LANSING | Curtis Granderson didn't play for a school baseball team when he was a student at Heritage Middle School, but he did participate in the school's basketball and track teams, took part in school spelling bees, science fairs and was on the club that produced the school yearbook.
The Sunnybrook Elementary District 171 alumnus, now a center fielder for the New York Yankees, said Saturday all those activities were important parts of his growth as a person, and he would like to see students attending his alma mater have the same opportunities he had when he was a student in the early to mid-1990s.
"My parents were educators in the Chicago Public Schools who moved to this area because they liked the school and the activities. They realized that such activities would help keep me off the streets," Granderson said. "That's what's going to happen if changes aren't made."
Students at Heritage, 19250 Burnham Ave., do not have those opportunities because the district cut all extracurricular activities this year in an effort to save more than $300,000. District officials said another $1.2 million in cuts could be needed by fall 2011.
Officials are hoping to restore the programs in the future and maintain academic quality by having local voters approve a referendum Tuesday. Local property owners are asked to approve a rate increase of 40 cents per $100 of assessed value, which district officials said would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $206 a year.
Cheryl Black, of the What's Best for Sunnybrook Kids Committee, tried to make the increase sound more benign.
"We're talking 60 cents per day," she said. "Can you look at any of these kids and tell them they are not worth 60 cents?"
The school district has tried many times previously to get local voters to approve tax increases, only to be rejected every time -- most recently in the April municipal elections -- because voters were skeptical that school officials had done everything possible to cut costs. If voters again decide to reject District 171's pleas for more money, Black said future cuts would have to be made to academic programs.
Hence, the school district had its supporters organize a rally to urge parents to support the tax increase. Those parents then spent an hour in passing out leaflets and hanging notices on the doorknobs of district homes.
Also urging people to consider a yes vote on the referendum question was former village President Dan Podgorski, who said residents will have to provide funds to maintain the local schools because state government does not literally comply with a provision in the Illinois Constitution that says the state has a "primary responsibility" for financing public education.
"Residents need to be aware of the seriousness of the situation," Podgorski said, adding he believed the schools help maintain the standard of living within the community. "I'd bet that nobody who seriously considered moving to Lansing gave much thought to who the mayor was, but I'm sure they paid very close attention to what kind of schools were available for their children."