It is a disappointment that equity advocates at Oak Park and River Forest High School came out of a Feb. 13 meeting frustrated over the racial equity assessment undertaken to consider how the massive Project 2 construction project at the school impacts equity goals.
Only weeks back members of the Committee for Excellence and Equity in Education had met with school leaders, including Superintendent Greg Johnson, and seemingly saw a positive path forward to conduct an equity assessment of the $100 million plan to rebuild physical education facilities at the southeast corner of the Scoville Avenue campus.
But the group’s leaders felt the meeting on the topic was a pro forma performance designed to rubber stamp the project. That the sitting school board, with multiple members eyeing their exits with the April elections, had plans to meet this week to presumably sign off on the vast project fueled the worry that the equity assessment process was more of a box to be checked than a serious review.
This school has made serious and sincere strides on centering equity as key to decision making. The school board and the administration deserve credit for that. But the test will always come in the ability to execute those broad plans. And in this instance, with an advocacy group which has earned respect over years of work on this issue, the school has fallen short.
We fully expect the school board will sign off on the scope of Project 2 this week. That will set the stage for final review of options to finance this massive investment during March, just ahead of the April 4 election.
Generally, we support the idea that an elected body which has focused rather singularly on a project should work to bring that project to a conclusion before the end of a term. Leaving decisions hanging only forces the next board, always with a learning curve, to slow down and reevaluate.
It is time for the construction plan for Project 2 to be approved. When it comes time to decide how to finance the construction, we will stick with our position that it is in this school’s best interest to put its financing plan before voters in a referendum. We recognize the delay that will ensue with that decision.
But OPRF is an institution that has not dealt honestly with taxpayers over the past two decades. It has cost the school the trust of its constituents. Legitimate progress has been made by recent school boards to spend down the obscene cash reserves OPRF had stashed away. Paying for this project will most certainly involve finally right-sizing the cash hoard.
That said, it is just wrong to not seek voter approval of a project of this scope. And, OPRF has a good case to make for this investment. The villages will benefit from the school making that case in public and, we think, likely winning the day.