HIGHLAND PARK – North Shore School District 112 board members said they have received hateful emails and worse since March 15, when voters defeated a $198 referendum to reconfigure the district’s elementary and middle schools.
“I would like to call out all those people using fake names on the internet,” said Board President Michael Cohn at the March 21 board workshop. “The death threats and calls for people to resign are inappropriate. If you want to help solve the problem, great. (Otherwise] stop embarrassing Highland Park.”
Board member Jane Solmor-Mordini said she has received death threats. “It disappoints me because I think we’re better than that,” she said.
In addition, the pro-referendum community group Moving 112 Forward received an email using profanity to describe members of the group and advising them: “Don’t bring it back. The community hates every single one of you.”
Residents had the chance to voice their opinions about the failed referendum at the D-112 board workshop. Below is a small sampling of comments made:
- “This referendum was misguided, misplaced and mis-sold. A) I’m willing and able to be part of a new solution if asked, and B) lead, follow or get out of the way,” said Forest Barbieri.
- Art Kessler said he was appreciative of the board and the Superintendent’s Citizens Finance and Facilities Advisory Committee (SCFFAC) for putting their hearts and souls into trying to fix the district’s issues. “We understand that it was more than just a job to you, and we thank you for your dedication to our students,” said Kessler. “The most important thing is that we woke up the community to the very real problems that the district faces. BDR 3 (Budget Deficit Reduction) is the worst possible outcome. The primary goal should be to come up with a plan that maintains current class sizes and programming while avoiding the overcrowding associated with BDR3. Through surveys we can better understand people’s reasons for rejecting the referendum. This won’t take as long as the SCFFAC, because the SCFFAC already did a lot of the heavy lifting.”
- Former teacher and 40-year Highland Park resident Diane Brown said she voted against the referendum along with more than two thirds of Highland Park: “I’m frankly insulted when I hear proponents of this flawed plan say that people like me are misinformed, nostalgic or cheap. Instead I would argue that people like me are sensible, practical and educationally minded. We need a plan that is financially reasonable, educationally sound, and supports community schools. If this board and administration are unwilling and unable to work on a new plan it’s time to step aside. I have lost confidence in you,” said Brown.
- Bennett Lasko suggested that everyone stop the insults and take a breath and a break. “Let’s not rush into a decision. I urge everyone to keep an open mind, and to start by looking at things that most people can agree with,” he said.
D-112 Board President Michael Cohn explained that the purpose of the workshop was to begin “brainstorming the next step.” As previously outlined in the BDR 3 plan, the district will close Green Bay, Lincoln, Ravinia and Elm Place schools at the end of the 2016/2017 school year.
“I would like to take a moment to thank the administration for all of the extra hard work that you put into planning for the referendum. I can only ask that you put that much effort into whatever comes next. I know that BDR 3 will be difficult, but I hope that a solution will be figured out that the community will support.”
Cohn said this is not a solution that anyone wanted.
Solmor-Mordini said the board put six years into this plan that was overwhelmingly rejected. She suggested assembling a group of community members to come up with a plan that is “financially feasible, sustainable and meets assumptions that I think are non-negotiable for our community.” The list would include buildings with safety features and security, enough classrooms in the district, and full-day kindergarten.
“We need to provide more information so that our community understands that we are transparent, trustworthy, and responsible fiduciaries,” said Solmor-Mordini. “It’s going to be an uphill road to regain trust that is unfortunate that we lost due to accusations that were unfounded in truth and fact by members of the community against us.”
Board member Eric Ephraim suggested conducting a survey to see why people voted “Yes” and “No.” Samantha Stolberg, board vice president, said she agreed with Ephraim and that she felt that the survey should be done first.
When board member Jacqueline Denham asked if it would be possible to have a plan ready for November, Cohn replied, “Not a chance.”
He explained that the board will work with new community members, and combined with thousands of documents the process might take 18 months or two years. BDR 3 will be implemented gradually to give the community more time to create a new plan. “It’s the responsible thing for a long-term solution,” said Cohn.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy said, “Today was the first opportunity for us to get together as a team, and ultimately the board makes the final recommendation. It’s an incredible amount of time and work.
Stolberg recommended having a steering committee, and Ephraim said to simultaneously have a survey and find a facilitator.
Cohn asked Monica Schroeder, assistant superintendent for personnel services, about a time frame for reducing staff members, and she said teacher reductions are a very lengthy cycle. The process for the 2017 school year will start in January 2017 after evaluations come in.
Cohn said it was an unfortunate situation, and he would like to give teachers time to find work.
The board will have a closed meeting on March 22, and the next public meeting will be on April 5.