The president of the Park District of Oak Park board has his sights set on a District 200 school board seat. Victor Guarino, a project manager at Argonne National Laboratory, said he’s running primarily for three reasons: racial equity, finances and facilities.
“I ran 10 years ago for the school board on a platform of equity and eliminating the achievement gap before it became a big issue,” Guarino said during a recent interview. I have a long history of working on that issue, starting with the Irving PTO back in 1999, when my oldest daughter entered kindergarten.”
Although he no longer has children in Oak Park schools, he still sees the equity gap as a problem for his eight nieces and nephews who will be entering OPRF in the months and years to come.
He was prompted to look at the achievement data after watching America to Me, the documentary about OPRF’s racial equity challenges, which aired last year on Starz.
“Looking at the numbers, I saw that the gap has actually gotten worse over the last 10 years,” he said.
Guarino believes the district “needs to have a strategic focus and clear-cut plan” about achieving equity, one that emphasizes ongoing professional development and regular data evaluation, among other qualities. He praised the fact that the district will soon approve a racial equity policy, but “up until now [district officials have historically] been haphazard and inconsistent” in how they’ve implemented racial equity programs and procedures.
The park board president argued that the district also needs to approach how it funds and evaluates its facilities with similar rigor. Guarino has long been an advocate of a facility-sharing agreement between the park district and D200.
Even though talks had stalled due to the creation of the Imagine OPRF master facilities working group, which Guarino took part in, the D200 board and park district officials recently reignited discussions about the possibility of sharing a common recreational space.
Guarino said those talks won’t be hampered if he’s elected to the D200 school board. Meanwhile, the district could benefit from a long-term financial plan and a more substantial approach to evaluating the district’s facility needs.
Imagine, he added, “did its job” and did “a fantastic job” assessing OPRF’s facility needs with no budget constraints.
“I’m concerned that the board is not taking the next step of any good planning process, which is defining a long-term financial plan,” he said. The full plan, which comprises many different construction projects that, when combined, could cost upwards of $200 million, “needs to be scaled back to fit within the budget.”
Unlike most board members and many community members, Guarino is deeply skeptical that the district can raise a substantial amount of private funds to help offset the costs of the facility’s upgrades, particularly upgrades to athletic facilities.
“I don’t think [going after private funding] is realistic,” he said, citing as an example the University of Illinois Chicago, which recently sold the naming rights to its UIC Pavilion for “just $9 million.”
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ll sell naming rights for tens of millions of dollars,” Guarino said, arguing that a philanthropic campaign led by OPRF would likely end up competing against local nonprofits that rely more heavily on private funding to survive.
Instead, Guarino said, D200 needs “a long-term budget and finance plan for how we’ll pay for Imagine.” That could mean returning to previous facility plans that were shelved in years past or reconsidering some of the assumptions within Imagine, he said. For instance, the district “doesn’t have to tear down the southern third of the building [where athletics is concentrated].
“I think we need to re-imagine Imagine,” he said.