The decision has been made. And unanimously.
Oak Park and River Forest High School will move forward with Project 2, the demolition and reconstruction of physical education facilities at the southeast corner of the Scoville Avenue campus. The school will fund the $102 million project out of its outlandish cash reserves, philanthropic donations, and by issuing $45 million in 20-year debt certificates.
It is the debt certificates that have stirred controversy among critics, this editorial page among them. Our view, clearly stated, is that a project of this magnitude needed to go to referendum. We also believe that referendum would have passed, as this is a necessary investment in our public high school.
Now we will never know. And this board has decided to layer on future boards an annual payment of $3.5 million, payable from the district’s operating levy. Current board proponents, including three members with just a week left on their terms, see this as a way to impose fiscal discipline on a school that has traditionally lived large with taxpayers’ money.
Whether tough love for the next boards or fear of facing voters, the decision is final. Construction will start next year. And we are excited that OPRF will have top-notch physical education facilities at long last.
A few thoughts: Not having a referendum means we won’t have to listen to how many pizzas a month the higher tax bill would translate to. Equity advocates need to continue to push hard for more investment and innovation for all students. These villages and this school can afford to do both of these things simultaneously.
Finally, we don’t want to hear any more about how much money this district has saved taxpayers by not raising its levy to the max every year over the past decade — $67 million is the current fake money tout. Not grabbing every dollar allowed under tax caps is good work and should be expected of an elected board. You can’t count it. It isn’t yours.