Public school districts are perpetually building up cash reserves or spending down those reserves. It is the nature of the imperfect but worthy cycle of taxpayer-approved property tax referendums made inevitable by the property tax caps imposed on our local governments a quarter-century ago.
From time to time, school districts are forced to turn back to taxpayers and seek their approval to increase local property taxes. In most districts, the average span of years is about seven between referendums. But here in Forest Park, our local public elementary schools, District 91, has gone 13 years, far longer than average.
To be plain, the district is not currently asking voters for a hike. But it seems clear the district is planting the seed for a referendum to come in the next few years. Last week the school board unanimously adopted a fiscal year budget in which costs outstrip revenues by some $2.5 million. That deficit will be made up out of the still very healthy cash reserves the district is maintaining.
D91 has managed to stretch the span between referendums because voters approved a very, possibly overly, generous increase in the tax rate well over a decade ago. That has allowed the district to both pile up cash while comfortably spending on a wide range of educationally and technologically innovative programs. Our public schools have up-to-date curriculums, just short of cutting-edge tech, and a veteran teaching force that is both fairly compensated and facing high expectations.
Investments in social-emotional learning, bilingual programs, special education and social services have been wisely made by the administration and board.
While the district continues to express concern about the state government as a dependable and worthy partner in education, we believe recent actions in Springfield will at least make state funding more reliable.
The funding cycle continues. And all of us should keep a steady but respectful eye on how our schools spend our money.
A ‘Y’ without walls
It wasn’t too many years back that the West Cook YMCA was deep in discussion with Forest Park about buying the better portion of the Altenheim property and constructing a state-of-the-art facility.
Reality intervened in the form of the 2008 financial collapse, which put the kibosh on a lot of grand plans, including those of the local Y.
Instead, the Y’s board changed direction, changed leadership and has spent recent years investing heavily in its older-but-adequate Oak Park facility while looking actively for partnerships across the communities it serves. That’s why the West Cook Y operates Maywood’s Fred Hampton swimming pool in the summer. And now it’s why a pact has been made with St. John Lutheran here in Forest Park to use its now shuttered school for a range of before- and after-school and summer programs. This is a five-year deal that brings life and connection to an underutilized asset in our community.
Good for St. John. Good for the West Cook Y.