'You couldn't ask for anything more': St. Laurence hosts first girls event

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence’s Colleen Schmit is introduced to the crowd. She pounded down the first two kills in program history.


And with the first thwack of the volleyball courtesy of junior varsity server Vicky Ceballos at around 5 p.m. Monday, history was made in the St. Laurence gym.

It was the first time in the 56-year history of the school that the school hosted an Illinois High School Association girls. Girls were admitted to the school this year and the volleyball team made its debut against Providence Catholic.

The games didn’t go the Burbank school’s way, with the varsity losing 25-11, 25-17 and the JV squad losing 25-8, 25-14. But this night was all about a new chapter in the history of the school as an estimated crowd of 500 fans came to witness the first girls event in the gym.

It was hot and noisy. There was a section with mostly girls screaming wildly and next to them was a boys section where a lot of guys in black t-shirts were also making a racket.

“If I have kids, I’ll bring them back here and tell them that this is where I started and I helped start the team,” said junior Colleen Schmit, who racked up the first two kills in the program’s history.

Coach Ellen Yopchick said that 25 of the 26 junior varsity/varsity players came from next door at Queen of Peace.

In January, Queen of Peace made a shocking announcement it was closing and a few months later, St. Laurence officials pulled the trigger on allowing girls to enroll at their school. The first day of school was Wednesday but Monday night was fun time.

“They’ve been on a rollercoaster,” Yopchick said. “But I think the moment each one of them said ‘hey, I want to be a Viking,’ it stopped. They chose this school. They wanted to be a part of it. They had tons of other options. When they walk in the doors, they are wearing black and gold and they are all about St. Laurence.’’

“I feel pretty comfortable here,” Schmit said. “I’m excited. Everything feels pretty good.’’

Yopchick, an Evergreen Park native and Mother McAuley graduate, said these players will remember this night --- and season – for a long time.

“Just showing up tonight and being a part of this was history,” Yopchick said “To play in front of a home crowd like this – you couldn’t ask for anything more. They are young right now and they get it a little bit. They now know how special this place is. They are a part of it. They can look back when they are older about this night. They can come back 10 years from now and say ‘we’re the team that started it all and laid the foundation.

“I think it’s something to be proud of.’’

The special feelings of the first night will give way to the team wanting to win.

“We have work to do but I like how we’re starting,” Schmit said. “We’re at the entry-level but we’re going to get better.’’


Worth Museum has closed its doors

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

worth museum photo 8-17

Photo by Joe Boyle

Clothes, signs and memorabilia were once found in the Worth Historical Museum that closed a month ago.


After serving 22 years as a valuable source for historical information, the Worth Historical Museum, located in the park district’s Terrace Centre, was officially closed on July 19.

Robert O’Shaughnessy, director of the Worth Parks and Recreation department, said the museum was closed by a vote of the district’s board of commissioners.

“The board’s decision was based on three major needs of the district at this time; a need for rental space, more office room and increased storage space,” said O’Shaughnessy. “Having additional space to rent for various events will help increase our revenue.”

O’Shaughnessy said he was presently contacting everyone who had donated historical items, documents and memorabilia to the museum, giving them the opportunity to pick up their items, if they wished.

“If they choose to leave them, we will store everything with the rest of the museum contents. We will store all remaining items in climate-controlled storage units in near-by storage facilities.

“Nothing will be thrown away. It is our hope that it will open again somewhere,” added O’Shaughnessy. “I have reached out to both the Worth Library and the school district to see if they could house the museum. Neither of them is able to take it on. I will be more than happy to talk to anyone; a business, or organization which may have the interest and the resources to care for the museum.”

In early July, The Reporter ran a story on the possible closing of the museum. At that time O’Shaughnessy stated that the district would like to get out of the management of the museum and move it to another location.

“The park district is not the best group to be running it as we are not in the museum business,” O’Shaughnessy said at the time. “We want it to stay in the community and ideally, we would love for a school, or library or a civic organization which might have room for it to take it over.”

Carol Hall, director of the Worth Public Library, spoke emotionally about the closing of the museum.

“It is very sad to see it close. A lot of love and work went into it.”

She referenced Colleen McElroy, who was curator of the museum for six years, prior to the position being eliminated in July 2016.

“She had such a love and passion for the history of the town and she worked very hard to preserve its story. Two years ago she authored a book, ‘The History of Worth,’ which was filled with wonderful pictures of the early days of the village and stories of the people who pioneered the creation of the town.”

The book is still available at the library. Hall said she wished the library had room for the museum.

“We just couldn’t handle it. We don’t have the room or the staff. A museum is a huge responsibility and it would need a curator.”

She added that she understands that the park district commissioners had a hard decision to make.

“The town has to take care of its own history,” she said, her voice breaking. “Hopefully, someone will come forward and say, “I can’t do all of it, but I will try to help.’”

When Dr. Rita Wojtylewski, superintendent of Worth School District 127 was contacted for this story, she said, “We can’t run a museum, but we would be happy to have pieces of it to display.”

She added that O’Shaughnessy had seemed receptive to the idea.

Wojtylewski was a little surprised that the park district had considered the school district as a possible location.

“A museum is open to the public and we simply could not risk hosting a facility open to the public. It would be a huge security risk,” Wojtylewski said.

She also pointed out that the school’s revenue comes from state and federal funds and property taxes. None of these entities can fund a museum.

“In addition to these reasons, our district is growing and we have no unoccupied school space,” Wojtylewski said.

“I am sad the museum is closed. Walking the kids down to the museum was one of our favorite field trips,” Wojtylewski said. “I don’t want our students to lose the connection to the past so we would be happy to have some of the framed historical documents and the written history of Worth to display in our schools.”

McElroy, also a former village trustee for eight years, also expressed hope that the valuable documents and memorabilia could be preserved.

“I can only hope that the park board and community will do their best to see that the items will not be lost, destroyed or forgotten. Generations of stories are held in the museum,” she said.

She added that the creation and maintenance of the museum was not done by just one person. It was done through a community of volunteers, spearheaded by a park district board.

Although the museum is not under the jurisdiction of the village, Mayor Mary Werner also expressed sadness at the closing of the museum.

“I believe the closing of the facility had been discussed for months by the park district and I feel comfortable that they looked at all possible options. It is unfortunate that no one can take it over at this time.”

O’Shaughnessy stated again that he is willing to talk to anyone who might have an interest, the resources or a plan for the future of the Worth Historical Museum. He can be reached at (708) 448-7080.

Local school district officials concerned about future funding

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Senate Bill 1, the education funding bill currently being haggled over in Springfield, is getting mixed reviews from the leaders of local school districts.

Local districts depend primarily on property taxes rather than state funding to balance their budgets, and have money in reserve, so they will open on time, even with the delay in passing the education funding bill. The Senate overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of SB1 on Sunday, which would have made some changes to the funding formula. But even if the House is able to get the four Republican votes needed to override the veto and pass SB1 in its original form this week, several local superintendents said the bill, at best, won’t hurt their districts this year.

Dr. Robert Machak, superintendent of Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124, said SB1 “does not work” for his district. He said the bill’s ‘hold harmless’ clause, which ensures no school district will see a decrease in funding this year, leads to a drastic decrease in the amount of funds available for the new “evidence-based” formula.

The superintendent, who oversees all four public elementary schools and one middle school in Evergreen Park, said that “Rather than providing the promised funding that meets the needs of our students, the bill penalizes the district for depending on property taxes that are well above the state average as its main source of revenue. This legislation does not take into account the costs involved in programming for English language learners, children with special needs, gifted education or any other situation that requires the district to spend additional funds to ensure that each and every student is receiving the quality education that they deserve.”

Machak noted that the intent of the original bill was to find a more equitable way to fund schools across the state and shift the majority of the burden for doing so away from district property taxes. But, he said, “There is no relief for the taxpayers of Evergreen Park in the legislation's current form and, if there were, our legislators are at a loss to explain from where the money to run our school district would otherwise come."

Business manager Tim Kostecki said, “The reserves of Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 will allow us to keep our doors open and continue to educate our students despite the absence of General State Aid payments. With that being said, the district may be forced into a problematic position of dipping into those reserves to cover our expenses until future payments are made by the state.”

High school districts are facing the same issues.

“We are for fair and equitable funding for all schools, and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to provide funding for public education,” said Dr. James Gay, superintendent of School District 230, who was asked about SB1 a few weeks ago, before Rauner’s amendatory veto. His district includes Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew high schools.

“The important thing to us is that the funding bill in its current form would have no negative impact on our district this year. It is a ‘holds-harmless’ type of language,” said John Lavelle, assistant superintendent for business services for District 230. But he added that he is concerned with how the bill would affect funding in future years is still unclear.

“The concern is that to make sure that no district would lose any funding,” said Gay. “We totally agree with that overall. There is just not enough state funding to go around. The main point is not to take money away from any district.”

Overflow crowd sees Palos Twp. meeting cancelled at last minute

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo

palos protest photo 8-17


Photo by Anthony Caciopo

  Sheila Sweeney, of Oak Lawn, holds aloft a sign outside Palos Township headquarters, 10802 S. Roberts Road, in Palos Hills. Sweeney and approximately 100 other people rallied there as part of continuing effort to force the resignation of Sharon Brannigan, a township trustee who posted comments on social media about Middle Eastern people that many found offensive. The monthly township officials' meeting was cancelled moments before it was due to begin because of the inability of the meeting space to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend.

An overflow crowd of activists and concerned citizens broke into cheers at the Palos Township monthly meeting of board members Monday when the meeting was cancelled moments before it was due to convene.

“This is a major victory to the people,” shouted Bassem Kawar, of the National Network for Arab American Communities, as he led the packed meeting room into a repeated series of calls and responses after hearing the official word of the meeting’s cancellation.

“We’re going to continue to shut down every single meeting,” Kawar said.

Attendees were present to continue their pressure on Trustee Sharon Brannigan and the Palos Township Board following Brannigan’s now-deleted social media postings about Muslims and Middle Easterners, which many people have found offensive.

“Everywhere you turn, from Orland Park to Bridgeview, those numbers are increasing in leaps and bounds,” she wrote. “We are allowing these people whether they have peaceful intentions or not into our country without question.”

Her comments also included questions Muslim children enrolled in schools who she says lack proper documentation.

“What’s Palos doing? Why are all our schools filling with Middle Eastern students without proper documentation?”

In another now-deleted post, Brannigan expressed admiration for President Trump’s family during their visit to the Middle East in May.

“Watching President Trump and family this morning I am so proud that they represent us! Am particularly proud that our women are not wearing the headscarves. WE AMERICAN WOMEN ARE REPRESENTED WITH DIGNITY.”

Citing fire code and the Illinois Open Meetings Act, Township Supervisor Colleen G. Schumann stepped to the front of the room moments before the meeting was set to begin Monday evening. She called it off due to the inability of the room to accommodate all the people present.

“I asked to be notified to how many people would be coming,” said Schumann. “I never got that notification, so unfortunately this meeting is cancelled.”

Seating capacity of the room is 42. Approximately 100 people were present, most of whom had to stand outside the building.

The most recent monthly meeting, held July 10, was allowed to proceed despite a similar turnout of people.

The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11.

The location of a larger venue has not been determined.

“It will be posted on the door and on our website,” said Schumann as the noise level in the meeting room grew.

Another township representative present also mentioned notification will be posted “in the newspaper. We’re just trying to find a facility that will fit a lot of people,” he said.

Upon Schumann’s departure, Kawar said into a microphone “We’ll be back next month,” as some of the attendees questioned why Brannigan was not present.

“She couldn’t even show her face,” said an unidentified woman in the crowd.

“They (the board) knew we were coming back,” said Tammy Georgiou, of Palos Hills, who had stood up to shout after the meeting was cancelled. “They purposely did not prepare, because their plan was (to cancel the meeting).”

The evening began, like on July 10, with a rally in the parking lot an hour before the scheduled start of the meeting. Multiple speakers addressed the crowd and protestors stood along Roberts Road, holding signs aloft to grab the attention of motorists.

Diane Bruske, a Mokena resident and a member of Southwest Suburban Activists, was among the first to take the microphone.

“Private citizens have every right to publish racist and bigoted statements, and to enjoy membership with online anti-Muslim hate groups,” said Bruske. “Yet, as township trustee, Ms. Brannigan is charged with being a ‘citizen official’ to act in consideration of every resident of her town.”

Late last month, Brannigan stepped down from the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had publically called on her to resign, citing the controversial social media posts, although Brannigan claimed she had already resigned from the position because she could not give the commission the proper attention.

Following the cancelled meeting, as the crowd milled outside township headquarters, Nareman Taha of Arab American Family Services, with offices in Bridgeview, said “We are disappointed with the trustees of Palos Township but I think our message has been consistent, and so will our actions. We will continue to come back as a community. No matter what faith, what race, no one wants hate in their community. We all stand for caring for each other as one humanity.

“At the end of the day, I’m just surprised a trustee like her is not representing all her constituents,” said Taha. “It’s sad, it breaks my heart that she doesn’t respect (all) her constituents. She doesn’t see that we are generations of Arab Americans who have invested their blood, their time, their effort to build the community and here she is, dismissing us.

“We’re here and we intend to come back,” said Taha.


Bipartisan group of Senators votes to override Gov. Rauner’s veto

  • Written by Staff Reports

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate voted to advance an historic education funding reform Sunday afternoon, overriding a veto of the bill from Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The Senate voted 38-19 to override the governor’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, a data-driven reform that replaces the state’s worst-in-the-nation school funding formula with an evidence-based adequacy model. The Senate’s successful override vote sends the legislation to the House of Representatives.

If the House follows suit in voting to override the governor, the historic reform will become law. If the House does not get the 71 votes necessary to override, the state will be unable to disburse general state aid payments to school districts.

“Schools need long-term certainty and stability. Not only does SB1 provide this, it does so with a formula that directs the largest funding increases to the schools that need it most so that all students can succeed regardless of their zip code,” said state Sen. Steve Landek (D-12th), who voted for the override.

Senate Bill 1 in its original form is backed by education experts and non-partisan school finance professionals as it invests $350 million in new funding to K-12 education. But that money can’t be distributed if an evidence-based funding model is not in place.

Because of this, the state missed its general state aid payment to schools for the first time in Illinois’ history earlier this month.

“Senate Bill 1 is the only bill offered that gives long-term stability to schools. It updates Illinois’ outdated, 20-year-old funding formula and stops the practice of simply throwing money at schools, instead basing investment on the specific needs of every district,” Landek said.

Landek pointed out that Senate Bill 1 directs funding toward 27 key elements — such as class size, availability of full-day kindergarten and teacher training opportunities — that positively impact student achievement. Based on the individual school district’s needs, a minimum adequacy target is determined to help ensure students in every school district get a high-quality education.

Landek said Rauner’s amendatory veto removes the minimum funding level guaranteed in Senate Bill 1, creating uncertainty by tying funding to enrollment numbers. The veto also pits schools against economic development efforts by removing protections for school districts that lie within Tax Increment Financing districts, he added.

Rauner’s veto was signed despite reports from his education secretary that the governor supported “90 percent” of the bill. On top of that, he vetoed the bill even though it was based on the ideas of a commission he appointed, as he claimed it was a “Chicago bailout.”

But Landek said that is false, as 268 schools see a greater per-pupil funding increase than Chicago Public Schools. Schools throughout the suburbs would see considerable funding increases per Senate Bill 1. Those include Argo High School District 217 (gain of $227,413), Oak Lawn 229 and Oak Lawn-Hometown 123 (combined gain of more than $281,000), Community High School District 218 (gain of $409,448), and High School District 230 (gain $209,930).

“The bottom line is Senate Bill 1 is an effective and dynamic reform. It’s already passed the legislature, so Sunday’s vote was simply a rejection of the governor’s hastily crafted amendatory veto,” Landek said.

After the Senate’s action, the House has 15 days to act on Rauner’s amendatory veto. They were scheduled to take up the matter on Wednesday.