Through errors of omission, commission, negligence or greed, the two public school districts serving Oak Park (and at the high school level also River Forest) have fairly drastically overtaxed citizens in recent years. That is entirely a stick in the eye to homeowners, apartment building owners and commercial property owners who were paying steep taxes even before these mistakes compounded the costs.
So as we’ve said before, it is always disingenuous when representatives of either the District 97 elementary schools or Oak Park and River Forest High School try to take credit for efforts to rebate the unfairly collected tax or to suggest solid stewardship in reducing the obscene financial reserve the high school piled up over a decade.
That said, there is some good news from District 200 on taxes. The high school has qualified — no we’re not entirely clear on how — for a new state program that is shipping/reimbursing OPRF $3.8 million based on the school district agreeing to cut its local taxes by $5.8 million. Add it all up and the owner of a $400,000 home in Oak Park or River Forest will pay $280 less to D200 next year.
Where our financially teetering state is coming up with the $3.8 million is unclear. That D97 does not qualify for the bonanza is clear but unfortunate.
Our final point, made before and sure to be made again: The test of whether these two school districts, the prime beneficiaries of local property taxes, are serious about respecting stretched local property taxpayers is how they treat the incremental tax revenue about to be generated by the new high-rises in downtown Oak Park. There are only a handful of children living in their buildings so school costs are not rising.
If the schools consider the gift of these new taxes as a way to hold the line on existing taxpayers, the message will have been received. If the hike is seen as found money to be appropriated, we have the wrong people in office.