. The board also wants to affirm that its decision to file a lawsuit against the Village of Oak Park for noncompliance with the 2003 TIF intergovernmental agreement was its own – deliberate, informed and unanimous.

Since joining the district eight years ago, Ms. Witham has brought unprecedented fiscal accountability to high school finance through her transparent and careful management of public funds and prudent long-term financial planning. In the current financial climate in which so many school districts have been forced to slash faculty, support staff and programs, District 200 has had the information and options needed to cut costs strategically over time without hurting the consistent, quality education the high school provides to our 3,200 students. Examples include modifications to health and retirement benefits; reallocation and reduction of administrative and support staff; cooperative cost-saving initiatives with other public entities, such as our food services arrangement with District 97, and withdrawal from the mismanaged and costly Cicero Township treasurer arrangement. Careful planning and action have allowed us to forestall deficit spending through 2014, and stave off a referendum before at least 2018.

The judge handling the 2003 TIF agreement lawsuit has instructed all parties not to discuss the lawsuit in the media. We respect and will honor that request. However, we feel compelled to refute the Journal’s claim that a gullible, divided board was duped into this course of action. For the last several years, District 200 boards have repeatedly discussed how to hold the village accountable for the terms of the TIF agreement. There was complete board harmony to undertake this latest action, as we believe it is in the best interests of Oak Park and River Forest High School students and our communities.

There is always room for honest disagreement about public policy and actions, but uninformed ad hominem attacks, unsupported by facts, are a poor substitute for the objective, thoughtful reporting that our communities deserve – and District 200 would welcome – on this complex and vital issue.

Dietra Millard, John Allen IV,
Terry Finnegan, Ralph Lee, Jacques Conway, Sharon Patchak-Layman
and Amy McCormack
District 200 Board of Education

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