In April 2002, the voters of Oak Park/River Forest passed an operating referendum which was supposed to be used to cover operating expenses of District 200. In 2005, the D200 board manipulated the annual levy rate to get a near-constant increase in surplus cash which today totals in excess of $100 million. This money should be used to cover operating expenses.
Fast forward to a few years ago when a select group began organizing to obtain a large pool-athletic complex at our high school, knowing full well that academic achievement declines and that ADA requirements are not being met in a timely manner. We all know the recent history of attempts around referendums, voting and parking lots to get a new big pool, so I won’t enumerate them again. Suffice it to say, this community has repeatedly said we do not want our tax dollars spent on massive athletic complexes, but instead prefer that our operating funds go first and foremost to ADA improvements and to academics for all.
In the Nov. 5 D200 school board meeting agenda, there was an attachment titled, “Addressing Funding for Imagine Plan.” In this document, there is repeated discussion of how much of the cash reserve to use for facilities capital improvements. This board has already decreased financial transparency by changing the district’s accounting method to cash basis accounting. This board will again be deciding whether to add another notch to the history of D200 board manipulation of property tax collections.
Do not use operating funds for capital improvements. In very direct terms, this would also be a decision that adds to inhibiting the coming federal financial transparency requirements.
In the last two weeks, over 810 Oak Park and River Forest voters signed an online petition which was presented to the board last week. We voters assert our right to vote on D200’s capital works projects. At the recent Town Hall, the majority of those in attendance opposed the current Imagine proposal, its price tag, its heavy emphasis on PE and athletics and especially any effort to bypass voters to fund this capital project.
If, as our representative body, you opt to bypass us to begin funding what will likely be the most expensive capital project at a public high school ever in Illinois, you will be using operating funds to represent primarily a special interest group, the 100 or so unique students on the school’s aquatic teams, and the local private swim clubs. You will not be acting in the best interests of all the other students at the school, our community and taxpayers.
Will you execute a plan that addresses needed ADA improvements and prioritized academic needs? Stave off another operations referendum until 2030? Please do what is right to ensure the best outcomes for all.