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”?
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.
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.
we lived in isolation – if New
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.