The Park Forest League of Women Voters sponsored a Summit for Area Leaders Sunday, Nov. 5, at Freedom Hall. In attendance were David Litton, Village Administrator from University Park; Mayor John Ostenburg of Park Forest; Howard Hunigan, superintendent of Rich Township High School District 227; District 227 school board President Betty Owens; Ron Patton, interim superintendent of Crete-Monee School District 201-U; vice-president of the 201-U school board David Sevier; Park Forest School District 163 boad president Virginia Ford; district 163 superintendent Dr. Joyce Carmine; Matteson School District 162 superintendent Dr. Blondean Davis, and 162 board president Alicia McCray.
Park Forest League of Women Voters president Judith Lohr moderated the afternoon's discussion. Each school district or governing body was given 10 minutes to make a presentation. Alicia McCray expressed her appreciation of the support the district receives from the Village of Park Forest, and introduced Dr. Davis.
Davis indicated that starting in 2002, district 162 worked to raise reading skills of students based on national standards. Davis said it's important to think nationally because people are mobile. The district's goal is to teach young people to read and compute well by end of 3rd grade. "If you don't read at the 6th grade level, you can't even read the Sunday newspaper." The goal is to raise 90% of all test scores in all schools above national standards. The district wrote a comprehensive long term plan, available online. Davis reported that the district is now at 3,600 children.
Virginia Ford began district 163's presentation by commenting on the addition to Forest Trail Middle School, and the districts success at reducing the district's budget "one million dollars at a time." "We are still offering all of the arts," Ford concluded.
Dr. Joyce Carmine stressed the importance of a balanced budget and raising test scores. Supporting diversity, very explicit, so all students staff parents realize it's important to look at individual needs of students and build that higher platform for learning. Mohawk School was named a Spotlight School. Improved interior and exteriors of all our buildings. Looking at improvements and prevention. Math – technology labs. Every student will have monitor on desk, students will be taken to online websites where they can practice math skills.
Ron Patton began his presentation of the current state of 201-U, "News is good." He said the K-8 buildings showed marked improvement in test scores, with the exception of 7th grade which at least "maintained status quo and did not drop." The high school shosed marked improvement on both parts of the ACT, as well as the composite, which is at 19. He reported that there were problems with students transferring in with test scores below state standards, and the district was working to help these students. In addition, the district was working to close the achievement gap between African American and white students. He described academic progress in the district as "noteworthy."
Patton said the budget is balanced for this year, and they are anticipating a fund balance in excess of $3 million. However, achieving this fund balance has taken its toll. He there were "courses gutted." The district cut Art, Music, and Physical Education from the elementary curriculum. "But if you reinstitute courses, you either have deficit spending or you have to increase revenue." The district may go for a referendum in the next election cycle.
Explosion in Enrollment
But 201-U anticipates an "explosion in enrollment over the next 5 years." The district covers 88 square miles, city and farm. There are 1,800 new homes planned in Crete, 1,300 new homes planned in University Park, and 1,200 in Monee. This means the school district can double in the next 5 years. The district is in the process of hiring a demographer to check the accuracy of the projections. Patton concluded saying, "The glass can be half full or half empty."
School board president Betty Owens began the presentation for district 227, commenting that there are major challenges, a number of key administrators have left the district, and there were a number of retirements, "So many that it's kind of overwhelming. However, we have overcome that." She indicated that they have filled positions, "We feel our staff has stabilized." She reported the Board of Education has engaged in self-evaluation, and worked to improve connecting with the community through "a number of forums with community and students." The district has overcome deficit of $3.5M, "we are operating in the black." The district hired a demographer, and they expect "tremendous growth."
Superintendent Hunigan reported there is still work to be done academically in district 227, "ACT scores have been pretty stagnant last several years. He said they are "right at about 18 as far as a composite goes. We have programs to deal with this. We're at the beginning stage with this." The district has made math a number one priority for students, saying that "Most of the energy, effort and dolllars" is going into "this area of Math."
"We're no longer looking at remedial programs. We're looking at intervention and prevention programs."
Mayor John Ostenburg began the presentation for Park Forest, praising the educational opportunities available for students, "The quality of education in our area is at a high point." He reported that fiscally, Park Forest has a balanced budget, and 3 to 4 month surplus that "helps us pay bills that may come up from the county and elsewhere. However, as with all taxing bodies, we struggle to find the revenue for our programs."
The village must provide for health and safety services, and does so through police, fire, the Health Deptartment, and code enforcement. He reported that the PACC program, the police athletic program, is now in two locations: Forest Trail and in Eastgate area "to accommodate youth of that community." He reported that the new fire station is complete, and the village has hired a new fire chief. As testimony to the new chief's experience, Ostenburg described one incident recently where there were three alarms at the same time, the third leaving only the chief and dispatcher in the building. "Both went to fight fire," until other firefighters could arrive.
Ostenburg spoke about the new water plant, currently under construction, "State Sen. Maggie Crotty was able to get us a loan that will save $5 million over life of the loan. (The plant) will meet new IEPA requirements." With respect to new development, Ostenburg reported that 19 homes sold for the Legacy Square development, and the developer is "putting in as many foundations as they can so they can build during winter months." He reported that there are plans to develop property near Marshall Fields as well.
Village Administrator David Litton said that since last census, University Park has seen $175 million in new construction. There are three subdivisions in construction, "one sold 60 new homes in first 3 months of construction." University Park is working on updating their Comprehensive Plan, to provide a blueprint for village. They are focusing attention on what will be needed in next 10 – 15 years, working for the expansion of their retail base, to help generate sales tax. They have consulted with Buxton Co. to help with finding retail for the village. Finally, he reported that property values have escalated, "10 years ago a house that sold for $140,000 is now selling at $250,000," and around the golf course they are seeing houses selling in low $300,000 range.