Examining potential District 97 cuts: Multicultural Department

'If we're committed to diversity ... we have to reflect it'

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

If Dist. 97's April 5 referendum fails, officials say drastic cuts will have to be made to overcome its budget deficit. In the weeks leading up to the vote, Wednesday Journal will look at some of the programs on the reduction list. First up, the Multicultural Department.

District 97's Multicultural Education Department is gearing up for its 31st annual Ethnic Festival in the Village of Oak Park the first Saturday in May. It could be the last.

The department, currently housed at Percy Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland, is among the reductions proposed by Dist. 97 if the April 5 tax referendum fails. The school board will vote on the reductions, totaling about $5.7 million, this week but those cuts wouldn't take effect until this fall. Programs and staff reductions to the performing arts, language arts and sports, as well as district-wide festivals, are on the chopping block.

Lynn Allen, director of the Multicultural Education Department, said this year's festival will be scaled down to reduce costs. The festival will take place at Julian Middle School, and the annual parade will have a different, and likely shorter, parade route. In past years, Whittier School hosted the event with activities and performances taking place at other locations throughout the district. There also won't be any professional performers this year, another cost reduction. Students, who perform every year, will be the main talent on showcase this time around. Allen estimates an overall 75 percent cost reduction for the 2011 fest.

As for the future of the event and the department she has led, Allen is unsure. The reduction would affect the department's two-and-a-half person staff — the director, an administrative assistant and part-time data clerk — totaling $199,300. The district would explore outsourcing staff to oversee the massive collection of books, artifacts, clothing and other items from various cultures, which are stored at Julian. Allen also teaches and gives presentations in the center and at the other district schools.

"I really don't know," she said of the future. "I really hope people take a look and say, 'Do we really want our school district cut down to the bare bones?'"

Allen noted the center is open to and used by surrounding school districts, including River Forest District 90, and also by people not associated with the schools.

Part of the idea behind creating the department was to promote diversity, not just in the schools but throughout Oak Park, recalled Allen, the department's director since 2003. In 1991, the district expanded the center into a department. Teachers and students use its resource room at Julian, a large space that's part library, part museum.

A classroom lesson on, for instance, American Indian history might entail students wearing traditional Native-American clothing or playing instruments used by certain tribes. Allen also incorporates, and passionately promotes, diversity and cultural understanding through the center — both past and present. She recalled a recent class lesson involving a discussion about Muslims and one student who associated them with terrorists. Allen said that's not uncommon for small children whose views are often shaped by misinformation in the media.

"You can't judge all people in a group by the extremist in that group," she recalled telling the student.

Allen said such education could be incorporated into the district's curriculum but noted that teachers already have a full plate teaching the core subjects. Then again, the Multicultural Department has not been universally supported during its 31 years. During teacher cuts in 2006, some parents opposed those reductions, arguing for shuttering the department in order to spare classroom teachers.

An Oak Park resident and Nashville native, Allen insisted she's not just singling out her department to be spared.

"All of the things on the list are very important. Some may think we're not that important, but I beg to differ," she said. "If we say we're committed to diversity, if we are, then we have to reflect it."

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Reader Comments

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Posted: January 22nd, 2011 11:48 AM

@mom2 Smartphone! Time to leave the 90's and get hip!

Just the Facts  

Posted: January 22nd, 2011 11:44 AM

Just as Referendum Doomed rails against the Multicultural administrative position being paid $100,000, we learned today that Maria Pappas (Cook County govt.) has been paying her driver over $93,000 and her house cleaner over $57,000. All paid for by the taxpayers and labeled as department jobs. Let's see... a driver gets $93,000 vs. a full year program administrator who gets $100,000 to teach all day, run after-school programs, and run full-summer programs by herself that reach hundreds. Hmmm...

Referendum Doomed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 2:44 PM

FYI taxpayers.Lynn Allen gets paid $100,831,plus her pension contributions(taken from op97.org)per year.That is the same $ as 2 newly qualified teacher positions.THIS is not a teacher,but another admin, zero-value adding relic-from the spending days of 1990-2000s,position.How exactly does Oak Park being'committed to diversity' = you get $100,000 per year?This should have been eliminated years ago.'Outside of Chicago Publis Schools, there are no other districts of our size with a MC Department!!!

Ahievement Gap  

Posted: January 14th, 2011 4:13 PM

Conslolidation and Coordiantion. That MUST be the theme in the Village in 2011. No one says get rid of this. However, precious resources MUST be used more wisely. As Chris has suggested, this should be relocated to where it better belongs, so all residents can share it --- and D97 does not bear this uneven load. Diversity does not mean being fiscally irresponsible. I can not think of any where better than at one of the many fine OP libraries.

Mom2 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 14th, 2011 2:06 PM

Hey Current OP student--why aren't you in class at 10:18am on Thursday?

Current OP student  

Posted: January 13th, 2011 10:18 AM

I went to Julian, and the MC was the best reasource that we had. In Oak Park we have a commitment to diversity, it must stay!

Chris Christie from oak park  

Posted: January 13th, 2011 9:07 AM

With apologies to Ms. Allen, eliminating this dept and moving it's resources to the public libraries doesn't constitute cutting "down to the bare bones". The MC Dept is and always has been a luxury item and it's time to right size. There are plenty of resources in the villages (Dominican/Concordia?) to pick up this ball and run with it more effectively and efficiently.

Stressed Out Taxpayer  

Posted: January 12th, 2011 10:15 PM

Overpaided, underworked. Nashville, here I come.

OP parent  

Posted: January 12th, 2011 12:47 PM

OP has 3 fine public libraries - house the collection there so everyone can access it. We don't need a high 6 figure salaried Director on staff to do an occasional class lecture, these are issues our fine teachers can also discuss. The parade had paid performers? I thought it was all about kids being proud to share their heritage with others -for free. I guess times have changed .....

Achievement Gap  

Posted: January 12th, 2011 8:58 AM

Adele Excellent Point. Low Hanging and Easy Savings by making this Cut. Should be Everyones Job at the District. Continue to make the cuts needed. Sure to be many more. Spend the money on TEACHING in the Classroom to raise the Reading levels.

adele from oak park  

Posted: January 12th, 2011 4:01 AM

I've never heard of a district having its own MC Dept with a director, administrative assistant and a data clerk. I'm sorry, but most schools require multicultural issues be taught through the curriculum...by the teachers. Perhaps this program is a luxury of surplus, but quite honestly a candidate for belt tightening.

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