This editorial is written as a response to Ed Brill's most recent column,
Ed, thank you for a very thoughtful, well-reasoned and informative piece – I particularly appreciate the links to the District 113 websites. I also like to hear the opinions of people who grew up in Highland Park and who obviously have the town’s best interests at heart. As an undecided voter, your piece inspired me to take a tour last night of (HPHS).
Like you, I don’t like the idea of spending money on the – really, our resources should focus on academics and on preparing our kids for the challenging world they face. You also make a good point about coordinating expenditures between District 112 and 113 (it would be great if there was just one school district covering Highland Park (maybe someday)). District 112 also has significant needs (a topic too large to address in this post).
However, I decided to support the referendum based on answering several questions. I don’t know the situation at Deerfield High School, so my analysis is purely based on Highland Park.
First, is there a significant investment need at the HPHS? Clearly, the answer is yes. There are immediate concerns – drainage, HVAC, water damage, plumbing, windows – and there are longer-term concerns – space usage, layout, classroom size, athletic facilities, technology upgrades, reduced maintenance costs, etc.
Second, does it make financial sense to address the immediate concerns without addressing some of the longer-term issues? I think the answer is no. I don’t see how you truly fix the drainage, HVAC, etc. in the B and C wings without spending millions and millions of dollars. Were these wings of HPHS a house, it would never make financial sense to put money into fixing them up – it would be throwing good money after bad. If one agrees with this conclusion and decides to tear down these wings (and the two gyms located in them), then, unfortunately, the need for additional gym space arises and the wisdom of building a new field house (with a new pool) becomes apparent.
Finally, when should this investment be made? Now or 10 to 15 years from now? We could continue to make the same repairs year-after-year, letting things continue to gradually deteriorate and just make do. This is clearly a question of values, priorities and individual finances. Are Highland Parkers like the family that has maxed out its credit cards and is behind on the mortgage, or do we collectively have greater financial wherewithal than that? I’d like to think the latter is true.
As a society, we like to kick the can down the road – frankly, I think we have done too much of it. We all benefit from the massive investments made by prior residents to our schools, parks and other infrastructure – none of which probably made a lot of financial sense at the time for individual taxpayers. It seems to me that this is our time to step up – particularly given the low interest rate environment and a bond issue rolling off. Will it ever be any easier in the future to ask for a tax increase to do this?
Daniel Jenks has lived in Highland Park with his family for almost 14 years. He has two daughters, one who attends and one who attends . He's a stay-at-home dad who formerly practiced law at Mayer Brown.