OPRF High School Supt. Greg Johnson recently wrote an opinion piece under the headline, “This is what equity looks like” [Viewpoints, March 23].

No, sir. The pool is about anything but equity, a much overused word these days, sprinkled on every idea for public spending. Overuse dilutes its power. Equity is about fairness to all people. It is not about building a $65 million 600-seat pool facility for aquatic sports teams of about 125 kids each year (about 3% of the student population).

Mr. Johnson’s piece cites swimming as a “life skill” and that the pools serve “all students” who take PE. 

Unmentioned: the school uses PE to falsely inflate demand for pool time as part of its effort to justify a larger, much more costly than necessary pool solution than his district’s own studies have recommended. 

Unmentioned: the state of Illinois has no requirement for swimming in PE. He also fails to offer the option to have students test out of swimming if they can demonstrate proficiency when they enroll at OPRF. For those who cannot, OPRF could make arrangements with the park district, which operates two swimming pools, one within eyesight of OPRF, or with the Oak Park YMCA and FFC. This would be an economical, efficient way to address swim proficiency. As for being a “life skill,” it is one for parents to provide during early childhood long before high school and the same aforementioned options (including at needs-based low or no fees) are available to all families residing in Oak Park.

D200 paid for at least two commissions to study pool replacement needs. 

In 2013, the Stantec Report recommended replacing the two existing pools with one 8 lane/25 yard (60 feet by 75 feet) standard-sized high school pool and no oversized seating. The Imagine Committee’s wish list includes a 17 lane/40 yard pool (75 feet by 120 feet) and seating for 600 spectators costing about $65 million. An Olympic pool is 82 feet x 164 feet.

In 2016, the Fako Research & Strategies community survey documents support for a $68 million pool plan at 69% against, 27% for. 

The November 2016 pool referendum about a $50 million plan similar in pool size to the current Imagine wish list was defeated.

If two studies and one referendum have rejected what Phase 2 calls for, why is the D200 board even considering it? And why is the superintendent lobbying for it? There is no widespread public support and clamoring for the Imagine group’s pool wish list. The only clamoring for this oversized solution is coming from a small but influential group of swim families overfocused on one pet sport/vanity project with nominal student participation while ignoring other sports and the big picture of the school’s academic core mission. Equity? Nope. Overfocusing on a pool is missing the forest for the trees. 

Were I board member or superintendent of a land-locked high school with an intractable achievement gap in a high-tax village and a diverse student population of around 3,400, the very last thing I would want is concentrating so many precious taxpayer dollars, permanent-maintenance dollars, and space on a 600-seat natatorium that at its core serves around 125 students annually in aquatic sports and subsidizes private swim clubs by providing pool space. I would be adamantly advocating for a reasonable pool replacement in line with the studies my district paid for so that I could preserve dollars and space for my academic core mission.

Equity is not a grandiose pool facility serving few; it is not about ignoring data and referendums. Equity is 100% about raising academic achievement for all students. Equity is about addressing the intractable achievement gap, giving those students the tutoring, mentoring, remedial help they deserve and is owed them. Put the money and effort there.

Is there Equity in the current pool plan for overburdened taxpayers still listening to why they should fund something they already said no to? 

The pool is a sideshow. The board enables it by not putting its foot down once and for all. Build a modest pool, skip the 600-seat nonsense, get it done. 

Jack Powers is an Oak Park resident.

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