A good decision, a unanimous decision, by Oak Park and River Forest High School’s board last week to move forward with Phase One of the overdue capital project at the Scoville Avenue campus — but to undertake this $30 million-plus project without taking on new debt.
Instead, Phase One will be paid for out of the still ridiculously huge cash reserve — we’re talking north of $100 million — that this school has unfairly accumulated by illicitly overtaxing local residents in years past. It was gratifying to hear current board members acknowledge again publicly that past boards acted improperly in that scheme.
All major decisions in this moment are rightly made with the impact of COVID-19 top of mind. There will be financial consequences to OPRF from this virus. Administrators and financial consultants have now twice attempted to slow this determined school board from moving forward with a project that will remake dozens of classrooms and rebuild the south cafeteria on its way to finally investing money in this building after 50 years of neglect.
But the board, partly with the valued input of member Ralph Martire and his unique professional perspective on taxation and education, have decided, rightly we think, that it is impossible at this moment to sort out where the pain will come from and how big the potential hit will be. And since all involved agree that OPRF is in outstanding financial shape owing to that fund balance, the board is moving ahead.
It will hold the option of taking on debt for a future moment where it might prove necessary. But, said the board, it is not necessary now. We agree.