Voters in Broadview, Brookfield, LaGrange Park, Lyons, North Riverside and Riverside will decide five important questions about Riverside Brookfield High School in the April 2011 balloting. They will select four board members and adopt or reject an education fund referendum.

Each vote will represent their judgment of the past and their preferences for the future.

Taxpayers deserve the best high school possible. These days, quality does not come inexpensively. In the current 2010-11 year, District 208 is taking in about $19.2 million and spending about $21.5 million, creating a deficit of $2.3 million. We are spending $14,800 per student for our 1,450 students, with revenues – including state support – of only $13,200 per student. All of these figures are considerable sums of money.

The board in its referendum seeks authority from us to raise its property tax levy, perhaps as much as $3 million or $4 million, but at least by the $2.3 million current deficit. The actual number will not be known for some weeks.

RB’s board knows stretched family finances and other anticipated tax hikes make the referendum an uphill fight. Other districts have published doomsday budgets that depict program and teacher losses without referendum tax dollars or, in our case, the current deficit spending. The board’s picture of that future will not be pretty.

But, significant as it is, the referendum ultimately pales in importance compared to our choices for board members.

Why? RB is emerging from a period of some encouraging successes and many outrageous failures. As a high-quality teacher corps has taken hold, other RB elements under board authority, both good and very bad, have been chronicled on these pages. Thus, RB’s immediate past looms not as an issue, but as another picture in the minds of voters. Viewing it, voters will ask themselves, “Do we want more like this?”

This makes April’s most important questions the personal, professional, educational and civic qualities of our neighbors who will seek, as board members, the sacred trust that is educating our children in a dynamic and demanding world.

Families will vote their conscience, and their pocketbook, on the referendum, as is their right. Who would ask them to do anything else?

But as to new board members, it is our duty to select our very best to chart RB’s course to becoming Illinois’ finest public high school of its size. If we settle for less, then the recent past might meet us again in the not too distant future.

• Chris Robling is a Riverside resident and former school board candidate in Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208.