An open letter to the District 200 High School board:

I am dismayed to learn that your bond consultant, Elizabeth Hennessy, is again suggesting non-referendum bonds and/or debt certificates to fund capital projects, including the unnecessarily expensive Project 2. Since the Community Finance Committee rejected the issuance of debt certificates to pay for the Ten-Year Maintenance Plan in February, I take Hennessy’s latest suggestion as evidence that you are strenuously attempting to avoid a referendum on funding the proposed Project 2. This in turn strongly suggests that you don’t think you have enough community support to pass it.

The solution here should not be avoiding a referendum, at the cost of still greater damage to the high school’s relationship with taxpayers and considerable extra expense.  Funding for major capital projects should rightfully go before taxpayers for approval in a transparently worded referendum. Regarding Project 2, the solution should be to scale back the spend.

The obvious and best solution is to team up with the park district and enclose the Ridgeland Common pool, adding locker rooms and showers as needed. The community would welcome such cooperation, as you know from the universally positive response to your sharing the park district’s turf field. We are frustrated by the high school’s continued unwillingness to pursue this option. You turned down a park district offer to share the pool a few years ago. And solutions proposed by the Imagine Group were required to lie within the footprint of the school’s campus. No off-campus options were even to be considered. Why?

Walking across the street may seem less convenient, but students already do so to use the Lake Street field and they use the ice rink for a PE class. To minimize inconvenience, swim classes could be offered before or after school, or on weekends. Swimming could be offered as an extended two-period class. OPRF High School could drop its mandatory 12-week swimming requirement for incoming students who already know how to swim, reducing swim class demand by about half. For those who can’t swim, a focused three- or four-week water safety program could be adopted. This approach is working at a Glenbard high school and elsewhere.

Why not implement such options?  “We’ve always done it this way” is not a good answer.

An enclosed Ridgeland Common pool would be a resource everyone can use year-round. It would open up a lot of space in our space-constrained high school. And it would obviate the need to tear down part of a structurally-sound building. The community certainly would appreciate this sensible approach and reduced cost, making it much more likely that your referendum would pass.

Debt certificates are an even worse approach than non-referendum bonds. They are a last-resort funding measure, involving even more expensive debt service. Please vote against non-referendum approaches to funding major high school capital projects.

Taxpayers in the district should have the opportunity to vote on them. It’s our money. It’s our school.

Judith Alexander is a longtime Oak Park resident and taxpayer.

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