At an April 11 regular meeting, the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 board unanimously authorized the purchase of books for classroom libraries in grades K through five not to exceed $966,151. The board approved a much smaller purchase of a complementary K-5 reading curriculum in an amount not to exceed $54,237.
Those price tags aren’t set in stone and could drop once district officials take inventory of the books that are currently in K-5 classrooms and take stock of how partnerships with entities like the Oak Park Public Library could be leveraged for further cost-savings.
“We’re trying to help the texts give students a mirror to themselves,” said District 97 Superintendent Carol Kelley at the April 11 meeting.
District officials said that, based on an inventory of three classroom libraries, the current stock of reading materials available to District 97 elementary students is outdated and isn’t culturally responsive.
“We just launched nonfiction book clubs,” said Steve Perkins, a second-grade teacher at Hatch Elementary School. “I literally had to go to the Oak Park Public Library to check out 90 percent of units, because I just don’t have enough quality nonfiction books across multiple topics to keep kids engaged over four weeks.”
District officials estimated that the last “refresh” in K-5 classroom reading materials was at least 10 years ago.
However, many school board members were concerned that the timing of the big-ticket purchase could send a negative signal to residents, who just voted in favor of two large referenda.
District 97 board President James Gates said the purchase of the reading materials had been in the works for a long time, but that the district should nonetheless “blast out to the broadest segment of the community” the rationale for the purchase and its final expense.
District officials said that the $1.1 million price tag for the books and reading curriculum is lower than a quote they obtained from another company that was around $1.5 million.
Gates said that the district’s new Committee for Community Engagement should explain “why we’re spending this and how we’re using it,” among other questions that taxpayers may have.
District officials are expected to present to the board the results of their inventory and a final purchase price sometime in June. The new books should be on the shelves by the start of the 2017-18 school year.