Over the years, District 200 has reached out to community members with financial expertise to advise the district. At the beginning of this year, the Community Finance Committee (CFC) was established as a Board of Education committee, to ensure that all discussions are held in public with community input, all in the name of greater transparency.
Despite this effort to be fully transparent, we are seeing misinformation both in published communications as well as emails. Soundbites from meetings are being pulled to misrepresent where the district and committee currently are.
I want to set the record straight.
The district is well down the path of getting its financial health into alignment with best practices. The journey started back in 2013, when the board recognized that the district’s large fund balance and the high tax levels in our villages eroded community trust. During the last nine years, D200 boards have taken a variety of steps to gradually and responsibly bring the fund balance down to a reasonable level.
First, the district’s tax income was significantly reduced for tax years 2013 through 2021, through a combination of abatement and flat levies. As a result, taxpayers have held on to $59 million, instead of those dollars going to the district. Second, all debt was paid off, leaving the district debt-free for the past five years. And third, the district invested in the first major improvements to the building since the 1960s. Imagine OPRF Project 1, which cost roughly $40 million, addressed a host of student needs and was paid for entirely from the fund balance. If the board approves the proposed track and fields project, it too will be paid out of the fund balance.
Now the board is considering making another major capital investment with Project 2. To prepare for the decisions that will be made in the coming months, the CFC is revisiting the board’s fund-balance policy, as well as the debt policy. Both of these policies will provide critical guidance as we look at how the district should fund our future capital project needs.
As presenter Elizabeth Hennessy stated explicitly at the CFC meeting on Aug. 16, what she presented were examples of how different funding options might fit together. The dialogue also covered what might be included in a debt policy that specifies conditions that could precipitate taking on debt.
While the district has a publicly shared goal to develop a financing plan for Project 2 by the end of this school year, at this point, the CFC has not recommended any financing plan. The administration has not recommended any financing plan. The board has not considered a financing plan.
In fact, the board isn’t scheduled to receive an up-to-date cost estimate for Project 2 until the Oct. 27 board meeting, along with the detailed schematic design on which that estimate will be based.
Only after receiving that information will the board be able to consider whether to move forward with Project 2 and, if it does, how to fund the project.
The CFC, administration, and board are leaving no stone unturned as we consider how to meet student needs in an outdated building while continuing to remain fiscally responsible to our taxpayers. These discussions will continue to be public, and the full facts will continue to be available to all who care to know them.
The following resources can help community members stay informed:
● Board agendas, packets and minutes: bit.ly/OPRFBoardDocs
● Recordings of all board and board committee meetings: bit.ly/YouTubeOPRF
● Historical overview of the fund balance from 2000 to the present: bit.ly/OPRFfundbalance
● Community Updates, including the twice-monthly Board Highlights newsletter: oprfhs.org/mailing-list
Tom Cofsky, District 200 High School Board president, is an Oak Park resident.