The District 200 Board of Education has an unsettling history of ignoring voters’ rights. For nearly a decade, the board overtaxed taxpayers and unethically amassed more than $100 million in its cash reserve.
In 2015, the board tried to bypass voters to fund an Olympic-size swimming pool and natatorium. Episode seven of America to Me touches on the pool saga and includes an overview of the Jan. 14, 2016 board meeting. It was held to gather community input following the Cook County Board of Election’s ruling that forced the board to put its non-referendum bonds on the ballot.
A board member interviewed in the clip incorrectly states, “The ‘no’ contingent started not because of taxes but because of parking.” Point of fact, the “no” contingent formed in response to the board bypassing voters. The petition drive was a voters’ rights issue. The grassroots effort was called the Petition for Referendum not the Petition for Parking or the Petition to Save the Garage. The board’s refusal to put the funding of its $48.5 million project, which included a 50-meter pool and natatorium and demolition of the 12-year-old garage, on the ballot ignited anger in the community and resulted in a successful petition drive restoring voters’ rights.
At the same time that the board was all-in on spending $37.5 million on a swimming pool with 21 lanes, America to Me highlights that the funding for an effective writing program was on the chopping block.
Will history repeat itself? Will the current board repeat the act of overreach of the 2015 board and attempt to bypass voters to fund its proposed facility plan? Of its partial price tag of $145 million, approximately $117 million is earmarked to demolish and rebuild the structurally sound south end of the building, largely for PE/athletics, with $10 million earmarked for academics. D200 hasn’t disclosed its plan’s total cost, and line item expenditures lack transparency.
Major capital expenditures should be placed on the ballot and require the approval of a majority of voters in the district. To assert your right to vote on D200’s proposed facility plan, that includes a 17-lane pool and an aquatic center with seating for 600 spectators, please sign the online petition, tinyurl.com/oprfpetition; email the school board, BoE@oprfhs.org; and attend its 7 p.m. Town Hall meeting on Oct. 30. A board seat is not a blank check.
Monica Sheehan is a member of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.