Superintendents blame state for their financial struggles

News-DemocratMarch 12, 2014 

One-third of all Illinois public school students, including children in St. Clair and Madison counties, attend districts that rank in the state's lowest two financial categories -- financial watch or early warning -- according to the state's 2014 Financial Profile report.

These metro-east school districts are designated on the financial watch list for fiscal year 2013: O'Fallon District 90, Edwardsville District 7 and Madison District 12. Financial watch is the lowest category.

A district is categorized based on its annual financial report from fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30.

"If the state pays us the $1.5 million it owes us, we wouldn't be on the watch list," said O'Fallon District 90 Superintendent Todd Koehl. "We are not on the watch list they are. We have made our cuts. We are financially solvent. We are providing an education to our students."

Madison Superintendent Evelyn Kelly said the district continues to cut expenses as revenue from state and federal sources continue to be reduced.

"Over the years, we've had a reduction in revenue of over $2.5 million. Our reductions in expenditures hasn't kept pace with our reductions in revenue," she said. "We will continue to look at ways to cut expenditures. We are so heavily relying on state and federal funding. Whenever those areas are cut, it drastically affects our ability to provide education."

The metro-east school districts designated as financial early warning for fiscal year 2013 are Cahokia District 187, High Mount District 116, Lebanon District 9, St. Libory District 30, Granite City District 9, Highland District 5 and Triad District 2. Early warning is the second lowest category.

For some school districts, such as Cahokia, Highland and Lebanon, early warning is an improvement because the districts were on the watch list for fiscal year 2012.

"We are very happy that we are moving in the correct direction," Lebanon School District Superintendent Patrick Keeney said.

However like Koehl and Kelly, Keeney said it would help if general state aid wasn't reduced and payments from the state were made on time.

"We have been trying to do more with less," he said. "It's been a struggle, and it's frustrating."

Illinois public school districts have not received the full share of general state aid as promised to them by state law for the past three years.

Belleville School District 201 improved its financial status during the last several years. District 201 was designated on the financial watch list in fiscal year 2009 and is now listed as financial review, which is the second highest category.

Other metro-east school districts stayed where they were last fiscal year, such as Edwardsville, which was on the watch list for both fiscal year 2013 and 2012.

In all, 121 Illinois public school districts were designated as either financial watch or early warning for fiscal year 2013.

More than a dozen metro-east school districts were designated as financial recognition, the highest category of financial strength, including Belle Valley District 119 in Belleville, Central District 104 in O'Fallon, Freeburg District 70, Freeburg District 77, New Athens District 60, O'Fallon District 203, Pontiac-William Holliday District 105, Signal Hill District 181, Smithton District 130, Wolf Branch District 113, Collinsville District 10 and Columbia District 4.

"O'Fallon District 203 has been very proactive in its approach as it sensed the oncoming financial crisis in the state of Illinois," Superintendent Darcy Benway said. "We started cutting back our budgets several years ago. We didn't wait until we were in financial difficulty to cut back our budgets.

"We are not going to be able to survive this financial crisis any better than any other school in the long run," she said. "In the end, I don't think any school that relies on state support is going to be able to survive the lack of funding from the state."

The annual financial profile statewide report was unanimously approved by the Illinois State Board of Education during its meeting Wednesday, which was via video-conference in Springfield and Chicago.

The financial profile provides a snapshot in time that helps ISBE gauge school districts' financial condition.

The complete report can be found on ISBE's website at This is the 11th year the financial profile has been used to evaluate districts.

Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch said 121 school districts in Illinois are struggling financially as the financial profiles reveal the effect of cuts and the continued reduction of general state aid.

The ISBE also discussed the possibility of the state legislature cutting an additional $1 billion in the kindergarten through 12th-grade education budget.

"When comparing financial profile data over the last decade, it's apparent that districts have been forced to reduce expenditures and incur additional long-term debt in order to balance their budgets. Cutting expenses even further is going to be near impossible for most districts to do without negatively affecting the quality of education they provide," Koch said in a released statement. "This harsh reality is why we're calling for K-12 education to comprise one-third of the state's budget to ensure our graduates receive a competitive, 21st century education necessary to succeed in a global economy and improve our state's economic vitality."

Koch and others will testify during a hearing in Chicago on Friday about the proposed reduction in the education budget.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JFORSYTHE.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JFORSYTHE.

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