Fred Arkin, one of the two incumbents on the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board running for re-election, said that he’s running again to build on the significant accomplishments achieved during his first term.
Those include the hiring of Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, the finalization of a long overdue long-term master facilities plan, the enactment of a historic teachers contract and the pending enactment of a racial equity plan that the board is currently in the process of drafting, said Arkin.
“I think our work is unfinished,” he said. “During my first term, we’ve had some movement in many fronts. And as Dr. Pruitt said [recently], we stand on the precipice of turning the corner, especially on racial equity.”
Arkin said that Pruitt-Adams has “turned over virtually the entire administration” in her effort to implement the kind of racial equity work that he said prompted him to run for a board seat four years ago.
“We hired an experienced professional, and a courageous and empathetic leader to get us through these times and take us to where we want to be,” he said.
Arkin lauded the Imagine OPRF committee for its “very, very deep dive” into the high school’s facilities needs. He said that the needs assessment that the Imagine group conducted “is really the governing document that will need to be updated and used as a living document. We need to revisit it and update it on a regular basis.”
Echoing some of his fellow board members, Arkin said that he’s satisfied with the decision to invest around $32.6 million in the first phase of construction projects to emanate from the plan, which include renovating 76 classrooms. That’s money spent without raising taxes, he added.
Arkin said he’s confident that the district will be able to locate private funding to partially offset the cost of all construction projects contained in the facilities plan, which could end up costing upwards of $200 million when considered as a whole.
“We have a very robust and accomplished alumni all over the country that have ties to the OPRF community,” he said. “So, there are people with the wherewithal to donate. We can approach them in a very professional fundraising manner and try to raise a substantial amount of money for facilities. That can be an ongoing effort to help relieve some of the tax burden that we hear so much about from our taxpayers.”
Arkin also praised the recent teachers’ contract that the D200 board ratified unanimously earlier this month after a year of negotiations.
“That was a major undertaking and a very major change in the way that our professional faculty will be compensated,” Arkin said. “I believe that it’s both fair to the faculty as they move through core growth and fair to the community, because it allows us to contain costs.”
Arkin said that the pending racial equity policy that the board is working on “includes almost all of our stakeholders” and that board members could see a draft in March.
“I believe we’ll be prepared to vote on the first reading,” he said. “I’ve been very supportive of the work being done and believe we need the policy. It’s a difficult policy to craft and the people doing it are doing a spectacular job. I look forward to seeing the final form.”
Arkin also said that during his tenure, board members have been “dutiful stewards” of taxpayer dollars, referencing the roughly $35 million in tax abatements that the board approved over the last four years.
“We didn’t spend down the [$120 million fund surplus the district had accumulated],” he said. “We gave a lot of it back and we’re investing it in one-time things, not in deficit spending. We’re prolonging the need for an operating referendum … In 2017, the share of my taxes that went to District 200 were 13 percent lower than in 2013” — the year before Arkin was elected to the board.