Unlike last November — when the outcome of Oak Park and River Forest High School’s facilities referendum, which failed by less than 40 votes, took weeks to finalize — the outcomes of the two District 97 referenda were clear even before the votes from all 37 precincts were counted on the Cook County Clerk’s website on April 4. 

And the margins of victory for both measures were relatively overwhelming. The operating funds referendum, which called for a 1 percent limiting rate tax extension in order to generate a projected $13.3 million in additional revenue passed by a nearly 10-point margin, 54 percent to 46 percent.

The $57.5 million capital referendum, issued in order to fund various building maintenance and expansion projects, passed by nearly 20 points, 60 percent to 40 percent.

District officials have estimated that the first referendum will cost taxpayers $74 for every $1,000 of an average homeowner’s current tax bill. That measure is designed to increase the district’s total fund balance to 27.5 percent of total operating expenses within five years. The second referendum will have no fiscal impact, district officials said.

The last D97 referendum — a limiting rate increase issued in 2011, which raised 

around $7 million in operating funds for the district — passed by almost 10 points, 54 percent to 46 percent.

All of the district’s sitting school board members were at an Election Day watch party held at Robinson’s Ribs, 848 Madison St., with D97 Board President Jim Gates and Board Vice President Amy Felton thanking their fellow board members, along with district administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents and community members.

“[We thank you for] all of the things you’ve sacrificed for the kids in this community,” said Gates, who opted against running for reelection this year. “All of the good things in my life, every single good thing, came because I found my way to Oak Park.”

“I just don’t know if there’s anything else I can be prouder of,” said board member Holly Spurlock, who noted that she spent hours responding to Facebook queries about the referenda’s intricacies with residents. She thanked Vote Yes! committee members for building “a LEGO foundation” of knowledge that was based on district information.

“What I’m most excited about is that the turnout was really high,” said Vote Yes! spokesman Jassen Strokosch. “For a consolidated election, this was a really good turnout, so that makes me feel good. No one wants to win with low turnout.”

D97 Supt. Carol Kelley said that she believes that the successful referenda are precursors to more comprehensive progress within the district.

“This wasn’t just a vote for the referendum,” she said. “It’s also the community saying, ‘We are behind this vision for every student to have positive learning environments that are equitable, inclusive and focused on the whole child.’ I am grateful … I think Oak Park is a historic community, but we are in the process of making history and I feel in my gut that this is an exciting time for the entire community.”

Newly elected D97 board members Rob Breymaier and Keecia Broy both breathed sighs of relief upon learning of the successful ballot measures.

“Obviously, the hard work starts now,” said Breymaier, who with nearly 20 percent of vote, was the most popular of the eight candidates running for the three open seats on the D97 board.

“It’s definitely better that the referenda passed because otherwise my life would have been trying to figure out what are we going to cut. We can work from a district that is strong and stable to do the things we need to do to promote equity, and make sure that we have the best schools possible for every one our kids. Now we can do that.”

Broy garnered around 16 percent of the vote, roughly the same percentage as the second-highest vote-getter, Katherine Murray-Liebl.

“I am humbled by this experience and excited to get to work with the people of Oak Park,” she said. “I didn’t have any yard signs or collateral, so that was a huge risk. I was definitely optimistic, but I wasn’t super excited. Now that I’m here, I’m thrilled and honored.”

Broy, Breymaier and Murray-Liebl will join Rupa Datta, Holly Spurlock, Bob Spatz and Jim O’Connor on a school board that will now decide the next steps that the district will take now that it’s averted what many district officials, parents and community members believed would have been a nightmare scenario if the referenda hadn’t passed. 

At an April 11 regular meeting, the board was scheduled to discuss a budget timeline for spending the additional funds. The board could approve a final budget by September.  

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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