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Chester school district headed toward deficit reduction again

  • Auditor Bob Moore speaks to members of the Chester District 139 Board of Education on Tuesday. The district appears headed toward another deficit reduction plan for this fiscal year.

    Auditor Bob Moore speaks to members of the Chester District 139 Board of Education on Tuesday. The district appears headed toward another deficit reduction plan for this fiscal year.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

By Pete Spitler
updated: 11/15/2017 7:03 PM

After a year's reprieve, Chester District 139 appears headed toward having to compile another deficit reduction plan for the Illinois State Board of Education.
During the Chester school board's regular meeting on Tuesday, auditor Bob Moore explained the district's financial status with ISBE put it in a "Watch" category with a score of 2.55, requiring the district to submit a deficit reduction plan.
The Chester district would need a score of 2.62 to be classified as "Early warning" and avoid the deficit reduction plan.
Moore stated the district was down $100,000 in its education fund and $170,000 in its building fund from the previous fiscal year. He said the district has $1.4 million available in capital project money - which accumulates through the county's 1 percent sales tax add-on - but it can only be spent on capital expenditures or to abate debt.
Moore said the district's debt limit was $3.5 million as of June 30 and suggested using the capital project money to abate some of its working cash bonds that are set to be paid off in 2036.
"At some point, you need to look at restructuring your bonds and using capital funds to free up working cash bonds," he said.
Moore also pointed out the district has about $800,000 in working cash left.
"You still have some money in working cash, but how long will that last?" he asked.
The board later tabled approving the audit, since only four members were present for the meeting. Board Vice President Tom Welge said the meeting was the first time the board members had seen the audit, which Moore said he had sent last month, and asked for time so that all members could review it.
Superintendent Brian Pasero commented on the report after the meeting.
"The concerns are the fund balances of where we're at," he said. "Trying to make sure we keep afloat as best we can.
"I was already pretty aware of where we stood in those respects, as far as where our ratings were and those things. The big thing is going to be watching everything to make sure we keep those in the positive."
"If we need to do other things, like (Moore) talked about with the bonding, we have to look at our options," Pasero continued. "We don't know what the state will end up giving us down the road."
The long-term goal for the district to get away from deficit reduction, but that does not seem likely in the near future.
"Realistically, I think we'll be doing that plan for the next few years," he said. "If through some reduction in our expenditures or maybe some better funding from the state, maybe we can turn that around to the point where we don't have to."
In other news, the board approved - pending inspection - the purchase of a 2008 4x4 Ford F-250 diesel truck/plow with 49,000 miles. The price of $19,265 includes title and dock fees.
Board member Charles Fricke voted against the measure, questioning why the district would need it given how it already has a similar truck at the high school and the area has not received heavy snowfall in several years.
The new truck will replace the one at Chester Grade School, which frequently breaks down. Pasero noted it would be used for other purposes besides just plowing snow.
The following items were approved by the board:
• A request of the CHS boys basketball team to use the CHS cafeteria for a fundraiser on Dec. 8 at 5 p.m.
• A request from Chester Sports to use the CGS gym for a kindergarten through 4th grade basketball league from Jan. 6 to Feb. 24.
• A request of S.I. Falcons Fast Pitch Softball to use the CHS gyms on weeknights upon availability.
• Early graduation requests from two students, upon verification of completed coursework.
• A drum set as surplus inventory and a $100 donation to the Chester Music Patrons from Chris Mathis.
• The tentative 2017 tax levy, which Pasero noted would be 7.27 percent and would require a hearing in December.
• Employment of Jade Jolly as 5th/6th grade girls basketball coach for the 2017-18 school year.
• Employment of Patricia Handel as a kindergarten teacher beginning January 3.
In other news, Pasero noted the district had received two Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests from American Watchdogs Inc. and the American Hunger Coalition.
The first request was to look into outstanding debt in the district, including Pasero's salary. The second request was from the American Hunger Coalition, which was looking into unpaid lunch policies.
CGS Principal Tim Lochhead noted Environmental Consultants visited the school on Oct. 31 to perform air quality testing. No major issues were found.