D97's referenda reflect the real cost of educating

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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Imagine Oak Park with no art or general music classes, no band or orchestra, and no BRAVO or CAST in its schools. If the two District 97 referenda being set before voters on April 4 do not pass, all elementary and middle school art, music, and theater programs will be eliminated by the 2018-19 school year in order to close the budget gap.

Some taxpayers think D97 has not been a good steward of public funds since we passed a referendum in 2011. Consider, however, that we are educating 1,000 more students than we were in 2011 but with only a 1-2% increase in yearly expenditures, while also dealing with a lack of state funding due to the budget crisis. 

This model cannot be sustained, however, as our student population continues to grow, health care costs soar, potential pension liabilities loom, and our aging and overcrowded elementary schools need capital improvements. 

D97's situation is not the result of poor financial oversight. It reflects the real costs of educating kids in the 21st century. Some of our peer districts, such as LaGrange, Evanston, and Elmhurst, are asking the same of their voters this spring.

D97's vision statement promises an education that is "equitable, inclusive, and focused on the whole child" — a vision that reflects the values of the Oak Park community. This is what we want for our kids and our community. To be "focused on the whole child" means to educate beyond the core to include the arts, since they are essential to developing well-balanced students and keeping students engaged and enthusiastic about school. In addition, numerous studies show that studying music contributes to the success of students in all subjects, especially math.

To be "equitable and inclusive" means providing opportunities for our most vulnerable students. Cutting enrichment programs will hurt our low-income students the most since they cannot afford these opportunities privately. Also, if the referenda fail, class sizes will increase significantly, limiting the ability to provide differentiated instruction that supports "equitable and inclusive" education. D97 has a diverse population that cannot overcome such staff and programming cuts.

While the argument can be made that high taxes are driving out low- and middle-income families from our community, the alternative is that our property values sink because we can no longer provide the sort of high-quality education for which young parents of all socio-economic backgrounds move to Oak Park. Besides the direct effects on D97 schools, these cuts will also affect our high school, for if these cuts ensue, we will be sending a very different sort of student to OPRF.

Oak Park is a unique and desirable community because of its diversity and its vision for equity. Inadequate funding of D97's operational and capital needs is short-sighted and will hurt our community and our students now and well into the future.

We strongly urge Oak Park voters to say "Yes" to both the operating and the capital referenda.

PING! Board of Directors

Providing Instruments
for the Next Generation

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 14th, 2017 11:43 PM

Hey PING: $740 per $10 000 property tax increase in one of the already highest taxed communities in Illinois is unaffordable for many. It's just that simple. I urge people to Vote NO on both referenda and restore some fiscal sanity to D97. Send a message as well, to the other spendthrift taxing bodies littering our landscape. If this nonsense passes they too will be howling at our doors crying poor and needy and begging for more money as well. It seems the only people who need to stay within budget are us, certainly not our voracious taxing bodies whose answer to every problem is "spend more money." Vote NO on April 4th.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: March 14th, 2017 5:38 PM

"Some taxpayers think D97 has not been a good steward of public funds"..Yup! Same goes for D200, Park District of Oak Park, Village of Oak Park.

Rick Boultinghouse  

Posted: March 14th, 2017 4:08 PM

For the record, despite the lack of a State Budget, the state has been funding K-12 education. In fact they fully funded it (no proration) in the current fiscal year.

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