Education

Here’s why a Belleville school district made financial watch list after buying buses

District 201 superintendent talks about changes to school bus service

Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier discusses the changes students can expect to see in 2017-18, when the district began offering school bus services in-house to Belleville East and West and area elementary schools.
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Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier discusses the changes students can expect to see in 2017-18, when the district began offering school bus services in-house to Belleville East and West and area elementary schools.

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.

The state looks at a snapshot of public school districts’ finances on June 30 each year to determine who might be having trouble so it can offer help. The watch list is for the districts that the state thinks are at the highest risk.

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.

That factored into District 201’s score, which all public school districts receive based on certain areas of their finances. Deficit spending is one component, which means scores can be affected by delays in receiving money from the state of Illinois.

If districts are on the low end of the scoring range, they’re put on the watch list.

Mentzer said the drop in the score this year was circumstantial. Taking over transportation services is expected to save District 201 “significant dollars” moving forward, he said.

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.

Triad Unit 2 in Madison County was a district that saw an increase in revenue last year when the state analyzed its finances. Residents voted to raise property taxes in the 2015 election, and Superintendent Leigh Lewis said Triad started receiving the money in 2017. The district moved off of the watch list for 2018.

Also in Madison County, Edwardsville District 7 and Alton District 11 are on the watch list this year.

Edwardsville had a slightly higher score than last year. Alton’s score fell.

Bethalto District 8 improved its score and moved off of the list.

Scores increased for one-third of the school districts in the metro-east, including:

  • Albers

  • Aviston

  • Bartelso

  • Belleville

  • Bethalto

  • Brooklyn

  • East Alton

  • East Alton-Wood River

  • Edwardsville

  • Freeburg

  • Grant

  • Harmony-Emge

  • High Mount

  • Marissa

  • Mascoutah

  • Pontiac

  • Triad

  • Waterloo

  • Willow Grove

  • Wood River-Hartford

Overall, state education leaders say the data shows schools in Illinois are improving with “inadequate resources.”

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