My Aug. 23 Wednesday Journal Viewpoints letter, “OPRF’s Project 2 should go to referendum,” prompted two District 200 board members to respond with attempts to discredit it. One wrote a Viewpoints letter while the other made a comment during a board meeting.
Regardless, my letter is factual and based on the debt discussion presented by D200’s bond consultant, Elizabeth Hennessy, in the Aug. 16 Community Finance Committee (CFC) meeting. I encourage everyone to watch the meeting on D200’s YouTube channel.
In his Sept. 6 letter, “Setting the record straight on OPRF finances,” D200 Board President Tom Cofsky wrote that Hennessy presented “examples of how different funding options might fit together.” Cofsky failed to mention that Hennessy presented only two proposals, parts of a shell game. The first proposed unnecessary borrowing to pay for maintenance items to preserve cash reserve funds for the other proposal, Project 2. Both borrowing proposals were designed to circumvent taxpayers.
Superintendent Greg Johnson and his administration sanctioned the borrowing proposals. In fact, D200 worked with Hennessy in crafting them, based on emails acquired via two Freedom of Information Act requests.
Prior to the Aug. 16 CFC meeting, Chairman Steve Miller emailed D200 Chief Financial Officer Cyndi Sidor and referred to the upcoming debt presentation as “Bonds 101.” Yet instead of an informational session on bonds, Hennessy focused on how to bypass taxpayers to fund two specific projects and proposed issuing $82 million in debt certificates. Debt certificates are like high-interest credit cards. As a well-resourced district, OPRF has never had to resort to debt certificates, and there’s no need now. They cost more to borrow than bonds. Important to underscore, debt certificates provide taxpayers with no recourse to put a funding proposal on the ballot.
This was the second time that debt certificates were presented as a funding option to the CFC. In January at its very first meeting, the administration and board sought the CFC’s approval to issue debt certificates to pay for maintenance items, some not needed for 10 years, and didn’t inform the CFC that the $96 million sitting idle in the cash reserve could be used for this purpose, nor did it explain the difference between bonds and debt certificates.
The meeting was also problematic as it violated the Open Meetings Act, as the administration didn’t provide citizens the opportunity to make public comments or a link to attend the virtual meeting. While D200 resisted holding a replacement meeting, citizens prevailed and the CFC reversed its earlier decision, withdrawing its support for the issuance of debt certificates.
For the record, I did not state or imply in my letter that the board or CFC had recommended a financing plan for Project 2, which Hennessy “ballparked” at $90.5 million and with borrowing would tally $127 million.
As far as the mountainous cash reserve, Cofsky wrote that the board has been “responsibly” bringing it down when it should have returned all unauthorized tax dollars to taxpayers nine years ago.
Besides Cofsky, board member Ralph Martire called out my letter as “inaccurate” at the Aug. 25 general meeting without providing any substantiation. Martire’s Trumpian-like comment was an attempt to publicly discredit my letter and me as its author.
I emailed three separate requests to Cofsky, as board president, and Martire asking for a list of the specific inaccuracies that led Martire to attack my letter. Weeks have passed, and neither has emailed a substantive response. No surprise, as my letter is factual.
It’s unacceptable for board members to publicly attack fact-based communications by community members. And it’s unacceptable for Johnson and his administration to propose bypassing taxpayers in funding controversial major capital projects.
Monica Sheehan is an Oak Park resident.