O'Fallon Progress

Central 104's financial rating falls slightly as district remains on 'early warning' list

The financial status of all the school districts in Shiloh and O'Fallon remained unchanged from last year, 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).

O'Fallon District 90, O'Fallon Township High School District 203, Shiloh District 85 all remained in the Review category with the exact same numerical scores for 2017 that they had in 2016.

District 90's score was 3.15.

Carrie Hruby, district 90 superintendent, said the district has approached its budgeting process in a fiscally conservative manner for several years now, which due to the careful watch of board members, administrators and staffers, the district has improved its fiscal health.

"Specifically, District 90 improved from Watch status of 2.45 in 2014 to Early Warning to now Review status of 3.15. Review status is the second-highest profile status, next to Recognition. Our score is comprised of several categories, but the biggest impact on the increase was our fund balance to revenues ratio and our expenditures to revenues ratio. Both have been significantly improved over the past four years, which equates to an overall improvement in the Financial Profile Score assigned by ISBE," said Hruby.

District 203's score was 3.45.

"Given the financial difficulties that have plagued the state of Illinois in recent years, specifically with regards to education, OTHS is pleased to have a financial profile score in the Financial Review category," said District 203 Superintendent Dr. Darcy Benway.

Shiloh's was 3.25, even though the district has been experiencing "significant difficulty with state funding" since in 2010, said District 85 Superintendent Dale Sauer.

"Since 2010, Shiloh has had the designation from the state of Financial Review each year but one. In 2015, Shiloh was designated Early Warning. Following significant reductions and cost containment at that time, Shiloh has improved and has been re-designated for the last two years back to Review status. Given the state's continued financial crisis and the affect that has had on school funding, Shiloh's ability to maintain Review status is positive," said Sauer.

Central School District 104 had the lowest financial health of any of the four local district, according to the state, though it's score, too, remained unchanged. Central remained on the Early Warning list with a score of 2.90, slightly worse than last year's score of 3.0.

Central 104 Superintendent Dawn Elser attributes the score to "quite a few factors."

"Our score went down very slightly from the previous year, which could be attributed to the insignificantly less amount of cash on hand we had at the beginning of the year. As the superintendent, I am making fiscally sound decisions which will allow the district to rebuild the cash on hand, raise our score, and in turn, remove us from the financial watch list," said Elser.

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.

Schools in St. Clair County earning Recognition status were Belle Valley, Dupo, East St. Louis, Freeburg 70, Freeburg 77, High Mount, Marissa, Mascoutah, Pontiac-William Holiday, Signal Hill, and Smithton.

“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.”

Elsewhere in St. Clair County, Lebanon District 9 is on the watch list this year because of growing debt and declining revenue, according to Superintendent Patrick Keeney.

He said District 9 has been working to cut costs, mainly through not filling some positions when staff retire.

“We already know that this year the outlook is a lot better,” for 2019’s score, Keeney said.

And during the next three years, Keeney said the district is anticipating more savings because 20 percent of the teachers are going to be retiring. New teachers in Lebanon will have entry-level salaries.

Belleville District 201 decided to start running its own transportation services for area students to save money in the long run. But because of the timing of a large purchase of school buses, officials say the move put District 201 on the state’s financial watch list for 2018.

“We knew that this was coming,” said Brian Mentzer, the district’s assistant superintendent.

Superintendent Jeff Dosier said Belleville District 201 needed school buses before June 30 to give the staff time to inspect them ahead of the school year. The district didn’t receive the loan to pay for them until after July 1, so the state saw that it owed money for a fleet of buses when analyzing the school finances, according to Dosier.

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

Reporter Lexi Cortes contributed to this story.