It is not normal that three members of an elementary school board would resign their posts within one year. But that is what has just happened in Forest Park’s District 91 schools.
On the same night a new board member, Kim Rostello, was appointed to replace Michael O’Connor who resigned July 1, another board member Heather Cianciolo announced her resignation. Cianciolo, in fact, had served on the board for less than one year. And, yes, she was appointed to the board to replace John Tricoci who resigned last September.
What’s the common thread in this odd scenario?
In at least two of the three resignations it was the conclusion by people who cared enough about public education to serve on a school board that they did not have a viable public high school option for their own children. Both Cianciolo and Tricoci chose to move from Forest Park rather than send their children to the Proviso Township High Schools.
In his resignation, O’Connor, also a Forest Park cop, cited only personal reasons for his decision to leave the elementary school board.
No one is surprised to know that Forest Park is seriously undermined as a community by the chronic failings of its public high schools. This issue has been on the table for decades. And as just one of 10 communities which feeds into the Proviso schools, Forest Park alone is never going to solve the Proviso problem.
But a couple of points worth noting. Forest Park’s decades of denial of this problem and its active turning away from engagement at Proviso doesn’t look like much of a strategy at this point. And we wonder over the political and financial support that some village leaders have provided to 7th District State Rep. Chris Welch, the long-time elected leader of the failed school district.
In years gone by, many Forest Parkers simply assumed that the price of living in a town they loved was sending their kids to a private high school. There was the simple math that the cost of four years at Nazareth or Fenwick was offset by the low taxes paid to live a lifetime in Forest Park. The reality now is that this equation is broken. Taxes have risen notably in Forest Park as more money has gone especially to the elementary and high school district and the parks.
So if Forest Park taxes are no longer a bargain and the widely held perception is that this is a town without a public high school option, then we all have a problem. When three school board members pull out, that problem is in sharp relief.
We know the answer isn’t to run down the reputation of the strong elementary schools as two village council members have done. We know the elementary school board must be stabilized with active, progressive members who are clear in their commitment to serve their terms. We know the property tax burden in Forest Park has reached a critical point and must be contained. And we know that sincere efforts must continue to slowly turn Proviso high schools into a legitimate choice for many more Forest Park families.