D200 board passes financial support for early-childhood program
Updated: April 8, 2013 6:34AM
OAK PARK — As the “yes” votes were called out at Thursday’s D200 high school board meeting, Carolyn Newberry Schwartz smiled broadly and her eyes filled with tears.
When the final vote unanimously approving Oak Park-River Forest High School’s financial support of the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, Scharwtz hugged Eric Gershenson, a member of the Collaboration’s board, then stood up to join the applause for the school board members.
The vote formally directed D200 administrators to negotiate an Intergovernmental Agreement between D200, D97 and the Village of Oak Park, for a contract with Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, of which Schwartz is executive director.
Schwartz, who previously served on the District 97 school board, was clearly relieved to conclude the drawn-out process of passing muster with the three taxing bodies.
“It’s not just D200, it’s been a long haul with all the (taxing entities),” she said. “We appreciate all the time and thought that went into this (decision).”
Schwartz acknowledged the payoff for D200’s investment in early childhood education is potentially more abstract than for the elementary schools.
“We knew for them it was a stretch,” she said of the high school.
There were concerns expressed, even by supporters. Two board members — Deitra Millard and Sharon Paychak-Layman — voted yes “with reservations,”
Millard called her vote “probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made.” She said while she supported early childhood education in principle, she had concerns about what is planned to be a $4.1 million investment over the next decade.
D200 will pay $215,000 the first year, followed by $330,000 the next and $440,000 in the third year.
“That’s a million dollar payout before we’re going to have any data to assess the program,” noted Millard. She also called the contract with the Collaboration “a gigantic challenge to D97” administratively.
Valerie Fisher shared Millard’s worries.
“I’m in support of this motion, but I respect Dee Millard’s comments,” she said. “I will look for an annual assessment opportunity.”
Paychak-Layman made a motion to amend the resolution to require the funds to come from new revenues from the Madison Street TIF district. That motion died for lack of a second.
“My concern is not around the intent of the (Collaboration’s) services,” Paychak-Layman said. “The problem is with the details. I’m trying to understand the details of what the CEC is doing.”
D200 Board President Terry Finnegan acknowledged the investment in early childhood education by a high school was “a leap of faith,” but one the board should make.
He said his commitment to OPRF and its students included “every Huskie, whether they’re here now, or will be coming to us.”
Amy McCormack said she’d heard “nothing but support from my neighbors in River Forest.” Though she did urge the Collaboration to seek financial support going forward from beyond local taxing bodies.”
“My greatest concern is I urge the collaboration to seriously consider all different variations for financial sustainability, as adjuncts to taxing bodies.”
“This doesn’t have to be a permanent plan,” John Phelan noted, adding, “state and federal government should be funding this across the nation.”
Ralph Lee scoffed at expressed concerns over guarantees of the program’s effectiveness.
“We have no guaranteed outcomes on anything we do in this (high school),” he said.
Noting that school districts around America are looking at Oak Park’s example, Lee added, “we have the ability to show the rest of the country how things might be done.”
Newberry Schwartz said she expected the intergovernmental agreement and contract negotiation process to take “a couple of months.”