Why I'll vote in favor of the referendum

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I've been reading the back and forth on the relative merits of District 97's referendum vote on April 5. There's a lot of parsing of school law, finance and educational programs suggesting that, after the analysis of all the data, an informed decision can be made. In our hyper-rational world, that's how were supposed to make decisions. In fact, I think for many of us, including myself, it's exactly the opposite. We have an intuitive, emotional response, and then we sift the mountains of data, cherry picking evidence to justify our decision. Heart trumps head. We just don't want to admit it.

Well I do. Here are my admittedly idiosyncratic reasons for voting in favor of the referendum.

I've lived here for 34 years, and have voted in favor of every revenue-raising referendum, so I'm not about to break my streak now.

The people on the board seem pretty smart, reasonable and dedicated. Only morons would go for a referendum in these difficult economic times unless it was absolutely necessary. So I'm guessing the district really needs the money.

In the back of my mind, I'm always a little worried that a mediocre school system will result in young families deciding not to move here. One thing leads to another, and we're a community in decline. Good sushi is important, just not as important as good schools.

Voting against the referendum feels kind of Tea Party-ish. I'm sure Rand Paul and Sarah Palin would oppose this referendum, and I sure don't want to be part of that crowd.

If the referendum passes my taxes will go up $300. I've spent more than that on Bulls tickets, high-end golf and Morton's. If the time comes when I can't afford to pay the taxes, I'll just move.

It just seems like a town's schools should have plays, co-curricular activities, foreign language and enrichment programs.

My three sons are grown now, but they received a really good education for 12 years in the Oak Park school system. They are the fine men they are today in part because of that education. It just seems wrong for me not to support the kids and families that come after them.

Lily is my 2-year-old granddaughter. She is the light of my life. I'd do most anything for her. She can't vote on the referendum, even though it will greatly impact her. So I'll cast my vote for her. We haven't discussed her position, but I'm pretty sure she is in favor of it.

John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one. Read his blog at OakPark.com/community.

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Posted: April 5th, 2011 8:27 PM

Do enjoy your golf game, old chap. For me it is another 300 bucks I won't be spending in Oak Park, and a reminder to do anything to sell my place and get out of here,

i too (secretly) voted no..!  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 7:00 PM

ditto previous posts. a yes referendum lawn sign sits on my front yard, but didn't feel it was right at the last moment and voted no.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 6:28 PM

I agree that it'll be a close vote and I believe that, by and large, it has been a civil debate. Also, it is obvious that many non-"tea-partiers" had to punch "no" for a close total. OP is not exactly a hotbed of that demographic! Regardless of the final tally, I am hopeful that this well-read online debate has sent a message that OP is a high tax community and that this is not an asset for our future. The falsity that high taxes equate to high prop values is clear. Will OP govt's change?

Voted Yes! from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:37 PM

Voted Hell No! Thanks, but not buying what you're selling. Your screen name is a clue (and not many liberals are loving Obama these days). Good luck anyway -- I think it will be a close vote.

Voted Hell No!  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:27 PM

@Unbelieveable: Totally agree. @Voted Yes!:I'm an Obama-loving liberal, actually. And you know nothing about me or the "no crowd" or who can afford what.

@stick to the issues  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:21 PM

If you have been on these comment sections for awhile, you would see that it is BOTH sides that have expressed personal catty jibes. ESP. that Noel fellow. He may have a hard time after this is done. Not because of his opinion about the referendum, but because of how he has conducted himself. Embarrassing...

Voted Heck No! from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:20 PM

I voted no. I do not agree with the tea party, Sarah Palin or any of the rest of the Faux News crew. I actually support Quinn and agreed with the Illinois income tax hike. Most of my neighbors align with me politically... and still planned to vote no. So much for your observation.

Voted Yes! from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:16 PM

The responses from Voted Hell No and Stick to the issues are typical of so many right-wingers (and yes, I'm assuming the vast majority of the no crowd consists of tea party types like your fearless leader). Sounds like you are the vindictive ones. I simply made an observation (re. D97 Board) and stated my opinion (that the vast majority can easily afford the increase).


Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:13 PM

Thank Goodness today is the last day for this.

Voted Hell No! from OP  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:11 PM

@Stick to the issues: Agreed. That vindictive streak made voting "No" so much easier, though.

Voted Hell No! from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:07 PM

@Voted Yes!: Funny, I went to two forums and walked away from each thinking that they said exactly what I wanted to hear, but realizing that they answered no tough questions like the ones I submitted (which apparently were "lost") regarding the rationale behind the terms of the current (generous) teacher contract or why we pay the highest taxes in Cook County but don't have the best schools. I admire your ability to ignore BS...I don't have that skill, sadly.

Stick to the issues  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:06 PM

@Voted Yes: Such catty personal jibes are uncalled for. It does seem, as some have pointed out, that elements of the "Yes" crowd have a vindictive streak against those who disagree with them.

Voted Yes! from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 4:45 PM

Attended the forum at Irving last month and came away with the sense that the D97 Board has worked hard to tighten the belt in recent years ...and is committed to doing more of the same going forward. While I sympathize with those who will truly be hurt (not just annoyed) by the tax increase, I believe that population is quite small (and I understand the "unemployed" leader of no crowd is married to someone who makes a very comfortable salary).


Posted: April 5th, 2011 1:38 PM

@Oak Park Mom: you seriously misunderstand the value of the teachers' pensions. Any sane person would gladly get out of SS to get the teachers' deal. They will collect all they put in within five years of retirement and collect $1 to $2 million over normal lifespan. It's more like a winning lottery ticket than a pension.

tjk from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:38 PM

@secret: you're going to mess up my highly scientific method of predicting the outcome of the elections based upon lawn signs! On a serious note, there are enough compelling arguments on the NO side that no one should be ashamed to vote no. It's also not true, despite the tone of this article, that all yes voters are free-spenders that don't care about any pain this might cause others.

tjk from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:32 PM

One more thing - I don't know John Hubbuch and he may be a swell guy. But this is about the most obnoxious article I've seen on the topic. I'm happy that he can afford $300 rounds of golf and preumium Bulls tickets. The referendum, if passed, will have a real impact on people already hurting. To brush that off and say you routinely spend that on luxury is pretty insensitive. Perhaps he should take one of the people struggling to make ends meet to a Bulls playoff game.

I (secretly) voted No from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:29 PM

@tjk: Thanks for sharing your persepective. It's genuinely a feeling that seems quite prevalent, but has just been hidden behind the YES lawn signs and buttons. I feel the same way, but decided to secretly vote NO while my lawn sign sits out in front of the house.

tjk from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:15 PM

Continuing on my comment below, I'm not sure we're getting what we pay for and I'd like the board to be more accountable for its spending. However, I also noticed that the D97 board is running unopposed. Why aren't any of the NO supporters running? Some of these folks should run and take on the unions and entitlement programs. For now, like I said, I'm voting yes and not feeling great about it.

tjk from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 12:12 PM

I voted yes, primarily because with a 4 year old and 5 year old, I feel like the district is holding a gun to my head and I'm not in the mood to dare them to shoot. I didn't feel great about my vote, and I feel truly sorry for people getting taxed out of their homes (which despite what Yes proponents will tell you, are hard to sell despite our "great" schools). For what we pay, it should be common knowledge that our schools are the best in the county. I don't believe that's the case.

Already Voted NO from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:54 AM

Only $300.00? Think again. It will be much more. And good luck moving if you can even sell your house.

JennyWren from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:54 AM

@DeJordy, thanks, you're right, that is not an argument. It's like saying, go ahead and waste money, there's no impact on MY spending -- too bad about the rest of you.


Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:48 AM

"If the referendum passes my taxes will go up $300. I've spent more than that on Bulls tickets, high-end golf and Morton's. If the time comes when I can't afford to pay the taxes, I'll just move." I hate this argument! By this logic, they should go up $300 more every year. It's not the $300; it's the huge amount I am already paying, one which goes up each year, 50 percent in 10 years. School board dishonestly acts like its revenue take has been static without referendum. Cap salaries.

JennyWren from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 11:15 AM

@Becky, people voting NO are not against students, they just can't make any more sacrifices with no cuts and no guarantee that D97 will not continue spending beyond its income. What if you had already given up vacations, new clothes, eating out, and every other unneccesary expense, to support education that is already the most expensive in the region? And what if you didn't have children, too. This is part of the NO vote.

Already Voted NO from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 10:23 AM

Reality is things are not going to be the same! Changes have to be address on funding issues in this State! Property values may not bounce back due to good schools for many years. D97 schools are good, but not great for what we are paying per student. Some of us have to live within what we can afford.


Posted: April 5th, 2011 9:48 AM

@Parent: There are at least three unsold, bank- owned homes on my block. Those young families clamoring for OP homes are a figment of your imagination. As far as property values, the reality is that the long list of empty OP homes outweighs D97's long list of $100K/yr administrators, teachers, and librarians.


Posted: April 5th, 2011 6:54 AM

Feed Me Seymour!!!

Another Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2011 5:00 AM

@Parent: There you go with your "black and white" false dichotomy again...you believe that if you don't vote yes, our schools will suck and our property values will drop. Is it just possible that our schools could find a way with their current $80 MILLION DOLLAR ANNUAL BUDGET to not suck? Is it not reasonable to at least ask them to try? According to "yes" voters, it's neither possible nor reasonable..."no" voters disagree. That's the reality, without the "sky is falling" scare tactics.


Posted: April 4th, 2011 11:56 PM

"Emotions" aside, the "reality" is, Oak Park draws a lot of young families due it it's top public schools. People are willing to pay higher taxes to move here if that means competitive schools with diverse programs. Once programs get cut, schools feel less desirable, and that ultimately affects the whole of Oak Park, kids or no kids. Watch schools go down and then watch property values further plummet. As a parent, I care about these programs, as a home owner I care about property value.

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 9:28 PM

@Becky. Can't disagree with your passion or sincerity, but did you know that D97 already spends more, per pupil, than just about every school district in the state? Did you learn in Cons Ed at OPRF about budgets? That spending beyond your means is not wise? Well, D97 has been doing that for years. I suggest that when you obtain your first credit card that you don't use it like D97 uses the taxpayers money - or you'll go broke. "Emotion" is nice, but "reality" trumps. Welcome to "real life!"


Posted: April 4th, 2011 9:07 PM

Echoing the thanks, Becky, on behalf of all Oak Parkers.

D97 Parent  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 8:31 PM

Thank you, Becky. As a parent of a D97 student and one more on the way, I appreciate your exercising your right to vote - in favor of maintaining and increasing the quality of education offered in Oak Park elementary/middle schools. Thank you!

Becky from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 7:07 PM

I am a senior at OPRF and I have grown up here my whole life. I am now 18 and voting and indeed I am voting in favor of the referendum. Sure, I may not pay taxes, my parents do, but I can sure tell you the affect that the arts and music programs have had on my life here in Oak Park. They have helped me create an outlet away from the stresses of school and and pressures from parents and learn about myself more than any other education has. Help future generations, vote yes, let them live too.

Fed Up Plus Some from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 1:12 PM

The district already has sufficient money to support a high quality program. It should be looking to reallocate dollars, not asking the already overburdened taxpayers for more. If some non-essential programs i.e. music (plenty of local sources for music lessons) must be scaled back or eliminated, so be it. Difficult times mean difficult choices - we've had to cut back and eliminate at home, we didn't have the easy path of asking the village to make up the slack in our personal budget.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2011 9:15 PM

@local OP. The OPRF ref was in March of 2002. We were not then in the midst of 20% un/underemployment and falling prop values. Yes, coincidence or not, large raises followed. 5-yr contract was most recent one. This was a primary election and here are the results: http://results.cookcountyclerk.com/electionresults/031902/DetailSummaryElection031902RaceNum461.html?Party=ALL. 54-46 in OP. This is why D97 chose a low turnout municipal election for ref. More non-parents voting is not good for them.

local OP  

Posted: April 3rd, 2011 9:05 PM

Again, Oak Park voted for Oak Park high school's referendum(s) despite the fact that their salaries average 30% higher than district 97 (same education and experience levels) Didn't hear any talk about pay cuts then. Oh, and those teachers were rewarded with an especially generaous pay raise a year or so later.


Posted: April 3rd, 2011 8:24 PM

I work in the nonprofit sector -no raises in lean time/3%COLA at best- and my OP property taxes are now more than all of my discretionery income. It is discouraging to those of us not so fortunate as Mr. Hubbuch that neither the village nor school districts can adjust to the current economy by finding ways to consolidate, redistribute funds, or just stop new spending to take care of basics first - before they ask for more taxes.


Posted: April 3rd, 2011 6:35 PM

I am voting NO in honor of Lily and the hope that she becomes a fiscally conservative but politically liberal person. VOTE NO!!!!!!!!

Interested Parent  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 3:16 PM

I fail to see the point about whether a teacher's spouse may draw SS. Do you feel teachers should not be married, should not marry people in private business, or that spouses should give up their benefits if married to a teacher? There are actually quite a few teachers who don't draw on the D97 insurance because their spouse's job covers it already. Should they give that up and use the taxpayer-paid insurance instead?

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 2:17 PM

Mr. Hubbuch, being a former attorney, you must believe in "disclosure." Question: is your wife a former teacher and now retired and collecting a pension? If true, why didn't you include this info in your "admittedly idiosyncratic reasons for voting in favor of the referendum"? You threw in "Tea Party-ish" and "Sarah Palin," but not this?!? BTW, can you "please pass the Grey Poupon?" - :-).

Pensions from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 1:56 PM

I bet if a teacher is married to someone who works outside the schools, their household will be collecting SS too. And I am sure that little Lily's position is to force everyone in town to go broke paying taxes so her teachers can have big pay increases, tenure and summers off.

Not Surprised from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 6:47 AM

@John Hubbuch: Wow, your endorsement is less than a revelation given your prior pandering. Voting NO is Tea Party-ish? Interesting...I guess if asking a govt to live within its already-large budget and be efficient/effective is "tea party-ish" then so be it. As for Lily...spend lavishly on her. Please. Just don't expect that others will do so with the same passion. Especially when others are already funding the schools at a very high level that affords very good schools.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 6:01 PM

@OP Mom. Actually, with both TRS and SS it is a race to see which implodes first. My bet is on the IL TRS, but SS is now paying out more than it's taking in ("lockbox" is solely full of IOU's) and both sides of the aisle are quietly acknowledging that SS and Medicaid will shortly be the monster that ate our govt. Hmm, I'd be maximizing 403b if I was in TRS right now - because its promises, "in Constitution" or not, can't be kept. Do we all sink together?

Oak Park mom voted yes  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 5:34 PM

@Chet, ha, yes. My point was really that it's not like teachers get the option to go in and out. (darn these short comment boxes). I was responding to the sentence, "Most of us who don't have pensions and we can't collect Social Security till we are in our 60s." Often people in the private sector do (or did collect both a pension and SS, but the trade-off for teachers has always been that they gave up SS.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 4:37 PM

@OP Mom. Trust me, you'd want the teacher pension rather than social security. Social security doesn't start until age 67 and is about, at D97 wages, $2,000 per month. The teacher pension starts for most at age 57 and is at least $6,000 per month. Yes, teachers pay 9% toward TRS and social security is "only" about 6% (the rest is for Medicaid, which starts at 65), but 1/3 more for 3x more AND 10 years earlier, well, any sane person would chose to forego SS. BTW, no "pension bumps" for SS!

Oak Park mom voted yes  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 4:25 PM

@Noel Kuriakos: Don't forget that teachers can't collect SS, EVER, unless they also worked for 10 years in the private sector at some point. They are not allowed to pay into Social Security, so whatever portion of their compensation contribution was used for their pension will be the entirety of their retirement funding. @Unbelievable - I understand the frustration with property taxes (IL school funding is pathetic!) But (ask any RE agent) bad schools will > lower property prices.


Posted: March 31st, 2011 8:26 AM

@unbelievable. The pension calculation is stated at 70% of last 4 years of employment. That's why we've seen the sweeteners in the contract. So you spoke with a teacher who ended up making $39,000 after 20 years? What did you do? Call up the part time music teacher? Please paint the entire picture of how the pension came to be 30,000? Because you are inferring that the pensions are low and you highlight a pension that is most likely the lowest. No venom here, just asking for accuracy.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 7:09 AM

I made a mistake two post ago. It should have said @Daniel Hurtado not JMurtag. I apologize to John.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 7:08 AM

@ Unbelievable, ask current Board member James Gates how much he is collecting in pension, while he holds a consulting job! Most of us who don't have pensions and we can't collect Social Security till we are in our 60s.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 7:04 AM

@JMurtag, please read up on the TIF for D97. Over the last decade D97's tax levies increased by almost 50%, twice the rate of the CPI! D97 received additional funding from TIF carve outs & new construction. Even with all this $$ they deficit spent yr after yr leading us to the current mess. A vote NO is vote to stop this insanity that puts our kids education at risk. Voting No is vote for change, for fiscal responsibility & accountability.


Posted: March 31st, 2011 12:55 AM

Talked to a retired D97 teacher today, guess how much her pension is? $30,000 a year. OMG how she sucking the system drive (sarcasm). 20 years teaching for $30 grand and all this venom coming her way.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 12:12 AM

Noel, as I believe has been explained to you in at least one of the forums, the tax revenues to D97 are capped by the CPI. So there have been no revenue increases in real dollars to D97. An average tax increase of $300 per year (after 20 years of no real increase in revenues to D97) will allow us to maintain programs AND continue to pay teachers what they are worth.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 12:07 AM

The referendum is painful to many and while I voted Yes, I understand why many voted No. I recall working on a Michigan School Tax Increase and a woman said "I apologize for voting No on the millage, but I just can't afford it." I said, "I apologize for voting "Yes." It is hard to vote to tax neighbors when they are pinched. While living on a fixed income,I can manage the increase. My 3 kids got 13 years of Public Education free. To me, it is my turn to payback.

Love it  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 11:57 PM

Thanks John. Love the article.

Alan from oak park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 11:36 PM

@ John Murtagh It is possible I misunderstood Mr Hubbuch's attitude concerning his article. If so I extend my apology. My basic premise though is that no matter how well and good this referendum may be there are some of us hurting financially in Oak Park. We can't afford to sell and buy elsewhere and we are becoming more and more concerned the proverbial straw (or in this case continual adding on of taxes) WILL break the camels back. Something that a person with ample finances does not worry about and cannot relate to.


Posted: March 30th, 2011 11:11 PM

He doesn't say whether he gets a Senior citizen exemption either which should be noted. Also when kids left, he downsized, lowering his tax bill. Try selling a house now. Let's ask the people who bought his house? Maybe they like the taxes. I know it's not a dollar a day.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 10:53 PM

Alan, you're a bit over the top on this. The writer says he is voting for the referendum despite having no children in the schools -- "STAR". He says he is willing to forego luxury items to pay for the increased taxes. "STAR". He admits his housing value is important enough that he would leave if OP lower standards caused home values to fall that he would consider leaving. That is a popular sentiment--GIVE HIM A STAR. I am having a tough time figuring if OP is becoming socialist or Tea Party.

Already Voted NO from Oak Park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 5:07 PM

This is why we are in the shape we are in this State and town! I am so glad you can afford to give your money away. But there are a lot of us in this town who can't afford this. Try to sell your house and see what happens? Nothing or you have to price it cheap. 2 homes on our block on market over 1 yr. and reduced price 2 times.

Alan from oak park  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 4:41 PM

"I've spent more than that on Bulls tickets, high-end golf and Morton's" Well goodness sir, has it ever occured to you that some in this community are not near as "well heeled" as you are? I would have to assume from your elitist comments that you expect anyone who can't afford your lavish lifestyle and its taxation should take it in their hearts to move to a less exclusive town. Your arrogance is appalling to say the least.

Noel Kuriakos  

Posted: March 30th, 2011 12:48 AM

OP Tax payers are smarter. They know that D97 has been spending more than the tax revs yr & yr, even when D97's tax levies have risen over 50% (2x the CPI). That spending went into higher compensation for teachers & admins as long as the times were good & the revs kept flowing. Unfortunately the times are bad. A vote NO will force the board to ask D97 emps for a pay cut to fund some of the core programs like music & visual arts. More taxes are not going to make our schools better.


Posted: March 30th, 2011 12:03 AM

You are the poster child for why Illinois and Oak Park are a fiscal nightmare. I'm tired of being burdened with someone else's idiosyncrasies. Vote No if you're rational.

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