March 5th, 2013 10:00 PM
By Terry Dean
A standing ovation at a school board meeting is a rare sight. So rare that Amy McCormack, a District 200 board member, couldn't help but point it out at the Feb. 28 meeting following the board's unanimous vote to support the Collaboration for Early Childhood.
"This never happens," she said, after the 7-0 vote for the resolution authorizing the superintendent to begin allocating funding for the Collaboration's early childhood, supportive care initiative.
Nearly all of the roughly 70 in attendance applauded after the vote, followed by the standing O, which lasted nearly a minute. OPRF joins the village of Oak Park and elementary school District 97 in funding the plan to create an integrated, early childhood support system. The high school's portion amounts to about $216,000 for the first year.
D97 approved a similar resolution in January for roughly $248,000. The village has committed about $115,000 to the program. By 2016, the Collaboration hopes to have their program in place, which will streamline and improve services it already provides, including early childhood developmental screening as well as parental education and outreach. The Collaboration estimates it will cost $1.5 million to fully run an integrated support system.
Though they voted in favor of it, board members Dietra Millard and Sharon Patchak-Layman expressed concerns about the high school's role and the large dollar amount OPRF was being asked to contribute, along with other concerns. Both said they were voting for it "with reservations." They also stressed that the school's main priority was helping its current students.
The high school was the last of the three taxing bodies to financially commit to the initiative, something board President Terry Finnegan acknowledged. Board members had many questions about the program over months of talking with the Collaboration. Finnegan said that slow process was intentional, as the high school wanted to perform its due diligence before committing financially.
The next step for the taxing bodies is to draft and sign an intergovernmental agreement. After 2016, each taxing body will continue to fund the support system, based on a proportional share of their respective operating budgets. For OPRF, that's expected to be more than its initial $216,000, something that also troubled Patchak-Layman.
She initially suggested funding the program from Madison TIF disbursements due the high school. She offered an amendment stating that, but the measure died after not receiving a second from another board member.
The unanimous vote surprised the Collaboration's executive director, Carolyn Newberry-Schwartz, who sat with other members in the audience. The intergovernmental agreement, and contract for services to be signed, should be completed in the next two months, Newbery-Schwartz said.
"I was fairly confident that we would have a majority going into this evening, but I did not know if it was going to be a 7-0 vote," she said. "We're very pleased that we're moving in this direction, that the high school took the time it felt it needed to take to get to such a strong vote tonight."