Kill the pool: OPRF's path forward

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

It is either the perfect moment to have a seat on the school board at OPRF or it's going to be just plain hellacious.

There is so much incoming, so many complex issues conflating, so much news breaking — hate speech, student protests, a principal rightly hung out to dry, no teacher contract — churning straight into culminating moments on issues overlooked and ignored for decades, mainly equity and facilities. Toss in the wrap-up of the 10-part America to Me documentary, the village government commission demanding frugality by all taxing bodies and, related to that, the albatross of the $107 million cash reserve that this high school should never stop apologizing for having illicitly lifted from taxpayers.

And, come April, there is a school board election.

What to do?

On Thursday evening the school board will officially "accept" the comprehensive master facilities plan crafted over a year by the Imagine OPRF task force. Be clear, accepting a report is Roberts Rules speak for "appreciate your hard work, thanks for the report." Does not come close to the school board signing off on the Imagine report as some sort of action plan.

But before long the school board and its administration will need to make major decisions about next steps on updating and upgrading the high school building. Those decisions will be made even as vocal critics continue to disingenuously paint the Imagine report as mainly a super-sized swimming pool with a side of equity.

Here are the two things I don't think can be allowed to happen.

There is something rare and powerful which has come together on equity at this high school, and also in the wider communities of Oak Park's elementary schools and the River Forest elementary schools. At this moment, we have school boards and administrations that are fully in sync on bold steps to remake schools that are largely to fully stuck in systemic racism and to aggressively embrace equity.

Nothing can get in the way of action on equity. 

There is a nice, and somewhat deceiving, spit polish on OPRF. Place looks good. But in truth it is a million-square-foot building that hasn't been updated for 50 years. Think how education has changed in a half-century.

So here's my proposal to the OPRF board and administration: On Thursday "accept" the Imagine report and, as quickly as possible thereafter, decide that the school board is ready to move ahead with $40 to $50 million in major renovations that are entirely devoted to issues of equity. No athletics. No swimming pool upgrade. Equity. Period.

The projects should be financed entirely from the absurd reserve which has to be spent down in some way that does not include a giveaway contract to faculty. No tax increase. No referendum. And a promise that upgrades to athletic facilities — unless there is some influx of tens of millions from benefactors — are off the table entirely for several years.

So what gets upgraded? A new and relocated Student Resource Center (what most of us would call a library), the aggregation and upgrade of all special education spaces, overall renovation of most classrooms and labs, remaking of the Student Commons, all of the considerable Americans with Disabilities Act deficiencies repaired, and upgrades to security and technology.

This leaves obsolete swimming pools in place until they fail. And then potentially no swimming lessons or competition. It leaves upgrades and expansion on arts programs on the cutting room floor. These are losses. However, battling now to approve and to fund a much larger facility rebuild guarantees an endless battle and more community division that makes a determined focus on difficult equity decisions much harder to pull off.

This is the middle ground. Invest in all equity-focused facility investments. Take the fight over athletic facilities off the table for at least five years. Get the giant cash reserve, the root of all suspicion in this high school, off your back by paying cash for the upgrades. And create the best-case scenario for bold innovation on equity.

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Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2018 4:42 PM

Dan, you say "The projects should be financed entirely from the absurd reserve" The problem with that is it gives a gift of free facilities to the next generation of people who will get all the benefits. They will have no skin in the game. It is an unwarranted Inter-generational Transfer of Wealth. The insurance people call this a "moral hazard", since they will not realize what it actually costs to provide the benefits they receive. With regard to absurd cash reserves, River Forest D90, adjusted for its size, has even more.(measured in terms of Days Cash on Hand). Furthermore,, your suggestion of spending $40 to $50 million may not be enough to accomplish whatever it is you want. How does "equity" have much to with bricks and mortar, other that fixing some ADA issues?

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 16th, 2018 3:02 PM

For me it's very simple math. For each dollar we spend how much does EACH student benefit from it. Academic and basic school functions help all or at least most students. The pool helps a very small number of students at an insane cost. Before anyone jumps in with the "swimming lessons are for all" argument let's review that aspect for a minute. Most of the students at OPRF already know how to swim. We are giving swimming lessons to kids that can swim. There are definitely some that can't but I think we can serve them easily enough with a free after school program where we pay for a local pool to use for this. It's not as convenient clearly but it works and would allow for those that actually want to learn how to swim the chance to do so and stop wasting the time of all the kids that can already swim. If building great indoor pools in our community is that important then let's build a community center for this money so at least all reaidents can use the pool when the HS isn't using it which is most of the time.

Manning Peterson  

Posted: November 16th, 2018 1:13 PM

One image from the America to Me documentary that has really stuck with me is the one where the wrestler Gabe play wrestles with a younger relative. It was so sweet and caring, while at the same time teaching the youngster different wrestling moves and how they work. Another thing that struck me is how vital athletics is to the social, racial and I would argue academic fabric of OPRF. A sound mind in a sound body is the ancient way to put it, but in the documentary there were so many examples of teamwork, goal setting, individual effort, disappointment, triumph, perseverance, communication, unfairness and redress -- all told through the stories specifically centered around OPRF athletics. I wish people long-removed from their high school gym classes and perhaps no longer engaged in physical activity would stop telling the school board what athletic programs should be cut next. Equity and academics and athletics are inextricably interdependent. Imagine where the kids in that documentary would be in a high school without wrestling, track and field, baseball, basketball, cheerleading or yes, even gym class!

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 2:53 PM

Susan, I misunderstood your comment and thank you for your response and the clarification.

Dale Jones from River Forest  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 12:09 PM

I seldom agree with Mr. Haley, but in this case I agree with him completely. The only thing I would add is that rather than waiting for the existing pools to fail, D200 should close and drain the pools and close off the pool areas as necessary for safety considerations. This action would save taxpayers the cost of water as well as the expense of maintaining the pools in a usable condition.

John Kehoe from Oak Park  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 11:29 AM

Couldn't have said it better, Dan. The excessive taxes and oft times poor choices in funding is one of the reasons we will be leaving Oak Park.

Susan Clarke Rosi  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 11:13 AM

Monica, I do not now, nor have I ever supported "spending $67 million to accommodate a 10-lane competition pool with a dedicated diving well." Unlike the foolishness which you have erroneously attributed to me, the proposal I do support and to which my statement refers is that made of Mr. Haley i.e. "... move ahead with $40 to $50 million in major renovations that are entirely devoted to issues of equity. No athletics. No swimming pool upgrade. Equity. Period."

Paul Clark  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 7:26 AM

I generally agree with this editorial, though I don;t understand this sentence -- "At this moment, we have school boards and administrations that are fully in sync on bold steps to remake schools that are largely to fully stuck in systemic racism and to aggressively embrace equity." Maybe a word or two is missing?

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 7:00 AM

Susan, Please explain how spending $67 million to accommodate a 10-lane competition pool with a dedicated diving well "supports the sustaining human values that have kept our Oak Park - River Forest communities moving along a progressive path". My recent letter, link copied below, focuses on our community's values and the proposed spend on aquatics.

Jim Kelly  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 6:04 AM

Brilliant, compelling, focused, prioritized and COMPLETELY sensible approach to this mess. Thank you Dan.

Susan Clarke Rosi  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 1:43 AM

Unlike the pool spending plans preceding it, this proposal supports the sustaining human values that have kept our Oak Park - River Forest communities moving along a progressive path, making us the vibrant choice so many different groups of people proudly choose to call home.

Richard Gorman  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 9:37 PM

I've lived in Oak Park for 27 years and I don't think I've had much agreement with Dan Haley over the years and I think frankly he has some responsibility via the WJ that led us to the situation where we now find ourselves. I'm also encouraged that David Pope seems to have found enlightenment as well. Better late than never and I am wholeheartedly in agreement with Mr. Haley's approach to the many issues facing OPRF HS and our community. The D200 Board literally holds the future of Oak Park & River Forest in its hands and I hope they are up to the task.

Doug Stewart from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 8:02 PM

Exactly. This is the most logical path to improve the education facilities. No referendum required.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 7:38 PM

About time some common sense is being proposed by WJ on this issue. WOW and yes to this idea.

John Lattyak  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 7:05 PM

Yes! equity.

Charles Chauncey Wells from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:57 PM

Dan Haley has offered a middle way and the Dist. 200 Board and all of us should follow it. This issue of putting the pool and athletics first is most divisive and is splitting Oak Park and River Forest taxpayers away from any modicum of support for the high school we have had it the past. We have been betrayed by their past financial dealings and school taxes are pushing us all past the limits. Now I am waiting for reapportionment to be the final straw, so taking Haley's moderate approach to stress equity and academics is the right way here.

George Smith  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:23 PM

1) Never thought I'd agree with Haley, but here we are. 2) Still think D200 is arrogant enough to make the mega-pool anyway without a vote.

Mindy Credi  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:22 PM

Dan for School Board!!!!!

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:12 PM

Well stated. What we need are more people willing to seek the middle ground.

Rachel Benoit from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:02 PM

Hear! Hear! Well said, Dan.

RoseMary Gange  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 7:54 AM

The best course of action I have heard...Thanks Dan. The elaborate pool plan is simply tone deaf to the anger of the community regarding taxes. At the public Imagine meeting, someone suggested naming rights for the pool. Good idea?

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 12:43 AM

I can "Imagine" your plan Dan. Equity only.

Ellen Edwards  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 11:12 PM

This is the boldest, most honest, and most sensible statement on the subject so far.

Doug Springer  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 9:20 PM

Yes. This. If anyone on the BOE or within the Administration is listening, the community is...and THIS ^^^ is it.

Lisa Saxon Reed  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 9:09 PM


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