Monday, January 20, 2020
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Highland Park board member resigns in protest

The board president of an Illinois school district has resigned, saying the board should not delay in closing schools, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Students at the Ravinia School (school website)

“Throwing away $5 million in operational savings annually, plus potentially millions more on maintenance, sounds like criminal mismanagement to me,” Michael Cohn, of North Shore School District 112, based in Highland Park, Illinois, said in a statement. “We have seen community members sue the district for frivolous reasons, but the decision not to pursue (school closings) certainly seems to be a truly legitimate reason for a lawsuit.”

He also said in his statement last week that his own children have been subjected to “hateful and abusive comments” as a result of his decision to try to improve life for the schools in his district, which includes 10 elementary schools and two middle schools in the suburbs in Lake County, just north of Chicago.

“I now have to live with the fact that my own children do not feel safe in their own community because of my choice to volunteer my time to help save our district,” he said.

Superintendent Michael Bregy, who is expected to move to California to take the reins of the Beverly Hills school district at the end of this month, recommended closing four schools—Ravinia, Lincoln, Elm Place, and the Green Bay Early Childhood Center—for the 2017-18 school year. But the board, possibly in light of his pending departure, threw out the recommendations he and his executive team had developed and voted to suspend that recommendation for a year. Then they changed that delay to a permanent hold.

Mr Cohn isn’t the first board member to leave as a result of the school closure debate: “I sincerely hope the district finds a solution to its complex problems,” said Jacqueline Denham, as she resigned from the board on December 13. “But as the tenor of this discourse seems dominated by self-interests, manipulation, nostalgia, and even racial attacks, I must step away.”

Keeping the schools open for even another year will cost the district an estimated $5 million, which it will have to draw from a cash reserve, which has at least $20 million more than the goal of 25 percent of the district’s annual spending. Mr Cohn and other board members feel the money could be spent on more important priorities.

“We could spend the same money on full-day kindergarten for five years, and maybe add other educational benefits, or use it to reduce a future bond referendum,” he said. “But to throw it away for one year on extra buildings is an irresponsible decision. These issues are not going away a year from now, and the people who are celebrating will be back in a year once again stomping their feet, screaming and bullying anyone they can to save their building.”

As the district struggles through these trying times and neighbors behave badly toward other neighbors, even acting in an abusive way toward children, the board is seeking applications for people who would like to serve in the now-vacant positions. Good luck with that.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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