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Shnay: SOS — Park Forest mayor out to save Rich East

Updated: September 12, 2013 6:13AM



The SOS message from Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg reads “Save Our School.”

Rich East High School, on the verge of celebrating its 60th birthday and once a measure of the village’s vision for the future, is in danger of closing as a four-year school with a full curriculum. In an email, Ostenburg says this must not happen.

“It is our local high school,” he writes in bold red letters. “We must fight to keep Rich East High School open.”

In recent years, a divided and quarrelsome Rich Township High School District 227 Board has been looking at ways to cut expenses and improve academic performance. The board, whose majority changed in the April election, recently moved to fire Supt. Donna Leak and cancel multi-year contracts for the principals of the three high schools as well as the assistant superintendent and finance director.

Along with this, there have been rumors in recent years that Rich East, the district’s original high school that serves students from Park Forest and the Beacon Hills section of Chicago Heights, would be closed due to declining enrollment in District 227.

Because Rich East has the smallest enrollment of the three schools, the school board is considering a plan to merge its students into Rich South in Richton Park and Rich Central in Olympia Fields and convert the school into a vocational-technical school.

Ostenburg is urging Park Forest residents to demand that Rich East be kept open, calling it “the flagship school in the district.”

A little history lesson might help.

When the village was founded in the late 1940s, it was part of Bloom Township High School District 206, with students attending Bloom High in Chicago Heights. It didn’t take long for residents to start campaigning for a high school in Park Forest.

Civic participation seemed to be a way of life for Park Forest’s booming population. In 1951, voters almost unanimously approved (the vote was an amazing 1,828 to 12) a $1.25 million bond issue to build a high school.

Imagine a margin such as that in this day and age. While residents today view quality schools as important, there are many more penny-wise naysayers, armed with huge property tax bills, who would be apoplectic over such a level of support for a bond issue in District 227.

Rich Township High School opened on Sept. 14, 1953. Two months later, the U.S. education secretary took part in the formal dedication of the school.

What the community has done for its children over the decades was good enough to win for Park Forest two All-America City awards.

That was then. Time always changes things.

Ostenburg writes that school Principal Mark Kramer has been trying to implement a “manufacturing-oriented curriculum” at the school in an effort to keep up with the times.

In any case, the warning has been sounded in Park Forest. SOS.

Economics 101

It costs $1 to park in Park Forest’s commuter parking lot on the east side of the Metra station in Matteson, but for the rest of this month you are free to come and go. No charge.

The Matteson lot, along with the 211th Street station lot, is owned by Park Forest. For years, the dollar-a-day fee used to attract hundreds of commuters who traveled to and from work on Metra.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, many who once had jobs were out of work, and the village’s parking revenue dried up.

In 2011, the Canadian National Railway tore up part of the Matteson lot to make way for its cloverleaf connector between its east-west and north-south freight lines. Some drivers decided to park at other, more expensive lots. The work was completed last year, but a commuting routine is hard to change.

So Park Forest decided to try to lure customers back with free parking for a month. There are even new payment boxes in the Matteson lot.

Now, if someone will figure a way where I can and insert my parking fee in a pay slot without getting out of my car in a rainstorm, things will be perfect.



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