School board doesn't reflect community will

Opinion: Columns

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By Monica Sheehan

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The Hinsdale school board met on Dec. 17 to discuss its next steps following its second failed referendum in as many years. District 86 board members stated that many people voted against the November referendum because of the proposed $39 million for 40-yard pools at its two high schools. 

In response, the board voted and now supports the least expensive and smallest high school competition pools: 6-lane, 25-yard pools. The board said its pivot on the pools was in direct response to the wishes of the community. One board member said, "Part of leadership is acting on the community will." That's what every community should expect from its school board.

District 200 failed in its efforts to build a 50-meter pool, followed by a 40-meter pool. It's now pushing for a 37-meter or 40-yard pool, the same size as Hinsdale Central's failed referendum pool. D200's pool and its 600-seat natatorium are encased in the proposed $65 million Component D, and the huge pool is the underlying reason for the proposed demolition and rebuild of the structurally sound building. It's not financially feasible to build this size pool within the existing building based on 2014 estimates of $80-$87 million. The other elements in Component D, formerly Imagine's Sequence 2, can be accommodated through renovations.

At the Dec. 11 school board meeting, D200 board member Matt Baron raised a community request that the administration conduct a review of the self-imposed, mandatory swimming requirement before any decision is made on a pool. In response, Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said, "The curriculum does not impact the size of the pool. That is a misconception. … We can look at the curriculum, but that has nothing to do with the size of the pool." Her comment underscores that a large pool isn't a need of the school; it's a want of a special interest group, OPRF's aquatic teams and the private swim club TOPS. The aquatic teams stated the same in their 2013 natatorium proposal.

The proposed 17-lane practice pool isn't a want of the community. D200's Fako Report, the only scientific, statistically-significant voter survey on OPRF's pools and replacement options, showed that a pool was not a priority for the community, and it rejected all three pool plans under consideration in 2016. Voters' strongest rejection, 69%, was for the most expensive plan at $68 million, close in estimated price to Component D.

At the Dec. 20 meeting, despite recommendations by the administration and the Imagine group, the D200 board declined to commit to funding Component D now. Instead, the board voted to transfer $20 million from the Education Fund to a new capital reserve fund and stated that the money was earmarked for the "urgent" facility needs in Component D: locker rooms, an ADA-compliant elevator and a pool solution. The administration is now pursuing private money to augment this fund.

If donors want to fully finance the estimated $65 million Component D and establish an endowment to cover the oversized pool's operating costs, build it. Otherwise, the D200 board should be responsive to the community and choose the common-sense and least-expensive solution: a collaborative year-round pool at Ridgeland Commons for $14.5 million total, according to a 2017 estimate. OPRF's Adventure Ed gym class already walks to Ridgeland to skate in its rink. 

Monica Sheehan is a member of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.

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Reader Comments

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Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 14th, 2019 10:32 PM

In an update to this opinion letter, the Hinsdale District 86 School Board last week tacked on another $10 million to its April referendum price tag, the hike driven by Hinsdale Central's pool supporters, as outlined in this news story. https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/hinsdale/news/ct-dhd-district-86-board-raises-april-referendum-tl-0117-story.html

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 6:38 PM

Dale: Superb. In particular your explanation of the foundational concept of "consent of the governed" is excellent.

Dale Jones from River Forest  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 3:29 PM

Christopher, with all due respect you are just plain wrong. The purpose of the elected boards of the various taxing bodies in both our villages is to serve the interests of the taxpayers. The taxing bodies were created to provide certain valuable facilities and services to the residents for which the residents agree in return to be taxed to pay for them. This is known as the "consent of the governed." If the interests of the taxing bodies were the only concern, then there would be no need for a board to oversee their activities. The boards are responsible to assure the services promised by the statutes creating the taxing bodies are provided in an efficient manner at the least reasonable cost (fiduciary responsibility). All too often these taxing bodies come to believe that they can spend taxpayer dollars for whatever they want to enhance their own power and prestige. Sometimes they even fund things that are not within their statutory authority. We saw a recent example where a government employee was using taxpayer money to fund an out of town nonprofit where they had a personal connection. I have written before on other examples, but won't go into them again here.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 2:55 PM

(Continued) But you and I know that if the pool referendum won (or as you say "pretty close to evenly divided") by a mere 28 votes (as apposed to the way it went) there would be construction equipment and bulldozers all over the garage ?" as we speak ?" building the glorious 50-meter shrine to aquatics. And if then I was to use your argument, "but the community is pretty close to evenly divided" you would likely be saying: "Close, but we won." Do you really think it would have been otherwise? As Neal said: the pool referendum was voted down ? get over it.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 2:53 PM

Christopher: in regard to your belief that the D200 BoE only obligation is to serve solely the interest of the school. I would like to remind you ?" that aside from the oath Monica cited ?" the D200 BoE and the school itself does not exist on an island, nor in a vacuum. It is an integral part of our community. In fact, the school's very life blood depends upon the good will (and taxes) of the very citizens you seem to discount. That is precisely what got us into this mess. It is now time for you, and the BoE and the administration of D200 to recognize that they and the school are "citizens" of this community, and should - no must - conduct themselves with that realization in mind. In regard to your statement that the "will of the community is pretty close to evenly divided" in regard to the pool referendum and therefore somehow it is OK to discount the outcome of the referendum. I find that idea amusing. Why? Because if I was to take you at your word, then if the outcome of the referendum was 28 votes going the other way ?" for the pool ?" by your own logic we would still be debating the issue.

Stephen Hartmann  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 11:18 AM

The current outdoor pool is only used in the summer. So if the existing pool was covered it would in fact be available during the school year full time to the school. Any times not used by the school would just be a plus for the park district. I strongly suspect the biggest reason for them not to want a covered pool is their desire to have an open air pool. A. We have another open air pool. B. Having a covered pool would make the the pool available more days. C. A glass enclosed or even retractable roof pool would still be a more efficient use of an existing resource to meet the schools needs.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 9:50 PM

Christopher, This opinion letter was submitted with the title "Responsive School Boards", because school boards should be responsive to their respective communities. What or who is your source for stating that the D200 School Board is not responsible for representing the will of the community? Such a statement is false based on the Board's oath stated in its manual and copied in the link below, "I shall respect taxpayer interests by serving as a faithful protector of the School District's assets" (2:80). Regarding the 2016 referendum, the D200 administration and Board intentionally ignored the community's wishes clearly identified in the Fako Survey and manipulated its findings. The survey showed that a pool wasn't a priority for the community, but it did value the performing arts. The administration and Board disingenuously marketed the referendum as a performing arts and 21st century classroom (six classrooms total) referendum and buried the 40-meter pool in marketing materials. Point of fact, $34.1 million of the $44.5 million of the referendum's proposed expenditures were earmarked for an oversized pool housed in a natatorium with 450 seats and the demolition of a structurally sound garage and its rebuilding costs to accommodate the oversized pool. While the current proposed pool is just three meters shy of the pool in the 2016 referendum, the current proposed natatorium includes even more seating, enough for 600 spectators. It is false to say that OPRF "needs" a pool onsite. Many high schools have no pool on campus. OPRF's aquatic needs could be met with a joint pool housed at Ridgeland Commons, across the street from the school. The school's Adventure Ed gym class already walks to Ridgeland to skate in its rink. https://intranet.oprfhs.org/board-of-education/Policy%20Manual/Section%202/0280.pdf

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 7:36 PM

Christopher, rewriting history does not make it so. The pool referendum was voted down. Get it in your head - The people did not want the pool as proposed. And the will of the people does matter, at least in this country.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 6:12 PM

In defense of the school board as regards this headline, its job is to represent the school, not the will of the community. It is nice when they align, but when they don't, which sometimes happens, their task is to discern the path with the interest of the school uppermost in mind. And from what I can see of the last pool vote, the will of the community is pretty close to evenly divided. And one very large reason that District 200 did not choose to combine efforts with the park district is that they need an indoor pool, and they need and make use it for school most of every day from very early morning and into the evening throughout the school year for classes, men's and women's swim, dive, and water polo, etc. team practices and events such that the park district would have very little use of it, except in the summer when an outdoor pool works just fine (and, I think the HS does allow Park District use of the pool then). I don't think a Taj Mahal Olympic length bazillion dollar pool is required, but I do think that OPRFHS does need its own pool, and it doesn't have a good place to put it as there is no empty space on the campus. The parking garage is in the best location for it if we want to avoid rebuilding the entire field house from top to bottom. I wonder if any of the architects/engineers have investigated building the pool on top of the garage structure, as my understanding is that it was designed so that at least another parking level could be added over the existing structure. Could this be done and a bridge connection made to the athletic facilities across the alley separating the two structures? I sure would like to know as it seems like an ideal idea!

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 2:01 PM

Stephen, At least a couple times in the last decade, the park district has tried to partner with D200 in creating a year-round aquatic resource at Ridgeland Commons. It has been D200, not the park district, that has refused to collaborate. With increasing awareness of the need for our taxing bodies to collaborate and share resources, a joint pool is a common sense solution. The $14.5 million estimated total cost would be shared by D200 and the park district, as well as the pool's annual operating and routine maintenance costs. A joint pool would also yield the benefit of opening up space at the school, three floors for each pool.

Stephen Hartmann from Oak Park  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 1:05 PM

The park district and school board blew it when they they did not cooperatively build the new rink pool across the street from the school. (I know the option came up.) But, if we have to spend 15 million now to create an indoor pool at Ridgeland Common that is certainly a better option than any of the over priced options being presented now.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 12:03 PM

For the record, I submitted this opinion letter with the title "Responsive School Boards".

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