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District 113A Facing Possibility of State Takeover, Financial Oversight Panel

State education officials informed Superintendent Tim Ricker on Tuesday that they would likely recommend a financial oversight panel for District 113A next month.

State officials are considering a recommendation to the Illinois State Board of Education next month that  be put under a financial oversight panel, school district officials announced Tuesday.

District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker told board members during a special meeting Tuesday night that he received the news that morning from ISBE Division Administrator for Business Services Deb Vespa.

According to Ricker, Vespa told him State Superintendent Christopher Koch and Chief Financial Officer Linda Riley Mitchell were likely going to submit a recommendation to the state board that District 113A be placed under an FOP. They are requesting that representatives from District 113A attend the next ISBE meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 27 and 28 in Bloomington, IL.

"Obviously we were shocked by that," Ricker said. "We didn't have any indication [the FOP] was in the workings."

According to ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus, a FOP is appointed when a district is already certified in financial difficulty and is unable to sustain its state-approved financial plan. Only 11 districts, including District 113A, have been certified in financial difficulty in the last decade. Some have been able to avoid an oversight panel through expense reductions and/or tax increases, she said.

Citing his conversation with Vespa, Ricker said the state is concerned about the district's difficulty with cash flow and its reliance on tax anticipation warrants, a form of short-term borrowing. District 113A Board President Mike Aurelio and Board Member Al Malley said they also spoke to Vespa, who they said indicated three areas of concern: marketability of tax anticipation warrants, student achievement and the closing of fiscal year 2011.

District 113A Business Manager Barbara Germany, who also was on the Tuesday morning call with Vespa, confirmed the state's concerns.

Two Years Under the ISBE Financial Plan

The state board, which certified District 113A "in financial difficulty" in December 2009, has been monitoring the district's every move for the past two years, making sure all policies, proposals and decisions are in line with the district's submitted financial plan—a plan that requires the district to increase revenue and eliminate borrowing.

District 113A has relied on tax anticipation warrants since depleting its cash reserves in June 2009. In November, school officials learned the district had failed to identify any banks willing to purchase the TAWs.

Per the suggestion of financial advisers and attorneys, an intergovernmental agreement was reached with  in January . The same type of agreement was reached in July, when  were issued.

Based on current financial projections, Ricker said District 113A is on track to build enough fund balances to eliminate borrowing by 2013.

“The district will have a positive outlook financially for the future and will have some planning decisions to make along the way,” he told Patch last month. 

As part of the state-approved financial plan, the district made $3.57 million in cuts to its budget for fiscal year 2011, which included extracurriculars, the gifted program and $3.17 million in personnel.

In May, board members approved the closing of  for the 2011-12 school year, which will save approximately $356,747, according to district documents. With further reductions made in personnel and transportation expenditures, District 113A is expected to see a total reduction of $1.13 million in fiscal year 2012.

Administrators, Board Members Confused by Timing of Recommendation

Ricker's announcement Tuesday left board members surprised and confused.

Board Member Kevin Doherty said he found the timing "odd" considering the district is in "better financial shape that it's been in years." He also questioned the state's concern over student achievement, since District 113A recently learned that all four schools .

"Something's wrong here because it doesn't add up," Doherty said. "We're a year away from not borrowing more money. ... Student achievement is higher than it's ever been."

Ricker said he informed Vespa that the district made AYP in a previous conversation. The issue related to student achievement is that the district cannot make any more cuts "without decimating the education program," he said.

Aurelio said Vespa also discussed the state's concerns over the district's closing of fiscal year 2011— and continued through this month. The state is also concerned about the district's inability to secure TAWs from financial institutions, Aurelio said.

On Aug. 16, District 113A to address a $329,568 negative cash balance in the Education Fund at the end of fiscal year 2011. The negative balance resulted in allegations of illegal fund transfers and "shoddy bookkeeping," and left the community questioning how the situation came to be in the first place.

Based on his conversation with Vespa, Malley said he thought two of the state's concerns were already resolved—the year-end balance and the issue of borrowing.

Ricker suggested that ISBE officials were possibly unfamiliar with the progress the district has been making, as well as the "strong relationship" they have with District 210 for securing TAWs.

Later in the meeting, the board approve an amended financial plan, which will be sent to Vespa for consideration. Ricker said he will learn more about the state's recommendation for an FOP by next Tuesday, when the board is scheduled to hold its monthly workshop meeting.

New FOP Law

On Aug. 16, Gov. Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 2149, which created the Financial Oversight Panel Law of the Illinois School Code effective immediately. The new legislation expands the oversight of the panels, which were previously utilized for "specific school districts that were facing dire financial consequences, needed specific attention from ISBE and met certain statutory criteria, according to the Illinois Association of School Boards.

The purpose of the panel, according to Illinois School Code, is "to promote sound financial management and to ensure the continued operation of the public schools."

A FOP consists of five members, who are appointed by the state superintendent. The panel serves for a minimum of three years and a maximum of 10 years.

Members are chosen "primarily on the basis of their experience and education in financial management," the law states. Two members must be residents of the school district the panel serves. Panel members may not be an employee or school board member in the district, and may not have a direct financial interest.

Powers of the FOP include making or canceling contracts, leasing or purchasing property, borrowing money. With ISBE approval, the panel may also levy a one-time-only tax not to exceed 75 percent of the amount expended by the district in the preceding year.

Late last year, Fergus said the powers of an oversight panel are limited to finances and that the panel has the authority to approve all expenditures.

"The school board is still intact and still makes decisions," she said. "A financial oversight panel is a partnership, and not a takeover, as some people like to say."

Moving Forward

The Illinois State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the future of District 113A during its Sept. 27 and 28 meeting in Bloomington, IL. The recommendation will likely be formulated a week before the meeting, leaving District 113A officials less than a month to address the issues with the state.

Ricker said he hopes to gather more information before the district's Sept. 6 workshop, and to schedule a meeting with state officials before Sept. 27.

"I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure that this meeting takes place, and to work to get our people in front of their people so we can find out what their concerns are and how deep their concerns are," he said. "[We'll work] to see how we can come together for a presentation that helps them understand that we've taken care of these issues."

Robyn Horn August 31, 2011 at 02:24 AM
So can someone tell me, what this really means for the quality of education. I dont have a choice on the possible tax increase, no choice on the state takeover, but I DO have a choice (maybe, pending job security) on where my child gets the best education. If it doesnt suffer, decision made. I'm loyal to my district. They've done a fantastic job.
Amanda Luevano (Editor) August 31, 2011 at 02:50 AM
Hey everyone, I know there are some holes to the story. I'm working as quickly as possible to fill them in and get the story 100% completed. Nothing is inaccurate, but I want to get you as much information as possible. Thanks for your patience!
Robyn Horn August 31, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Thanks Amanda. Answered my question seeing its limited to financials.
Patricia Browne-Winterland August 31, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Would State intervention mean smaller class sizes?
Jack Mikolajczak August 31, 2011 at 04:15 PM
but Amy, remember, it was just a "scare tactic"....hope they're scared now.
Nora Waliczek September 01, 2011 at 01:16 AM
I have wondered for over six years now how Ricker has retained his employment in SD 133A. A few years ago, it was in the newspaper about how he left his former district in shambles..
Lee Ristow September 01, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Where did Nora's comment go(it's in the "tease" on the left of the home page and why does it say there are 10 comments for this story on the home page and only five are here?
Hank Olenick September 01, 2011 at 10:16 PM
You get out of school what you put into it....as a student.
Edward Andrysiak September 02, 2011 at 04:16 PM
The State is seeing what many residents feel....No Confidence! I always wonder how things start. You have to know the *real* problem before you can understand and work out a solution. Amongst all that has been said, the in fighting, the Board shake up, the law suit etc., you have to wonder how we got to this place at this time. We may never know the truth here but I think it is as simple as this. Rickert and the previous Board failed to get the voters to approve their requests for more money. Money got short. They continued to spend ANTICIPATING another vote with a better outcome. Another failure at the ballot box but they kept spending. This, I believe went on and on, INTENTIONALLY. They thought the community would buckle and vote them more money. In short they decieved us tax payers and presumed on our good will thinking the "it's for the children" plea would work. Somehow, Lemonters sensed they were being used and abused and stood fast. No new money and no confidence either and the State knows it! You tell me who the person responsible for leading that false premise is and I will tell you who has got to go! It's quite obvious nobody can or will admit that what I suspect is really what the thinking was and is the root cause of where we are now.
Sue Johnson September 02, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Negative cash balances, apparent transfer of funds without board of ed approval, request for retroactive approval from BOE to transfer funds, changes in accounting methods to fix the mistake, removal of president of the board as spokesperson after a few months in office, continued public bullying by old board members when accounting procedures are questioned..... and we wonder why the state wants to get involved??? What we need to wonder if why a small group continues to protect supt Ricker instead of the district they are elected to protect. Apparently peer pressure is as difficult for some adults to overcome as it is for children.
Amy Glaser September 02, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Nice thoughts Sue. Or more likely reasons: a handful of people (you??), or to use your word, bullies, who because their vision plan wasn't accepted by the district, or they lost a lawsuit, or their child didn't get into gifted, or they don't know what to do with their free time spend 2+ years of their lives telling a bunch of lies to try to get people fired and destroy a school district. Or it could be those people going to an ISBE board meeting to spread more lies, or the fact they weren't elected to the board, or their dismissed lawsuits, or their many failed accusations of wrongdoing to regional or state boards, or hiding in bushes to take pictures of people, or impersonating district employees, or their anonymous lying e-mails. Or other reasons could be their daily harassment of ISBE staff, or a board president running to a local paper saying laws were broken, or having the Lemont Reporter on speed dial b/c Jerry Moore likes their home baked cupcakes, or lies told by the tea party and afp, or a town that loves drama and complaining, or voters who do nothing in the schools and know nothing about 113A thinking they are experts after reading one email from those same parents, or people who as long as they got their's could care less about what happens to others. It could also be because Lemont has many residents who would buy into the theory that the world is flat if it saved them a couple of bucks. Not too tough to figure out why the State is coming in, good work Lemont.
Quizzical September 02, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Question for article author Amanda. You had reported"State education officials informed Superintendent Tim Ricker on Tuesday that they would likely recommend a financial oversight panel for District 113A next month. State officials are considering a recommendation to the Illinois State Board of Education next month that Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A be put under a financial oversight panel, school district officials announced Tuesday.District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker told board members during a special meeting Tuesday night that he received the news that morning from ISBE Division Administrator for Business Services Deb Vespa.According to Ricker, Vespa told him State Superintendent Christopher Koch and Chief Financial Officer Linda Riley Mitchell were likely going to submit a recommendation to the state board that District 113A be placed under an FOP. They are requesting that representatives from District 113A attend the next ISBE meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 27 and 28 in Bloomington." I am also on the http://www.boarddocs.com/il/lbcsd/Board.nsf/ Public . the website for the Sd113A meeting minutes and nothing is stated in the meeting minutes about Mr. Ricker being notified by Ms Vespa that an FOP is on the horizon. ( continued on next post)
Quizzical September 02, 2011 at 10:49 PM
http://www.boarddocs.com/il/lbcsd/Board.nsf/Public states "the Prepared and presented by Dr. Tim Ricker, Superintendent, Mrs. Barbara Germany, Business Manager/ Treasurer, Dr. Mary Gricus, Asst. Supt. and Mrs. Susan Wulczyn, Director of Student Services Background:Dr. Ricker updated the Board of Education on the request from Debbie Vespa, ISBE representative, at the August 16, 2011 regular meeting. His report indicated the District needed to submit an amended financial plan with updated projections and data for FY 12, 13 & 14 by the end of August to ISBE. Ms. Vespa indicated she wanted to give the State Board of Education an update on the District's progress and outlook for the future at their September meeting. Dr. Ricker, Mrs. Germany, Dr. Gricus and Mrs. Wulczyn will present the amended plan with updated information and data. Additionally, the plan was prepared with advice from PMA and representatives from PMA will be present to answer questions. This amended financial plan must be considered in August by the Board of Education prior to submitting to ISBE. Once recieved by ISBE the plan will be shared with the State Board of Educaiton and feedback may be given as needed. Administrative Recommendation: Approve the Amended financial plan as submitted." I'm just confused as to why SD113A board meeting minutes don't reflect this statement when it was given to Mr Ricker that very morning. Can you clarify for me please? thankyou
Quizzical September 02, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Oh, I copied the Board notes above from theSD1113A school board minutes of August 30, 2011.
Amanda Luevano (Editor) September 02, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Cathy, I think you're reading the agenda for the Aug. 30 meeting, not the minutes. Usually the minutes for any given meeting are posted in the next month's meeting agenda. The information you copy/pasted was part of the memo for that agenda item, I believe. I'm not Tim Ricker, so I can't say for sure, but I do know that agendas must be posted in advance of public meetings—48 hours I believe. I received that agenda Aug. 27 via email, so it was set three days ahead of time. Tim Ricker said he was in communication with Deb Vespa that same day, so the agenda did not reflect any information about the FOP. He discussed the FOP information as part of the one agenda item (the amended financial plan) since they were related.
jen mcpherson September 02, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Cathy- You can review past meeting minute's by going to the board of education tab, then clicking the meeting information tab on the left side bar. Board Doc's has the detailed agenda, not the minute's.
Quizzical September 03, 2011 at 12:32 AM
Jen and Amanda- thank you both for steering me to the correct info. as to where to find the meeting minutes and also about the posting rules for agendas. I just realized as I looked back at it that is was only agenda information. I appreciate your quick responses.
Lee Ristow September 03, 2011 at 12:55 AM
Amen, Ann and Sue.
Michelle Nevin September 03, 2011 at 02:38 AM
Edward, I must say your post has me a bit puzzled. You said the past board asked for more and kept spending when the community said no during the last few referendums while you never mentioned that word. I teach 7th grade in 113A. Every one of my social studies classes is 30 or over. I have a class of 38. My math friend in 7th grade has classes over 40. My 5th grade friends have classes of 36, 37, and 38. My kindergarten friends are over 30 in their classes. 8th grade is happy that they are at 40 and 41 not 43 this year. When did the board continue spending in the last couple of years?? We (teachers) were reading your comments tonight and were trying to figure out where the INTENTIONAL spending was happening, since we saw 35% of our staff eliminated the last two school years, tech lab and family consumer science lab eliminated, art and music teachers were elminated from grades 1-4, plan and collaboration time were reduced, teachers took pay freezes, their insurance went up in multiple ways. As I tell my 7th graders almost every day, you don't have to like each other but you need to respect each other. Am I deceiving you as a tax payer by my honest account of what it's like in our buildings? No, I am not. And please don't compare school today to what is was like when we went to school. NCLB standards have forced schools to run in a different way. We have IEP's, 504's, ELL's, DHH's and many more students. It's a different world!!
Sue Johnson September 03, 2011 at 03:28 AM
As a non-litigious, democrat, with little free time, I have to tell you I do not bake. By the way, punctuation is your friend.
Beth Howell September 03, 2011 at 03:50 AM
Edward.......I am agreeing with Ms. Nevin's post. I was part of the 35% staff reduction. Classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, and bus drivers were all cut. Also, my daughter has not had a field trip since kindergarten, and she is now in third grade. The sports program is financially backed by the Warrior Booster Club, and parents have to pay a fee to play sports and be in extra curricular activities. The Band program is also backed by a band booster club, with no expense to the school district or tax payer. The teachers took a pay freeze, and so did the administration. Paper costs are cut down dramatically, in part from technology, and also from finding other ways to teach and communicate without paper. Supplies have been reduced. Insurance has been reconfigured to save money. Utilities are being energy wise. Teachers are using their own money to supply classroom needs. Now........where is the extravagant spending? Please don't take this as taking sides.......this is what I know, because I'm living it. Edward, I don't want my daughter to go to school with 34 kids in her classroom, but she has to, we can't afford a private school. And like Ms. Nevin said, it's not like it was when we all went to school. Much different laws and a much different society has changed all of that.
Edward Andrysiak September 03, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Fact...there were 40 kids in my class for eight years and we all did great! If "society" changed that, it needs to change it back! I'm tired of the can't do attitude and blaming failure on some thing or some one. Class size up to 40 should be a non issue. What I am saying on spending is that, I believe, instead of cutting back immediatel'y when additional funds wern't approved, the operation went on as though new money was around the corner any minute...for years. It wasn't. Finally, it broke down and then and only then were painful cuts made. As an aside, I admire teachers but your union has simply bargained up your "bennies" to the point where they are unaffordable and somewhat unreasonable.
Beth Howell September 03, 2011 at 02:58 PM
Edward.....I really wish I can call "my union", but unfortunately, I can't, I am no longer employed by 113a, due to positions being eliminated. As I stated in my previous post, the face of the American classroom (public education) is different then it was even just 10 years ago, due to laws, and the ever changing American society. I do agree with you, it would be nice to change some of that back to where it was, however, I have to say that as far as having kids with several forms of disabilities in the regular education classroom.......my children have an awareness of their needs, and have helped those students grow, which in return, has helped my children grow not only educationally, but also made them more tolerant of peers that are not just like them. American society, well, if you can find a way to curb the divorce rate, take off "16 and Pregnant" off as a television show, and "Life of An American Teenager" (which is on a family tv station). As public educators, we can not tell parents what values and morals they are teaching at home, that is against the law (see, coming back to the laws again).....so I am glad you did great with 40 kids in a classroom, most children did, However, that is not the case today, OH HOW I WISH IT WERE!
Edward Andrysiak September 03, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Beth...I lost a job once and I know the gut wrenching feeling one gets...yes, you have to live it to understand. I vowed never to work for anyone else, ever, and went into business for myself. It was the best thing that happend to me! So, chin up and march forward. Best wishes for you. Just one comment about the "old days." We were less prone to throw money at problems. Instead good people thought things out and came up with creative ways to move forward. There are too many lawyers making decisions for us these days. Where are the creative thinkers/problem solvers? And, where are the values, the mom and dad influences and what we once called family. What I see happening scares me. I fear for my grandchildreds future. And you are right...teachers can't do it all!
Stephanie Zych September 04, 2011 at 04:40 AM
I wouldn't be where I am today without the dedicated teachers and staff in district 113a - I am also a teacher. My passion for teaching comes from the many things I learned from my teachers. I wanted to share this, just think about it.... All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. (more in next post)
Stephanie Zych September 04, 2011 at 04:43 AM
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
Stephanie Zych September 04, 2011 at 04:44 AM
--- Maybe if everyone thought for a moment about what they learned in Kindergarten - the CHILDREN would be thought about first because it's their school learning experience - not a game...not a powerstruggle...not a political endeavor.
Beth Howell September 04, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Edward....thank you for the good wishes, I have had many peoople in my world helping me to keep my chin up, it's been hard at times, but all in all, we need to keep pushing forward and working towards a great outcome. One of the best things I cherish in my life are the "slow times" my husband and I have with our children, teaching them right from wrong, and hopefully establishing a good strong base for them as they grow. I love raising my kids the old fashion way, and I'm certainly with you when I say I worried about what it will be like for my grandchildren. Again Edward, thank you for the best wishes. And to you Mrs. Stephanie......I was always so proud of you when I was your teacher, now even more proud of you as I stand with you as a colleague. I can tell you are passionate for those you teach, and that big, gracious heart of yours is certainly where it needs to be.
Nancy Calderon September 07, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Wow! You mean the possiblility of a state takeover is for real!!! But all those people who told us not to vote for the referendum....they told us the threat of a state takeover of our public schools was just a scare tactic, a lie, completely bogus...you mean they were wrong....wow, I am so surprised.
Quizzical September 07, 2011 at 08:36 PM
according to the article above- the decision from the ISBE for the FOP came after "New FOP Law -On Aug. 16, Gov. Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 2149, which created the Financial Oversight Panel Law of the Illinois School Code effective immediately. The new legislation expands the oversight of the panels, which were previously utilized for "specific school districts that were facing dire financial consequences, needed specific attention from ISBE and met certain statutory criteria, according to the Illinois Association of School Boards." , Since these laws changed- our financial woes must have moved our district into a new category. If the supposed takeover was imminent at the time of elections in April- the takeover should have taken place prior to Aug 16th.Like April 2011.

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