How do we wish to be known?  As having the best academic program of any Illinois high school?  As having the best fine arts program?  Our school motto certainly supports such aspirations in its initial phrase:  “To commit minds to inquiry…”   But what about the rest of the motto:  “hearts to compassion and lives to the service of humankind”? 

 

I suggest our decision as to what to do with the Davis proceeds involves our core values.  Our actions in distributing the money will speak far louder than our words about what New Trier stands for.

 

The audience for our decision is many more people than those of us in this room.  It certainly includes all the students in our care.  It includes the faculty who teach them.  And it includes residents of New Trier Township and the greater Chicago community.  Why?  Because what New Trier does gets press.  And selling a valuable painting and distributing the proceeds is very unusual, even for this place.

 

If we lived in isolation – if New Trier Township were a small city in a rural area – then our decision might be more our own.  But we are part of Chicago as a practical matter, although not legally.  While relatively few of us work in New Trier Township, many of us commute to Chicago to earn our livings.  Our income levels are higher because of our proximity to Chicago. Most of our museums and sports teams and much of our culture are in Chicago.  And our house values are far higher here than if, say, our township were outside of Peoria.  For better or worse – and mostly to our advantage - we are linked to Chicago – except governmentally.

 

Because we are not linked to Chicago governmentally, we keep our own real estate taxes.  So at New Trier we have an equalized valuation per student of $873,240 according to the latest Illinois State Board of Education School Report Card data.  And since tax revenues are basically proportional to assessed valuation, we have adequate funds to support top notch education for every child at New Trier.  The most recent report card shows we spent $15,099 in operating costs per pupil. 

 

The City of Chicago is not so fortunate:  its equalized assessment per student was $109,554 and its per pupil operating budget was $8,786.  The State Board of Education does not break out figures for Chicago high schools, but the schools serving New Trier township spent 37% more per pupil than did Chicago city schools.

 

We are all familiar with the cry for education reform in Illinois.  In the last session of the General Assembly there was yet another attempt to fix a system which fosters huge disparities in school spending based on the relative wealth of the parents in a school district.  Even before Governor Edgar’s failed attempt to fix the Illinois school funding system, legislators from both parties have advocated for true reform.

 

Even we have joined the fray.  Last October we passed a resolution urging the General Assembly [quote] “to authorize and appropriate sufficient funds to be paid to the school districts of Illinois such that all Illinois high school students have access to a high quality educational program” [unquote]

 

We last gathered as a community at graduation.  Our graduation speaker, Adam Hoffman, spoke of the importance of every student having access to the same high quality education as we have at New Trier.   Our students know they have it better than almost everyone else.  What message will they take from a decision to spend the Davis money on ourselves?  That the first part of the motto is all we really care about?  That the balance is for show? 

 

If we think about how a decision to spend the Davis money on ourselves would look from the perspective of others, I think we will decide that that appearance is not the real New Trier.  We really do value the entire motto.  And since the Davis money does not involve taxpayer monies and since the Davis money is a windfall, New Trier will not be diminished in the least by spending the Davis money on others.  And most importantly, we will decide to spend the Davis money on others because we want to exemplify New Trier’s true values for our young people.

 

How to do so may be a separate discussion.  Two options I think we should consider are the fine arts programs at Gallery 37 and the Art Institute.  Gallery 37 provides high quality, New Trier style instruction and training for Chicago public school students.  The Art Institute has provided educational programs to students for generations, as some of us know personally. 

 

But the policy decision of whether we spend the Davis money on ourselves or share it with the wider community of which we are a part is finally and irrevocable ours.  And our students and many others will be watching what we do.  It is important that we get it right.