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AUDITOR: Chester district overspent on science labs

  • Bob Moore, Chester District 139's auditor, speaks to the Board of Education last Thursday. Moore stated the district is on the state's financial watch list.

    Bob Moore, Chester District 139's auditor, speaks to the Board of Education last Thursday. Moore stated the district is on the state's financial watch list.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

 
By Pete Spitler
Editor@heraldtrib.com
Posted on 12/16/2016, 1:54 PM

The ongoing saga of the renovations to the Chester High School science labs took another turn last Thursday during the Chester District 139 Board of Education"s December meeting.

Bob Moore, the district"s auditor, painted a grim picture of the district"s finances and lamented the apparent fact that the district spent $300,000 on fixtures and other items for the project without putting them out for bid.

Moore noted the limit was $50,000 on construction expenses without seeking bids, making the district"s decision allegedly illegal.

"You can"t spend that amount of money without getting bids," he told the board members.

Moore said there was a $750,000 bid on the project that was pulled and replaced by a $830,000 bid, but there was nothing in the BOE meeting minutes that explained why the fixtures were not put out for bid.

Board President Mitch Hammel told Moore that he would have a talk with the district"s architect firm, Baysinger Architects.

Moore also stated that the district"s Educational Fund suffered a $271,901 loss over the year, bringing it to a balance of $5,336.

The Operations and Maintenance Fund suffered a loss of $120,108 and its balance is $24,841 in the red, while the Transportation Fund suffered a $98,578 loss and has a balance of $30,864.

Moore noted the district would have broke even on the Transportation Fund had it received the state"s fourth state aid payment.

"You badly need a (property) tax increase and I don"t know how you can get it with the cap," Moore said.

During a hearing prior to the regular meeting, the board voted for a proposed 16 percent property tax increase for the district, but District Superintendent Rick Goodman noted that the actual figure would be less than that because of property tax increase limitations.

In some counties in Illinois (including Randolph), property tax growth is "capped" through the 1991 Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), which allows a taxing district to receive limited inflationary increases in tax extensions on existing property, plus an additional amount for new construction.

Increases in property taxes are limited to the lesser of 5 percent or the increase in the national Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the year preceding the levy year.

The limitation can be increased, but it would require voter approval.

Board member Tom Welge asked Moore how Chester compares financially to other school districts.

"You"re in a lot worse shape because you"re capped," he said. "The schools up north are not capped."

Moore asked what the district, which receives $8,200 per capita in tuition, will do to get through the year and Goodman stated the district would use interfund loans that will have to be paid back.

Moore later noted the district has two options - increase revenue or cut expenses.

"You got to do it," he said. "There"s no other way."

Moore also brought up the $650,000 the Capital Development Board still owes the district for the Chester Grade School gymnasium project.

Goodman said the paperwork has been submitted and the district is waiting for payment.

Moore said the district should have been paid this past spring, but Baysinger didn"t submit the paperwork until August.

During his report to the board, Goodman expressed his dissatisfaction with Fager-McGee and the three months" worth of delays on the science lab project.

"I would be hard-pressed to do another construction project with them unless it was considerable savings," he said.

Goodman said he had a "face-to-face" meeting with Fager-McGee staff and was told they had run into significant delays with their subcontractors, causing the completion date to be pushed back.

"I don"t know what problem you can run into where you go over three months late," he said.

Goodman said he is refusing to pay Fager-McGee final bill, stated to be around $50,000, until the project is completed.

"I"m not going to pay the final payment when it"s not done," he said.

Later in his report, Goodman provided an informational update on the scoreboard and bathrooms at W.O. Smith Field.

In regard to the scoreboard, Goodman said he is looking at a 24" x 8" scoreboard that will have advertising slots available.

The current scoreboard is 21 years old and Goodman noted the possibility of selling short-term advertising space on the new sign, which is estimated to cost between $21,000 and $25,000.

He said he would bring samples to the board"s January meeting for discussion.

Board member Trent Vasquez brought blueprints, dated 2011, to the meeting that show the basic framework of a bathroom/concession building.

Vasquez noted that the blueprints contain $13,400 worth of materials, but don"t include electrical or plumbing.

Goodman said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the facility"s attendance capacity will determine how many bathrooms are needed and he would run the project by Baysinger - with no commitments.

He also cautioned the board about a concession stand project that spiraled out of control while he was at Red Bud.

"It snowballed and (costs) got ridiculous," he said.

ROUNDUP

• In his report, CGS Principal Tim Lochhead provided an update on an incident in which a garbage truck knocked over a light pole, causing an estimated $13,000 in damages. He said the insurance company Progressive is handling the claim.

• Goodman updated the board on a new furnace and air conditioning unit from Korando Heating and Cooling that will be installed in Mrs. Bohnert"s room.

• District Curriculum Director Shirley Stegmann updated the board on SAT and PARCC testing, the Illinois Science assessment, a 50 states project in Connie Clendenin"s class and a computer concept project in Judy Wolters" class that involved students making logos in Microsoft Word.

• During approval of bills and payroll, board member Debi Caraway asked about paying coaches mileage and was told that occurs when the bus is either full or, in the case of grade school coaches, no provided transportation is available.

• The BOE approved the 2016 certificate of tax levy for the district in the amount of $2,774,002

• The BOE approved the abatement of taxes to be levied to pay the principal and interest of two bonds - series 2013 and 2015 - in the amounts of $286,537.50 and $198,325. Goodman stated that he hopes to look more closely at the district"s bond situation next month.

• The BOE adopted a resolution to regulate expense reimbursements, which Goodman stated regulates the types of expenses in board projects.

• The BOE approved a lawn service maintenance bid from Kueker Lawn Service for the Chester High School lawn. The one-year contract, estimated to cost $13,470 as it"s based on per-hour work, does not include W.O. Smith Field - which Kueker is rehabilitating through a separate contract with the district.

Goodman stated that by bidding the lawn service out, retirements in custodial service may allow for some savings in district maintenance.

"That way, the person who spends 28 hours on a lawnmower can spend it someplace else in that building," he said.

Hammel noted there is a possibility of using the 1 percent sales tax receipts to cover the cost of the contract.

The board also briefly discussed the possibility of using student workers to help with maintenance.

• The board approved the following coaches for the 2016-17 school year: Yvonne Seymour (CGS head volleyball coach), Jennifer Schroeder (CGS assistant volleyball coach) and Kody Stueve (CGS volunteer 5th-6th grade basketball coach).

• The board accepted the resignation of Deanna Newton as CGS paraprofessional as of November 30.

• The board approved the employment of Vicki Hoskin as 7 ½ hour CGS paraprofessional at $9 per hour effective Dec. 16.

• The board approved the employment of Margaret Grau as 7 hour CHS paraprofessional at $9 per hour, effective Dec. 16. This is a new position that is being paid for through a Title V government grant.