Highland News Leader

Triad's financial score improves, Highland's remains the same

The Highland School District's financial status remained unchanged for the fourth year in a row, while Triad saw its position improve, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

ISBE recently approved the 2018 School District Financial Profiles, which are based on fiscal year 2017 financial data. The annual profiles provide an informational snapshot of school districts’ financial health and promote sound financial management. Each school district’s profile shows a score from 1.00 (lowest financial strength) to 4.00 (highest financial strength) and a corresponding designation (1.00 through 2.61: Financial Watch; 2.62 through 3.07: Financial Warning; 3.08 through 3.53: Financial Review; and 3.54 through 4.00: Financial Recognition).

Highland again found itself in the Financial Review category with an overall score of 3.35, the exact same as last year.

"We have been in Review for the past four years," said Highland School District Business Manager Tim Bair. "However, 2017 matches our highest score (from 2016) since this started in 2003."

Triad improved from Financial Watch to Early Warning, improving its score from 2.45 to 2.80.

"Triad's score increased because we passed an educational referendum in 2015, which was a 50 cent increase," said Leigh Lewis, Triad superintendent. "Last year was the first year we received that additional revenue. The additional revenue allowed the district to improve its expenditure to revenue ratio."

Across the state, the new profiles show overall improving fiscal health. The second-greatest number of school districts achieved Financial Recognition in the 15-year history of the tool.

“The large number of districts in Financial Recognition is a testament to the acumen of our superintendents and boards of education,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith.

However, the data also shows "inadequate resources," according to ISBE. The majority of school districts in Financial Recognition have less than 75 percent of the statutory definition of "adequate resources."

Half of the districts in the Watch category rely on state funding to provide 40 percent or more of their resources. They may also have to tax at a higher rate than other similar districts to obtain the same amount of local funding, due to lower local property wealth.

“What the profiles do not show, however, are the hard choices and sacrifices school districts have had to make in terms of academic opportunity in order to maintain fiscal solvency," Smith said. "Preliminary Evidence-Based Funding numbers show the vast majority of school districts do not have adequate resources. When school districts are forced to sacrifice academic opportunity, the state loses out on tremendous human capital. We must continue to invest in our students and our schools to secure a better social and economic future for Illinois.”

While there's "always room for improvement," Bair said Highland was "not likely" we will move up to top category of Recognition "anytime soon."

"Possibly in five years or so, as we reduce our debt," he said.

Bair said the district has reducing debt and fund balances have show some growth shown some growth.

"Expenditures have been less than revenues three of last four years," Bair said. "So we feel we are making some progress, but so much is contingent on Illinois."

Bair said there are no sign of new funds promised when the state passed its new funding formula, and talk about tax caps and additional pension obligations are still being floated in Springfield.

"(That) makes it difficult to pin anything down, but we continue to do our best," Bair said.

To view the 2018 School District Financial profiles, to to the ISBE webpage at isbe.net.

Reporter Lexi Cortes contributed to this story.