District 200 and voters' rights

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By Monica Sheehan

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The District 200 Board of Education has an unsettling history of ignoring voters' rights. For nearly a decade, the board overtaxed taxpayers and unethically amassed more than $100 million in its cash reserve.

In 2015, the board tried to bypass voters to fund an Olympic-size swimming pool and natatorium. Episode seven of America to Me touches on the pool saga and includes an overview of the Jan. 14, 2016 board meeting. It was held to gather community input following the Cook County Board of Election's ruling that forced the board to put its non-referendum bonds on the ballot.

A board member interviewed in the clip incorrectly states, "The 'no' contingent started not because of taxes but because of parking." Point of fact, the "no" contingent formed in response to the board bypassing voters. The petition drive was a voters' rights issue. The grassroots effort was called the Petition for Referendum not the Petition for Parking or the Petition to Save the Garage. The board's refusal to put the funding of its $48.5 million project, which included a 50-meter pool and natatorium and demolition of the 12-year-old garage, on the ballot ignited anger in the community and resulted in a successful petition drive restoring voters' rights.

At the same time that the board was all-in on spending $37.5 million on a swimming pool with 21 lanes, America to Me highlights that the funding for an effective writing program was on the chopping block.

Will history repeat itself? Will the current board repeat the act of overreach of the 2015 board and attempt to bypass voters to fund its proposed facility plan? Of its partial price tag of $145 million, approximately $117 million is earmarked to demolish and rebuild the structurally sound south end of the building, largely for PE/athletics, with $10 million earmarked for academics. D200 hasn't disclosed its plan's total cost, and line item expenditures lack transparency.

Major capital expenditures should be placed on the ballot and require the approval of a majority of voters in the district. To assert your right to vote on D200's proposed facility plan, that includes a 17-lane pool and an aquatic center with seating for 600 spectators, please sign the online petition, tinyurl.com/oprfpetition; email the school board, BoE@oprfhs.org; and attend its 7 p.m. Town Hall meeting on Oct. 30. A board seat is not a blank check.

Monica Sheehan is a member of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.

Reader Comments

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Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 11:32 AM

We really don't need a referendum if the board would just wait until after the next school board election.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 9:45 AM

Before any policy, think town needs some brand image work similar to companies in crisis ... tell the story of kids of color succeeding. And programs that work at school - left out docu series. The OP brand has taken a big hit outside out bubble. Recall there are plenty of other places people can live ...

John Duffy  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 9:14 AM

To convince the community that the racial equity framework and vision guiding the Strategic Plan is being fully lived, D 200 needs to adopt a Racial Equity Policy. This policy would guarantee the formal protocols for carrying out racial impact assessments which are essential if we are to believe in and support a facilities improvement plan, or any revised facilities plan and its parallel financial plan. Racial Equity impact assessments require all decision-makers to: ? proactively seek to eliminate racial inequities and advance equity; ? identify clear goals, objectives and measurable outcomes; ? engage the community in decision-making processes; ? identify who will benefit or be burdened by a given decision; ? examine potential unintended consequences of a decision; ? develop strategies to advance racial equity and mitigate unintended negative consequences; and, ? apply mechanisms for successful implementation and evaluation of impact. If the Imagine team has followed these steps, the community would like to see that documentation. If they have not, doing so now is an absolute next step for granting the extensive work Imagine has completed the full trust and consideration their unprecedented recommendations require.

John Duffy  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 9:13 AM

Key proponents of the Facilities Master Plan insist that it represents an investment that advances racial equity and will positively make an impact on persisting racial inequities in student achievement and opportunity to learn. Central to Imagine proponents' argument is the undocumented assertion that more physical space for athletics including a guarantee that all students can continue to learn to swim, building expanded social common space, and providing additional classrooms represents a commitment to racial equity. In support of these claims, we ask for documentation of how Imagine leaders did in fact utilize racial equity assessment protocols in completing this work and declaring that it is supportive of racial equity. Goal Six of the D 200 Strategic Plan for 2017-22 calls for the development and funding of a comprehensive facilities development plan?"a need and goal few would question. Yet, at this time, after months of dedicated work by Imagine, there is no multiple year budget proposal, as called for in Goal Six, to fund all other racial equity goals. These goals include development of social emotional learning, curriculum innovations aimed at addressing racial equity in teaching and learning, and the vital commitments to nurturing responsive and bold school leadership which can guide and inspire our teachers and community's purposeful action in realizing meaningful racial equity.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 12:08 AM

And the title for Phases 4 and 5 is Pre-Referendum Facilty Master Plan. What does that mean? That the Board will not put this very expensive Capital Plan that will surely affect our taxes to referendum till the $145 million of Phases 1- 3 have already been spent and it is too late to go back? Surely this is not the way to approach this!

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 8:49 PM

$218 million is the total cost estimate for D200's proposed master facility plan, according to the document linked in the agenda for its meeting this Thursday, October 25. Please consider attending the meeting in room 293E. Public comments begin at 7:30 pm. https://intranet.oprfhs.org/board-of-education/board_meetings/Regular_Meetings/Packets/2018-19%20Regular/20181025%20Reg/Discussion/20181025%20BRD%20FINAL%20Funding%20for%20Projects%20Final.pdf

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 8:33 PM

Monica: You ask: "will history repeat itself?" The answer: absolutely! If you recall one reason the 2015 Board gave for not funding the originally proposed giant pool solely via their reserves, was the Board at the time, believed present and future OPRF residents - not just present residents - should share the financial burden of the pool - hence the issuance of bonds. Now there is no pretense. There is no talk about financial equity. The Board is all in, in every conceivable way, to avoid the voters ... and finally get their giant pool built.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 7:01 PM

The funding for D200's proposed facility plan ethically needs to be placed before voters for approval. Please sign the online petition, link below, to assert your right to vote on what could become the third most expensive high school project in America. http://tinyurl.com/oprfpetition I appreciate the inclusion of my opinion letter in this week's paper. Due to space constraints, the second to last paragraph of the letter was deleted. It's copied below. Trust is also an issue. At the October 3 Imagine Community Conversation, co-chair Lynn Kamenitsa deflected a question about how the plan would be funded and said, "We cannot answer for the Board. You'll have to ask them." Yet, just 24 hours later, she told the Irving School PTO that the Board is planning on paying for the first stages (plural) of the Imagine plan with the cash reserve and non-referendum bonds, according to sources at the meeting. Kamenitsa's response at the Imagine meeting contradicts her statement made at the October 4 Irving PTO meeting and an email she sent to area PTOs two weeks earlier.

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