April 13, 2010
Oak Park District 97
Board of Education
970 West Madison Street
Oak Park, IL 60302
We are writing to draw your attention to the potential negative impact that recent Board decisions will have on technology in District 97 schools. As you know, District 97 has recently decided to lift some restrictions to Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)-funded programs, activities, and capital investments. The district is now actively asking PTOs to help pay for portions of what is a significant part of the academic plan for the district over the next five years. This puts PTOs in the position of not just supporting supplemental academic activities but also deciding if and when teachers and students have access to classroom technology. Among the D97 schools, the ability of PTOs to fund expensive purchases of technology varies widely. We are concerned that this will result in significant disparities in classroom technology across schools in the district.
We are asking the Board to consider referring this matter to the Policy Committee for further review. A more thorough approval process, improvements in gift tracking and a written plan for dealing with inequities across the district should all be included in the district’s Gift Acceptance policy. Policy section 2260 of this Board and District 97 requires,
“an equal opportunity for all students, regardless of race, color, creed, disability, religion, gender, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, national origin, place of residence within the boundaries of the District, or social or economic background, to learn through the curriculum offered in this District.”
Without some oversight and change in policy, the educational opportunities and access to technology that students have will vary widely across District 97, to the detriment of our entire community.
Traditionally, PTOs have been allowed by the District to fund programs, activities, and capital investments, unless they directly impact teaching in the classroom or occur while school is in session. While PTO-funded before- and after-school activities like foreign language classes, reading programs, and fine arts have become common place, purchases by PTOs of items such as student computers or paying for teacher time have been prohibited.
At the last PTO Council meeting - and within various district administration meetings - Assistant Superintendent Kevin Anderson, PhD, circulated a list of items now approved for PTO purchase. That list, focused primarily on technology, marks a significant change in policy. In his technology presentation to the board, Dr. Anderson showed evidence of the strong relationship between technology in the classroom and academic performance. By allowing disparities to develop between schools due to varying abilities of PTOs to fund technology purchases, the D97 Board is implicitly allowing academic disparities to develop between schools. Based on Dr. Anderson’s presentation, schools with greater access to technology as a result of PTO purchases will have an academic advantage over those schools that rely only on D97 funding of technology. This goes directly against the D97 mission of providing the same academic opportunity for all students. Taxpayers in Oak Park expect assurances that all students at all schools have access to the same resources and academic opportunities. While a number of possible solutions to this problem have been discussed and some verbal commitments have been made to address potential inequities across the district, these fall far short of implementing a change in written policy.
Irving’s PTO, in its attempt to address the unique needs of its school, has focused its budget on promoting educational attainment and access to learning for all students. With more than 30% of the student population receiving free and reduced lunch – the highest in the district – one of the priorities of Irving’s PTO has been making sure that any student, regardless of their household income level, is able to participate in school activities. This includes scholarships for any PTO programming such as foreign language or multi-cultural dance, as well as paying for field trips and special events such as the 5th grade overnight trip.
Significantly, the Irving PTO, working closely with teachers and staff, has also developed and funded a number of programs to support the Irving students most at risk academically. This has led to a number of reading programs for struggling students as well as initiatives to support other existing efforts of our teachers. Serving this at-risk population, especially in light of Irving losing a portion of Title I funding for the 2010-11 school year, must continue to be a priority of the Irving PTO.
Lastly, the Irving community has mobilized around efforts to address the neglected outdoors space at the school. With a blacktop that has been ignored for over 50 years, no green space to speak of and a playground well past its lifespan, this is no small challenge. Given limited district-level opportunities to improve outdoor space as well as safety concerns, it will remain a priority of the Irving PTO.
We applaud the fundraising efforts of the other PTOs in the district and fully support their being able to spend funds in ways that meet the needs of the schools they represent. That said, without some changes to the district’s existing Gift Acceptance Guidelines (from Board policy 7230), these differences in PTO ability to raise funds will inevitably contribute to widening the divide in access to classroom technology that already exists between District 97 schools.
We are fully aware that the financial crisis facing education funding all around the country has forced many school districts to become increasingly reliant on parent and community organizations for fundraising. Oak Park’s District 97 is no exception. As we all know, the District must find a way to deal with an estimated $5 million dollar shortfall in state funding at the same time that it faces potentially expensive challenges such as school overcrowding and the proposed five-year technology plan. We are asking the board to oversee a process to change policy in order to provide equal educational opportunities and access to technology to all students in District 97.
The Washington Irving PTO Executive Board
Washington Irving Parents
Washington Irving Teachers
Concerned South East Oak Park Residents