In order to justify the District 97 proposed tax referenda (which will increase the district’s tax levy by $13.3 million) the D97 school board claims that significant cuts will have to be made if the referendum fails. However D97 has spent more per student than many similar districts and some cuts will not likely put the district’s spending per student below similar districts. 

Based on a Chicago Tribune article (2/14/2013), D97’s spending per student ranked above similar school districts in River Forest, LaGrange, Wilmette, Deerfield, Lombard, Palatine, Arlington Heights, Glen Ellyn and many others. While this study is several years old, D97’s tax rate went from 3% in 2010 to 4.6% in 2015 — a 50% increase (from second installment property tax bills). Another Tribune article (June 2013) shows that Oak Park school districts had the second highest tax rate of suburban school districts, exceeding Naperville, Elmhurst, Evanston and others. 

 This leads to the conclusion that D97’s board is not as efficient in its spending compared to other school districts. A look at average teacher salary (Tribune, January 2013) shows that D97 teacher salaries ranked above Western Springs, Prospect Heights, LaGrange, Glenview, and West Northfield. As an example of D97’s excessive spending an article showing the penalty amounts various school districts were assessed for artificially increasing teacher pensions prior to retirement (Tribune July 2015) shows that D97 had the second highest penalty assessment for overpayment among suburban schools. Not only did D97 pay inflated amounts to retiring educators (which Oak Park taxpayers paid) but the higher pensions had to be paid by all Illinois taxpayers. 

 The district contends that there has been a large increase in enrollment although census information shows that Oak Park’s population has remained fairly constant over the past 5 years without a significant change in D97-age children from 2000 to 2010. The district also states that it has lost $9 million in state funding since 2012. However its annual tax levy increased by nearly $16 million since 2006 (WJ, 2/22/17).

Jon Paulsen

Oak Park

Join the discussion on social media!