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Letter to the Editor: District 67 Threatend By Drastic Cuts

Residents can protect district's fine reputation with their votes on March 20.

By Morton Grove resident and parent, Kristina Otte.

My husband and I moved to Morton Grove nearly seven years ago, about to become parents for the first time.  We were happy to find a nice house in a village with great amenities close to Chicago.  We did not truly understand then, as soon-to-be parents, that we were also moving into one of the most high-performing school districts in the area. 

Now, in 2012, Golf School District 67 is facing serious financial hardship.  While our students continue to perform at very high rates at both Hynes Elementary School and Golf Middle School (both in the top 35 in Cook County’s top 300), the current school fund balance is precipitously low.  Drastic cuts are about to be made to programs, to teachers and to our children’s quality of education, which will affect each and every one of us.

Our facilities, not updated since the 1960’s, have serious problems.  The heating and cooling systems repeatedly fail, forcing kindergarteners, for example, to wear their coats in class.  At the hand sinks, corroded plumbing results in brown, rusty water equaled only by the rain water leaking into classrooms at both buildings.

Like our buildings, our curriculum is also in danger of crumbling.  At the recent Board of Education meeting, it was announced that over a dozen teaching jobs will be reduced or eliminated.  Art and music programs are on the chopping block.  Full-day kindergarten will be permanently cut from 7.5 hours to 2.5 hours a day.  All student clubs and after-school athletics will disappear.  These are just a few items on the long list of cuts on the district’s website if action is not taken.    

As a parent I am truly saddened at this situation.  Golf 67 has not had a referendum since 1969.  That’s 43 years ago!  ALL other districts that feed into Niles North have had one, if not two, referenda since then (except tax-revenue-wealthy Old Orchard).  We have problems now.  We need to deal with these problems now.  Our teachers and children have outperformed other school districts despite an infrastructure that has been deteriorating for years- but ‘band-aid’ fixes are no longer a solution.  More than our fine reputation is at stake.  Regardless of whether one has children in school or not, our property values are affected by the quality of the schools.  Long term, our quality of life and therefore our very future, is at risk. 

The ballot on March 20th will ask those of us in District 67 two questions:  Will we support facilities improvements for our buildings and will we support the curriculum that we currently prize.  I ask my fellow District 67 residents to vote yes on both questions.  We can continue to provide our children with the quality of education that all children deserve by voting YES on March 20th.

lou February 18, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Some good input in the recent comments. Looking at the numbers between schools is a handy guide, but we shouldn't be hung up on them- simply because the buildings themselves are not identical. Construction type, materials, floor plan, equipment efficiency and age, sunlighting, etc all drastically affect power consumption (utility bills) and maintenance costs. As far as salaries go, we also need to consider years on the job. As far as class sizes go, there is the possibility that some school rooms simply cant physically accommodate more students. I know that my garage is larger than Hynes's classrooms, and that the nurses office is about the size of a handicapped accessible toilet stall. In the end we still need to take a hard look at what we need... on the building/physical side we have issues with hvac systems- they are decades past their service life, and woefully inefficient. any upgrade would save money over time. we do not fulfill minimum state requirements regarding phys ed cause our gym doubles as a lunchroom. should things have been addressed earlier? absolutely, but personally I fail to see how we can today criticize past mismanagement while at the same time use it as an excuse to continue mismanagement into the future.
Adam Kohm February 19, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Thanks Donald. I've noticed that you consistently inject a firm foundation of historical perspective into these discussions. Do you have any information that can help shed light on the potential impact of north of golf Avon property on the district? I've seen discussion of this (and subsequent dismissal) of the potential of Avon closing on the school budget. I've also seen discussion from Glenview about replacing it with the Audi dealership and other retailers. Does anyone know what contribution Avon currently makes towards our budget from this location and subsequent impact of its closing (and hopefully replacement by audi)? Not sure if Audi can compensate for the lost revenue, if it falls grossly short, or if this is a good thing for the district financially-wise. Is Audi receiving any deals for this move and is it even confirmed or just rumor? Has SD67 accounted for this in their projections? I think we need to her from a school board member on this one.
Foster1234 February 19, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Interesting comments. Perhaps if there is blame to be assigned it should go to the Illinois legislature which has continually refused to adequately provide state funding for local schools so school districts have to rely on local real estate taxes. As homeowners we are responsible for ensuring that the children of our school district receive a quality education because their future depends on it. One previous post reported District 70's tax extension as 2.53 whereas I believe the current number is actually 2.89 ( according to Cook County ). Approval of both Ballot Questions will result in a tax increase of 7.8% which for someone who currently pays $10,000 in real estate taxes would mean an increase of $780 and that equates to a cost of $4.33 per day for a 180 day school year. I do not enjoy paying taxes and I dilsike even more paying higher taxes but I am willing to pay higher taxes to maintain the educational excellence of School District 67.
grandpa February 19, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Libby, you seem to be a very mature young person and your questions are understandable. As you continue to grow up you will learn that life is continually challenging us with changes. I'm sure it hurt very badly when your friend, Mrs. Angus was suddenly removed from your life. The main thing to remember is that life does go on, maybe differently, maybe better, maybe not so much better, but it does go on. Change can be scarey at times. Old folks like me, (and maybe your grandparents), are afraid that raising taxes will force us to move out of our homes because we can't afford them anymore. There may not be a good answer to the problems. You are a very smart young lady to recognize that simple answers aren't so simple anymore.
M. Kim Jr. February 19, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I believe you are very correct Foster as the state of Illinois does not do enough to support education. Replacing legislators who owe more allegiance to lobbyist money than the people who voted for them is a problem. Like many, you say you do not enjoy paying taxes but are willing to do so to maintain educational excellence. But cannot we maintain the quality for less money if we address that salaries may be too high?
M. Kim Jr. February 20, 2012 at 07:03 PM
This is what happens when the school boards lose touch with the reality not to mention the people who elected them - http://mortongrove.patch.com/articles/pool-costs-overflow. It is time to start saying no more!
lou February 20, 2012 at 10:04 PM
(2 of 2) Further, the article points out the error was the architect's fault- they specified materials and equipment by particular manufacturers. When this happens, those manufacturers know that they are the only game in town, and have no need to be competitive in their pricing. The project was rebid using a "performance" spec, which means items are specified by minimum performance requirements, not by who makes the product. This allows contractors to shop around more. Its the difference between shopping for "a car" vs "an american car" vs "a sedan" vs "a chevy"... there are varying amounts of options to choose from. Regardless of who you choose to blame, nothing changes the fact that the facilities we need to upgrade are older than half the residents of our town. Simply trying to keep them running as is is wasting money... both in repeated repair costs and especially in their inefficient energy use and performance.
lou February 20, 2012 at 10:05 PM
(1 of 2) I fail to see how the article you linked to applies to any school board's "touch with reality". I used to work for Legat architects in the 90's. They are one of the largest (if not THE largest) education architects in the state. The only mistake I see regarding the article is the author's misleading title using the word "pool". As they eventually get around to it, they use teh term "aquatic center" and mention there is lighting, electrical, mechanical workalso ... and I would guess by the price tag finishes, bleachers, etc. In other words we are talking about a full blown building with perhaps multiple pools and their associated locker rooms, etc... not simply a "pool" that you would pick up at menards.
grandpa February 20, 2012 at 10:54 PM
...and, after all, it's "for the children", so damn the cost!
lou February 20, 2012 at 11:25 PM
who ever said "damn the cost"? You'll be hard pressed to find any one on either side of the argument who thinks that. My feeling is that many of the problems that need addressing are simply not optional. They are inevitable. We all understand that the economy isnt such that any family can afford to pay more taxes, but even if the economy was running full steam, just as many people would object to higher taxes... complaining about taxes is what started the colonies on the road to becoming a country! As hard as it would be to cough up more money today, I think it would be much worse if we wait until the boilers finally die or we start being fined by the state for not meeting the phys ed requirements. The price we will pay when we are backed into a corner will be much, much worse- there will be no time to have debate or explore options- there will not be time for open bidding, contracts will be directly awarded. And God help us if these issues arise in the middle of a shool year.
grandpa February 20, 2012 at 11:58 PM
touch a nerve Lou? You might "feel" that what is on the "wish list" is not optional and inevitable. Not everybody agrees. You say that all understand that the economy isn't such that any family can afford to pay more taxes then you advocate for more taxes. Inconsistent. Illogical. Emotional. ...but after all, "It's for the children"...
M. Kim Jr. February 21, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Some thoughts about comments made on schools. People have expressed opinions about their willingness to pay any price for education, so we are not hard-pressed to find examples of "damn the costs". Some who have worked for companies that profit by building schools have been proponents of multi-million dollar expenditures, their viewpoint is understood but does it reflect the majority of district residents? An idea suggested by a commentator has merit. Let there be residency requirements for teachers and administrators so they live in their districts. This will help support the community by having educated residents paying to support the schools, parks, village and library too. Teacher salaries posted online before (not even considering those with double incomes) show they can well afford the housing prices to live here. What I also have trouble understanding is the tendency for so many to simply accept what is offered as the final price? We negotiate for the price of our homes, cars, services, insurance and more. Cannot we do the same for our schools? If we can obtain the same, exact high quality at a lesser price, then that is what we should do. It is the wise move to conserve resources. Money is a thing of numbers and facts which show cold reality while emotion is hotly abstract. There should be balance between these two extremes as there must be in all things especially when making decisions for others.
Adam Kohm February 21, 2012 at 04:39 PM
This discussion is slowly descending into the same partisan bantering that usually results in these Patch discussions. There seems to be two camps, one that is "VOTING YES" and persecuting others for asking questions or not agreeing with them and another that is trying to figure out the facts here. I have some news for the former. You can post all you want, but negative comments concerning those of us asking questions are not going to get you any closer to your goal. I've heard options from a lot of people (that don’t post on patch) and every one of them seem to be emotional against these measures WITHOUT asking any questions. I'm trying not to be one of those people. I am trying to ask questions and ascertain the facts involved here devoid of emotional bias. So, go ahead and banter. I'm sticking to the fact-finding mission. What I believe to be facts are: 1. D67 is going to pay a lot more per pupil to educate our children than D70. Two significant factors drive this imbalance: a) two building model vs. one building b) higher average salaries of teachers. No excuses, No blame. 2. Regardless of past decisions (which have been catastrophic), if the district continues to operate status quo, there is no question that it needs additional revenue and the only source of this money is the taxpayer.
Adam Kohm February 21, 2012 at 04:39 PM
These next two are less fact and more assumption at this point: 3. No one has answered the question about future budget projects and the effect of the Avon closure, specifically, whether it is going to be detrimental, neutral, or beneficial. I know that people with this answer read patch, so I'm going to assume that the answer to this question is that it has not been considered (or it has and the outcome is not positive). We need to know the real answer here. Anyone voting on this issue needs to know whether or not we are going to be back in this exact same boat next year. If so, maybe we need to batten down the hatches and consider the problem as a whole instead of pretending that all will be ok if the current measures pass. If the answer is positive, we need to know that also as it may affect what funds we really need (and frankly it strengths the case for passage). 4. If you approve funding, you remove impetus for change. This last point I fell very strongly about based on my personal interactions some of the decision-makers and how well they received alternative solutions (at least in discussions I've been involved with). OK, resume bantering. But, it would be much appreciated if anyone can comment on #3.
Adam Kohm February 21, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Lastly, to be fair, there seems to be a third camp of people that is against this regardless of the answers. They are probably as emotional as the people voting yes, regardless of the answers.
Jeff G February 22, 2012 at 03:20 AM
For 3, I will try to confirm an answer. Here's my take...the school gets money from property tax. Avon still owns the property, so they will still pay the property tax until it's sold. I could not find any info saying that a vacant property would pay less tax than an occupied one. It should be that same as any house (unless bankrupt of course). And I was wrong in my earlier post about the property...based on the district 67 map, it does not show these properties as part of the district, but it was really showing which residences would attend in the district (and this property is all commercial). If you look at the Niles Township map, it shows this area as Niles Twnshp and Dist 67...west of the tracks to Waukegan Rd, plus the Kraft headquarters. 4. I don't believe that a yes vote will remove the drive for change. It will still be up to active parents to challenge the administration and drive change. I keep saying I need to attend more school board meetings but haven't. My interactions have been a bit different...my interpretation from your coffee discussion is, yes, it's too late to change the referundum right now. The $$ amount and percentage requests are set, and were set based on discussions 6 months ago. This kicked off about 2.5 years ago with the facilities committee and that recommendation is where we are now, with a referendum on the ballot. With more time, we could really develop the projects well, but the finances just didn't allow it.
Jeff G February 22, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Developing all of the projects to the perfect level doesn't work great either. It just takes too long and by the time you get the perfect answer, all the costs doubled. We're in a tough spot, with limited flexibility. The district needed to act quickly to get the referendum on the March ballot, have reasonable requests for the must have list, and not be too greedy so the referendum would be doomed from the start. The next opportunity would be the November ballot, in which it would be less likely to pass with more turnout, then we're at March 2013. We'll be able to refine it for then, but will have cut way back on everything too. Any option has its downside. I do believe the administration is more open to change.
Concerned February 22, 2012 at 09:45 PM
If you Google the district, there is salary comparisons chart for 2010 Vs 2009 published out there. The raises the teachers received during the depths of the recession are obscene. At that time when many the taxpayers were loosing their jobs or having their pay and benefits frozen or perhaps loosing their home's, our district was handing out many salary raises that were in the double digits or in the high single digits. One received a 20% increase the year before they retired (can we say bloated pension). People need to wakeup! Much like the federal and state government the day of reckoning has come and throwing more money at the problem will not fix it. Voting NO may force the district into bolder initiatives like perhaps merging with another district where more efficiencies can be realized.
Adam Kohm February 22, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Thanks Jeff. You are correct to a degree. Someone is going to have to own these lots and whoever owns them must pay taxes (unless they have some "someday when we move" clause with the town). However, there is a dwelling/building component to the tax calculation, so if they do bulldoze the lot and leave it empty, it should be taxed less. Doing so would then void their ability to sell the building, so I guess they will calculate that decision when time comes. I just learned (I know, I'm slow) that Kraft is closing also. No idea what is going to happen to that property. Seems like a lot of unknowns right now.
Adam Kohm February 23, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Thanks for all the discussion. Jeff, I think we should run for school board or maybe a higher position :) Not that anyone cares, but I'm made my decision. I've decided that I'm going to vote yes on the tax rate levy measure. Not because of the "VOTE YES" campaign or the "just do it for the children" call to arms, since I feel that these campaigns are emotionally driven. However, as I previously mentioned, I do believe that the district needs an infusion of funds to increase their yearly budget. I hope that if the rate increase passes, the district acts responsibly and makes fundamental changes to run a tighter, more fiscally responsible ship, with a budget that produces a healthy surplus for future capital expenditures. Some of the programs may still need to be cut and I think tough decisions still would need to be made. The 2013 teacher contract negotiations should be interesting (calling a strike right now). Will the district take actions like this? Doubt it. Do I favor continuing the current status quo if these measures are successful? Absolutely not. I’m not voting yes in support of the District’s arguments or proposals, I am only voting yes to increase the annual income, which I believe is needed (wish this was an option on the ballot).
Adam Kohm February 23, 2012 at 01:37 AM
I've also decided to vote no on the bond measure. I whole-heartedly disagree with borrowing 8 million (paying back ~20 million) for the proposed items. My hope is that if the bond measure fails and the rate increase passes, the district will make better decisions and be forced to make some changes. Yes, some of the changes may be difficult, and yes, we may need to continue to put bandages on some of the facilities until we can afford to replace them, but I think the district needs to fix this broken ship and not be handed an 8 million dollar loan to accomplish their stated goals. I believe that these goals and priorities need serious revision. Yes, fix (and eventually replace) critical equipment like HVAC, build a new gym if we have the money, but no, don’t renovate offices, change bus patterns, etc. until we have the money. Yes, not everything will happen in one year without the bond bailout, but I think this country has had enough bailouts for this decade. What is going to happen? I’m guessing both will fail, but that is just based on discussions I’ve had with neighbors, etc. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.
Jeff G February 23, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Correct, I didn't add that caveat in that if someone buys it and changes the zoning, maybe turning it into farmland, then the tax rate will drop substantially. It won't change overnight, and we won't know until we know.
Jeff G February 25, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Not sure if anyone's still reading, but have some new info. I confirmed that the Avon property north of Golf road does NOT contribute to Golf 67, but goes to Glenview 34. The township is carved out quite oddly...it excludes those properties but includes Jenning's dealer and the Kraft property.
Jeff G February 25, 2012 at 03:44 PM
More more info...taking the $1,140,000 from the tax increase and saying we'll start spending about another $2000 per student each year is not correct. This tax increase does not actually increase the per pupil spending, it's maintaining it. We just won't be draining down the savings balance anymore. It looks like through the 1990s, we built up a $6+ million fund balance which was over 100% of our expenses (vs about 25% today). The decision then was to maintain taxes low for the community, refinance existing debt as possible, increase expenses to maintain a high level of education, and draw down the balance. The results for the school were good, and we've got great test scores, but the balance is reaching minimum finally. We could have done a referendum 10 years ago to maintain the level of education, but keep a more balanced budget (like what Parkview did). Maybe the district did get a bit ahead of itself, but we ended up with the educational results we wanted. You can argue that either way has its flaws. Fast forward 10 years, and 3 changes of administrations, those details seem to get lost in transitions.
Adam Kohm February 25, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Hey Jeff. I disagree, but maybe I'm just looking at this from a more simplistic perspective. In the end, D67 tax payers are going to have to pay ~5K/year/pupil more than D70. I'm not concerned about the source of these funds (bond referendum vs tax levy vs current budget). In the end, our budget needs more money to "survive" as people have portrayed the situation. D70 did a 5 million dollar round of capital improvements and I BELIEVE this was all done without a borrowing the money over 20 years and needing to pay back 20 million in principle + interest. They requested a rate increase to increase their annual income and then worked their budget so that this included both operating, educational, and capital improvement costs. The problem with D67 is that the first two of these three are much higher and they have no room for capital needs, hence the need for both a tax levy and a bond referendum. D67 just has costs that are too high and they need to fix this first and foremost. Once they do this, they should then be able to then include capital improvements costs/savings in their annual budget. I'm sure that there is an existing capital improvement line item in the budget, but it needs to be increased.
Adam Kohm February 25, 2012 at 04:16 PM
People keep mentioned the "educational" excellence as part of this issue, but I discount that completely. I would not hesitate to accept the level of excellence that D70 provides, which is one justification of using them for my baseline comparison. My hope is that if the tax rate increase passes, it will be enough for them to make some changes and eventually get everything done. May not all happen at once, but it will eventually if they make some good decisions. I'd even be in favor of another rate increase if it is really necessary, but I think certain things can be cut....anything is better than a bond. I'm actually OK with some of the items that are destined to be cut via their grand plan if the bond referendum fails. If we don't have the money for these things, then we shouldn't have them if the district can't put a priority on them over other items. However, I believe that both items are destined to fail if I"m reading the pulse of the community accurately. I think that mis-worded poll gave some support to this impression. If this happens, I solely blame the district, as if this were all presented differently, it would have a better chance of passing.
Jeff G February 25, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Even more info...Doing some legwork on Parkview, I'd say they were maybe more lucky than good. From the old trib local articles, in March 2004 D70 did a 0.75% increase to generate $2.2 million per year. Triblocal estimates that would be about $220/year in tax increase for a $200,000 house. From my calcs and tax bills, that total change in taxes is slightly more than what the proposed two referendums are for Golf 67 now. That was a large increase in 2004 for D70 just for operating expenses. D67 is looking for a 0.58% increase which is limited by the new tax rate increase limit laws. D70 also had the advantage of selling property. In 1990, they sold Borg school to MCC for $1.83 million cash (worth ~$3 million today). They also sold Grove school before that but I couldn't find details. So they were spared a facilities referendum, and were able to use that cash in future years to do a renovation and addition. They did what the car dealership sale would have done for us...cash infusion and smaller operating referendum. Unfortunately, ours had legal issues around it and didn't work out (and I'm not even trying to go there, so don't start the bantering). So it's not the happy ending story, and it's very, very easy to say we should have made changes years ago, cut back then, gone for a referendum, etc. This is more about maintaining what we have.
Jeff G February 25, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I disagree back. The operating/tax referendum does not increase spending per kid. Say you are spending $1000 per month. Your income is $900 and you draw down savings by $100 each month. Eventually, your savings run out. You either need a higher paying job to maintain $1000 per month, or you keep the same job and cut spending back to $900. Same here. Spending the same or less. Yes. The facilities $$ do effectively increase spending per kid. Bonds/loans are never great, but if you don't have the cash to pay for things, you take a loan. You can argue that you need to make tough choices if you don't have the money. So will we be giving up the dessert and cable TV? I think we've done that already. Now you're starting to trim back on clothes and food.
Adam Kohm February 25, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I guess a difference in understanding among people is whether the only cuts are food and clothing. I don't considering a number of the proposed cuts either of the above. I also don't think certain activities require the current budget (like after school items) and I believe that there are other ways to achieve the same outcome with less spending. District needs to make some hard decisions. Approval of both measures gives them a pass from doing so. Some people believe that change will still occur if both measures are passed. I think that is a pipe-dream. If they have the funding to continue bad/wasteful spending, why stop? Motivated parents like some on this post can say "vote yes...and we'll make changes later", but I think that is a crock. I'm not going to kid myself and pretend that I have any influence over these matters. I can try, but I feel like the district is experiencing the same partisan disparity in ideals as is the rest of the country. I'm bowing out. I've made my decisions and I feel very confident in them. Others still on the fence can continue the debate. It's been fun! Thanks! A
Jeff G February 25, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Okay. We'll agree to disagree. I'm not doing this for the politics. I would like everyone to make a decision they are comfortable with based on the fact, and I've tried to bring facts into the discussion. I have seen plenty of commentary from many, but no solid facts on where the wasteful spending has been. Ultimately, that discussion may be opinion as well depending on your side. Can we make a difference? Yes. But it takes a lot of effort volunteering, helping with the PTA, attending school board meetings, participating in studies, running for school board, etc., everything that many people in the posts above want to push for, but no one has stepped forward with in the past. The status quo won't change if we don't speak up. We can help change Golf 67 district, not the whole school system. Voting NO will force many tough decisions, and have bad results. We've kicked this can down the road long enough, and can't avoid a referendum any longer. Thanks! I think I'm done too. J

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