School News: D97 Referendum Suit Dismissed, OPRF Teachers to Return
Costly referendum lawsuit tossed; District 200 brings back 16 RIF'd teachers.
Both of Oak Park's school districts made headlines this week as an Illinois appellate court dismissed an appeal from individuals who wanted to block District 97’s tax rate referendum from taking effect.
Shortly after voters approved the initiative in April 2011, Taxpayers United of America sued, saying the language used on the ballot intentionally misled the voters about referendum’s impact on property taxes. Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva dismissed the suit on July 1, and an appeal was lodged later that month.
TUA could have taken advantage of several opportunities to file an appellate brief, but the group repeatedly failed to meet the court’s deadlines. That led to the dismissal on April 11, district officials said.
The district applauded the court’s decision.
“While it was unfortunate that fighting this lawsuit forced the district to waste valuable resources that should have been invested in meeting the needs of the families we serve, we believed it was important to defend the decision the residents of this village made regarding the District 97 referendum—a measure that passed by nearly 1000 votes,” District 97 Board President Peter Barber said in a written statement.
Reached on Thursday, TUA attorney Andrew Spiegel said court snafus led to a breakdown in securing documents needed to file an appeal. He's filed a motion to reconsider the appeal and vacate the order dismissing the case
District 97 spent the equivalent of educating four students for a year - $52,235 – on legal fees, district officials said.
Over at District 200, 16 teachers who were given pink slips will return to Oak Park-River Forest High School this fall.
Much student and parent opposition started forming when the district issued reduction in force notices to 21 teachers in March. According to TribLocal, none of them had tenure, and many were part-time instructors. Reduction in force is a common occurrence every spring as districts begin to set teaching rosters for the upcoming school year.
Bowing to that pressure, the District 200 school board voted 5-2 on April 16 to bring back all but five of them.
According to Wednesday Journal, school board president Dietra Millard said the board directed the administration to balance out the list of teachers brought back to include both part-timers with longer tenure at the school and some with shorter tenure.
Board members Sharon Patchak-Layman and Amy McCormack voted against the reinstatement because they said it did not go far enough, WJ reported.
TribLocal reported that Monday’s gathering was the second special meeting called by the board since student protests of dismissals drew widespread support from parents and community groups. On April 11, parents and students packed a school auditorium to voice their displeasure with the board over the dismissals.