Amid concerns circling the release of a report prepared by PMA Financial Network detailing the financial standing of Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, Superintendent Scott Tingley sought to address the timeline of events and recent questions raised during a special meeting of the Board of Education on Thursday, Oct. 5.
“To clarify some statements that have been made in public comment, I did not have access to the full financial records of the district at the time of my hiring,” “There were no secret meetings when Dr. Wiley instructed me in the ways of finance. I was hired by the Board of Education, not by Dr. Wyllie.”
The announcement of former superintendent Lawrence Wyllie’s resignation dates back to 2012 thereby positioning the district to seek a replacement on an interim basis the following year. Since that time, Wyllie has been indicted on fraud charges by federal prosecutors.
“When I began as superintendent in July of 2013, the financial and business operations of the district were not in question,” Tingley said. “My background was the operation of school districts. I was hired to build upon the tradition of academic success of our schools.”
A short time later of his hiring, Tingley started noting inconsistencies in the accounting of reporting processes for the district. Deficits had been publicly reported in previous years, and the district’s initial plans were to reduce expenditures to get rid of the shortfalls.
In December 2013, the Board of Education in public session authorized tax anticipation warrants, valued at $11 million, for short-term borrowing.
None of the D210 board members commented on the statement Tingley read aloud during their Oct. 5 special meeting.
However, several constituents took to the podium calling for the Board of Education to remove the superintendent and begin the search for the next.
Tingley denied media reports and comments raised by the public suggesting that he intentionally concealed information regarding the financial standing of the district and referenced a January memo he released within his first four months as superintendent, in which he expressed potential concern for declining revenues and an increase in need for tax anticipation warrants. At that point, Tingley expressed that he saw the need for an outside perspective to conduct an independent analysis.
In another January memo, he followed up with another write-up highlighting some of the projected deficits and concerns for the district.
“PMA information was contrary to what they had been led to believe in the past,” Tingley said. “There were individuals who were not confident in the PMA numbers provided. It was decided that the document would not be presented at a public meeting, this was not my recommendation.”
Instead, the financial report was used as a planning document in negotiations with teachers and in determining staffing for upcoming years.
The attorney general determined recently that since the document is no longer being used for its original intent, the district was advised to release the report publicly.
“Back then, it was my hope—and I believe the hope of the board at the time—that we could work our way out of the financial crisis by making some substantial reductions in personnel and in programs without significantly impacting the academic programs for our students,” Tingley said.
During a January planning session, the board faced opposition to eliminating the Junior ROTC program and reducing several elective teaching positions, public access to swimming pools and other supervisory and staff positions. The district determined that such cuts would not be enough to reduce the deficits.
The balance budget presented for fiscal year 2014—the first created during Tingley’s tenure—was created in the same manner it had been constructed over the previous decade. He acknowledged that this was a mistake and said we now know the district’s business operations were not up to standard.
“I own that decision in the next year and all subsequent years,” Tingley said. “We have re-worked the way budgets were designed and presented.”
The Board of Education hired an interim business manager during the fall of 2015. By December 2015, a director of finance was brought on staff.
Tingley said the district’s finances are recovering even faster than expected, but there is a dependence on tax anticipation warrants, which means much more work is still yet to be done.
Board of Education weighs in on 10-year capital projects plan
Also at the meeting, the Board of Education took time to review a draft of the district’s 10-year capital projects plan.
“We have been working with our architects and some other individuals to help us with budgetary estimates for the work that’s proposed for FY ’19,” said Richard Wilke, the district’s director of building and grounds.
The district’s 10-year life safety survey was recently completed, and the items identified in it are to be addressed. That includes upgrades to the mechanical, electrical, carpentry, plumbing and fire protection systems. Outside of the survey, additional repairs highlighted in the plan include roofing, bleachers and stadium turf. In total, the capital projects identified across the district through 2028 amount to nearly $3 million.
D210 has 3-percent of its capital fund allocated toward covering improvements.
Board member Christopher Lucchetti acknowledged that D210 is going in the right direction to maintain a sustainable budget said the plan is concerning in that it gets too aggressive in spending moving into 2019 and 2020.
“We have the $5 million we started with prior to this year in restricted cash in the capital projects fund,” he said. “Initially when we were talking about that, we were talking about that covering the capital projects we were going to do for three to four-year period,” he said. “This basically spends down that $5 million within the first two years. My concern is we are on the path to recovery. We have very little margin for safety.”
The 10-year capital projects plan, however, is intended to serve as a dynamic document, in which changes are made continually based on conditions and needs.
In October, the Board of Education will have a first read for a responsible bidder policy. D210 intends to begin the bidding process in early 2018.
Five-year financial projections reviewed
Assistant Superintendent of Business Brad Cauffmann presented the Board of Education with a look at its five-year financial forecast.
The district uses the document for purposes of budget development, tax levy determination, scenario analysis, trend analysis and annual update and reassessment. It is based on hundreds of assumptions that affect the model’s outcomes.
The district’s budget relies predominately on local property taxes, which make up 73 percent of its operating revenues for fiscal year 2018, and it is projected to become more dependent on these collections moving forward. The consumer price index, or the rate of inflation, is the largest revenue assumption controlling the district’s budget.
Another assumption of note for the district’s budget is revealed in the growth of its new equalized assessed valuation. D210 recently received an early estimate from Will County that shows it retaining $51 million, instead of $68 million as initially projected. That means the district is to bring in $145,000 for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
With these two assumptions, D210 is anticipating that its aggregate tax levy, including debt service, to increase to more than $100 million by 2022.
The district is projecting that its property tax rate will remain flat, but officials are expecting an increase in the levy due to the onset of additional bond service payment.
“If you look as the district begins to rebuild its fund balance and to begin to eliminate its need for tax anticipation warrants, you will notice that we have an additional $1 million scheduled to be levied into working cash as the district begins to build its own working cash fund to eliminate the need for borrowing,” Cauffmann said.
D210 is anticipating surpluses for fiscal year 2018 through 2023 in its five-year financial forecast.