Equity first

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Every election counts. But some count more. And the April 2019 school board elections for the District 97 elementary school board and the District 200 Oak Park and River Forest High School board are, in our eyes, critical.

Here's why:

It has taken decades, but these two school boards have by purposeful action and by luck or good fortune both arrived in a place where equity — the conscious decision to provide access and opportunity to every student, to acknowledge and compensate for past failings in access and opportunity — has risen to Job 1. 

You can see it in the hiring of two strong black women as superintendents of the districts. You can see it in strategic plans — yes, we know strategic plans — but these plans are now single-minded in prioritizing equity. In D97 you can see it in the past two contracts with faculty. If the high school ever gets a new faculty contract, we hope to see it there as well.

Don't get distracted by the shiny, and expensive, new object of the Imagine OPRF facilities plan. But there is plenty in this large-scale, once-in-50-year, plan that goes straight at remaking this school for equity, for better teaching environments, collaborative learning, state-of-the-art technology.

In a town that talks boldly about race and diversity but for far too long has taken timid actions in our public schools to focus on equity, this moment is vital and it is fragile.  

We know now that three of the seven members of the D97 school board will not seek re-election. Bob Spatz (three terms), Jim O'Connor (two terms) and Ruppa Data (one term) have announced they will leave the board after the election. A fourth member up for election, Holly Spurlock, will happily seek another term.

Our endorsements are months away. But, plainly in D97 we will be looking to support candidates who consciously, thoughtfully, creatively want to build out an equity model. And as we have said so many times, equity is a culture issue, an admission-of-past-failings issue, a determination-and-perseverance issue. It's not a money issue.

At the high school, it is not fully plain to us yet what seats will be open. Three of seven school board members are up for election. We look for them to declare their intentions shortly. Fred Arkin, Sara Dixon Spivy and Jennifer Cassels are all wrapping up first terms. They have been strong on equity and we hope they are up for second terms.

In a new term the members of the OPRF board, whoever they are, will have complex and sometimes conflicting decisions to make on equity and on updating the facility.

The worst-case scenario is that with property taxes in Oak Park and in River Forest at such high levels, that we will see single-issue candidates come forward with too strong a focus on reducing costs. The same scenario could capture interest in the race for Oak Park village trustees where three of seven seats are up for election.

We are sympathetic to angst over taxes. The high school dilled its pickle with its decade of unconscionable overtaxing. Every taxing body must swear off the new taxes coming from the high-rises as free money. The trade-off for this density must be mitigating property tax hikes.

We are coming to a moment. Oak Park either focuses on educational equity or we just give up the bragging rights. That's what the next election is about.

Reader Comments

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Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: September 27th, 2018 4:19 PM

In the print version of this editorial, the WJ refers to "Jessica Dixon Spivy".They know so little about OPRF that they can't even get the names of the Board Members straight.

Neal Buer  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 11:40 PM


Neal Buer  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 11:36 PM

Kitty, the only way to reduce the increases in spending is to return the money D200 stole, back to the taxpayers. Then elect a board that rejects the Imagine plan in its entirety. The increase in sending should never exceed the cost of living increase.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 11:03 PM

@George Smith: That's it! Brilliant suggestion. We - as a community - should do as George Constanza did in the "Opposite" episode of Seinfeld, when George finally achieved success by doing the opposite of his normal inclinations. So, by the same token, we should do the opposite of any editorial suggestions of the WJ - and hopefully achieve the same level of success.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 9:17 PM

this website will not accept formatting. sorry.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 9:17 PM

here are the stats, not run together: D200 Total Tax Levy 2000 22,264,000 D200 Total Tax Levy 2015 40,439,000 D200 Total Tax Levy 2017 48,963,000 Rate of Inflation Increase 2000-2017 43% D200 rate of Tax Levy increase 2000-2017 120% Rate of Inflation Increase 2015-2017 5% D200 rate of Tax Levy increase 2015-2017 21% Total Oak Park (all 6 taxing bodies) increase 20%

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 9:12 PM

I attended last night's Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force meeting, the purpose of which was to finalize their report of recommendations. The report included one table of stats, a portion of which I would like to share here: D200 Total Tax Levy 2000 22,264,000 D200 Total Tax Levy 2015 40,439,000 D200 Total Tax Levy 2017 48,963,000 Rate of Inflation Increase 2000-2017 43% D200 rate of Tax Levy increase 2000-2017 120% Total Oak Park (all 6 taxing bodies) increase 139% Rate of Inflation Increase 2015-2017 5% D200 rate of Tax Levy increase 2015-2017 21% Total Oak Park (all 6 taxing bodies) increase 20% The rate of inflation is a proxy for salary increase and is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bottom line to me is that D200, already sitting on a massive pile of our taxes in the form of reserves, clearly shows that they have no respect for the taxpayer. I will not be supporting the Imagine plan in it's current form. Fyi, there is a new state law that would enable us to get a referendum on the ballot next spring to mandate D200 to return all extra reserves over a calculated amount to taxpayers. Shall we?

George Smith  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 5:14 PM

Personally, I find the best choice is to vote AGAINST anyone or anything the Wednesday Journal endorses.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: September 26th, 2018 4:46 PM

It would be nice if the superintendents for our schools could do things like hiring and firing without having to pay consultants to tell them how to do it, which makes one wonder what if anything they know how to do. The Wednesday Journal's sympathy for the tax payers reminds one of the sympathy a crocodile has for the victim it drags into the water to eat, which is zero sympathy. Its time to treat the taxpaying citizens equitably and stop the madness.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 25th, 2018 7:49 PM

Of course you're only "sympathetic to angst over taxes." Yeah from Berwyn you don't have to pay them. You can afford all the sympathetic angst you want. Well we - those who actually live here - can't. And I agree with Nick, we need need single issue candidates who will be bold enough to address the "elephant" in the room, the one thing destroying our community: an unsustainable and outrageous rise in property taxes largely driven by the failed administrative policies of D97 and D200. If you can't see the very real existential threat this poses well then you are hopeless.

Nick Polido  

Posted: September 25th, 2018 4:59 PM

Please give me single issue candidates....reducing cost and educating all students....and for those falling into the gap lets focus on them as well and teach those students black and white who are struggling. Oak park schools used to be the envy of the state now you can't even even find them ranked. This is what we get with some of the highest property taxes in the state!

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