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Imagine referendum is a political necessity

Opinion: Columns

October 9th, 2018 11:27 AM

By Monica Sheehan

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According to a Sept. 17 email sent from Imagine OPRF co-chair Lynn Kamenitsa to area PTOs, Imagine does not "anticipate any referendum in 2019" to fund its facilities plan for Oak Park and River Forest High School. The email was sent, in part, to request time at upcoming PTO meetings to present Imagine's plan and the District 200 School Board's options for funding it.

One such PTO presentation took place at Irving School on Oct. 4. According to a source at the meeting, Kamenitsa stated that the board is planning on paying for the first stages (plural) of the Imagine plan with the cash reserve and non-referendum bonds.

Just 24 hours earlier at the Oct. 3 Imagine Community Conversation, Kamenitsa deflected a question about whether the board would go to referendum to fund the plan. She said, "We cannot answer for the board. You'll have to ask them." Imagine's other co-chair, Mike Poirier, also avoided answering a question about funding for the plan. "We don't like punting here," he said, "but the plain fact of the matter is that it's not the prerogative of the Imagine team. We don't have the authority to answer that."

The co-chairs' statements made at the Imagine meeting contradict Kamenitsa's email to the PTOs sent more than two weeks earlier and statements made at the Oct. 4 Irving PTO meeting. Kamenitsa essentially suggested that the board could bypass voters in funding Imagine's plan, which has only 7% of the partial cost estimates of $145 million earmarked for academics and 48% slated for PE/athletic expenditures. Additional PE/athletics expenditures are hidden in other categories, such as "Community/Shared Spaces." Transparency is a major issue. Imagine still hasn't disclosed cost estimates for 40% of its wants-filled plan or its line items.

A massive capital expenditure, such as Imagine's plan, should ethically be placed on the ballot and require the approval of a majority of voters in the district, not just the seven voters on the school board. Will history repeat itself? Will the current board repeat the act of overreach of the 2015 board, which tried to fund a $48.5 million Olympic-size pool plan, and attempt to bypass voters to begin funding Imagine's likely quarter billion dollar facility plan?

If you want to assert and ensure your right to vote on funding for D200/Imagine's plan, which includes demolishing a third of the structurally sound school and rebuilding it largely for PE/athletics, email the board, BoE@oprfhs.org, and attend its "Imagine Town Hall" meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. in the south cafeteria. A board seat is not a blank check.

Monica Sheehan is the founder and head of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.