This past Election Day, Oak Park and River Forest residents voted down a bond issue of up to $25 million by Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200. The bonds were intended to help fund a five-year, $44.5 million facilities plan. According to the results from the Cook County Board of Elections, out of 35,676 ballots cast, those opposed to the bond issue prevailed by a margin of 28 votes, or 0.08%.
In a presentation to the Board of Education on Tues., Dec. 13, administrators noted that the large number of votes indicated the community’s high level of interest in this issue, while the near-tie revealed a community evenly split in its views. They attributed the “no” votes to a number of factors, including but not limited to the overall cost of the project, a desire to fund the project only with cash reserves, the cost to taxpayers, the demolition of the current parking garage, and concern about whether long-term facilities needs were fully vetted.
What happens next? In the past five years, the district has led two long-term facilities planning committees and multiple pool committees, as well as a strategic planning process. With the community at an impasse regarding facilities issues, district administrators have recommended initiating a different process, one that includes pools, locker rooms, performing arts classrooms, etc., but goes even further to ask: What are the instructional needs of the next generation of learners, and how should the high school’s facilities be altered to meet those needs?
While internal stakeholders clearly need to be involved in answering these questions, the administration recommended undertaking a process that would also more broadly and deeply involve community residents and community partners. The Board agreed and approved a resolution charging administrators with “establishing a community engagement and outreach committee to review previous processes, make recommendations, and strengthen community partnerships pursuant to District goals related to equity, academic programming needs, facilities to support those needs, and finances, in order to ensure that the District meets the educational needs of the next generation of learners.”
Administrators are planning to make recommendations to the Board in January regarding creating the committee.