The resolution on containing costs passed — actually reaffirmed — last week by the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School was a fine thing. The board action focused on District 200’s determination to stretch out as far into the future as possible the day of reckoning when it will need to go to voters for a tax hike referendum.
According to the latest projections, that date has been pushed out to 2021. That’s impressive, though it doesn’t hurt the effort to be sitting on a gargantuan, we’d say unconscionable, cash reserve of $80 million. That said, the district’s efforts to hold costs, cut costs, and find efficiencies in all manner of spending are entirely admirable. We’ve watched, over many years, as school districts have squandered big cash balances on loopy initiatives and overblown building projects.
To its credit the OPRF board has been prudent.
However, it is not too soon to say that the actual proof of this school board’s determination to represent the flailing property taxpayers of Oak Park and River Forest will come simply and almost solely in its negotiations for new contracts with teachers and other staff, come 2012. The vast majority of school spending rightly goes to personnel. When the current five-year contract with teachers was signed, the board’s focus was clearly not on cost containment. Gigantic recession, or not, that contract was outlandish and unsustainable.
So, we’re glad to see the school board reaffirm that cost containment is paramount. We appreciate the interim efforts to find savings, efficiencies and innovations. What we will be watching for, though, is the approach to negotiating a contract that addresses pay increases, benefits, merit pay, tenure, retirement incentives, the entire panoply of costs tied to compensation for teachers, administrators, counselors, janitors, office staff, etc.