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District underfunded, short of AYP, but an award winner

MINOOKA — The Minooka Grade School District 201 Board last week received a mix of news from auditor Ed Marso of Wermer, Rogers, Doran and Ruzon of Joliet.

While the audit showed the district had a total of 331 days of cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year, a healthy cash position according to Marso, the debt service fund showed a $728,840 deficit.

Debt service increased by $566,869 since the beginning of the fiscal year, a result of a shortfall in property taxes, Marso said.

Following the presentation, Superintendent Al Gegenheimer said two industrial companies in the district did not pay property taxes from 2008 to 2010. The district is currently negotiating with one of the companies — Aux Sable Liquid Products in Channahon.

“We really should have a $70,000 surplus in that fund,” Gegenheimer said.

In the 2011-2012 budget, the district stayed under budget in all funds.

“That’s a good sign,” Marso said.

The best option to rectify the shortfall in the future would be a levy increase in the debt service fund, Marso said.

Board of Education member Doug Martin asked if there weren’t other options.

Revenue could be moved from other funds, such as replacement taxes and general state aid to make up the shortfall, said Marso. However, many other funds have a cap and, if they were shorted, a levy couldn’t be used to make up the difference.

“Before you would do something like that, I would caution you,” he said. “You need to consider what effect it will have on the district overall.”

The district received a profile score of 3.35 out of a possible 4.0, the same as the previous year.

Two things that hurt the district’s score are $80 million in long-term debt and the revenue-to-expenditure ratio.

“Some funds are spending more than we are taking in, and you can because you have fund surpluses,” Marso said. “But sooner or later, if nothing is done, you will hit the proverbial wall.”

District report card

Minooka Grade School District as a whole made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in all areas except for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students, said Assistant Superintendent Steph Palaniuk.

Two of the district’s seven schools, however, didn’t meet the state standards. Minooka Elementary students in the Free and Reduced Meal program didn’t make the grade and students at Minooka Intermediate, in both Free and Reduced and in Special Education, also missed the mark, Palaniuk said.

When Palaniuk started with the district in the early 1990s, there were 1,000 students and 75 percent made AYP, he said. Now, with 4,000 students, 91.2 have made AYP. Typically a school district would see lower scores with more students.

“We are an anomaly,” Palaniuk said. “I still say we are going in the right direction.”

The biggest hurdle in meeting AYP for District 201, according to Gegenheimer, is when students are able to test out of a program such as English Language Learners and certain Special Education areas and the schools don’t receive credit for those successes.

“We are always going to have lower numbers there (in those programs),” Gegenheimer said.

On the subject of special education, Gegenheimer said now that the district teaches special needs students in-house, the district gets much less in state reimbursement for the program.

When students were bused to private programs, the district received reimbursement at a rate of four times its per capita cost. With the program in-house, the district is reimbursed at just two times the per capita cost.

It’s in the best interest of students to have a shorter route to school and be educated locally, and in the best interest of taxpayers not to spend $50,000 when it can be done for $35,000 in-house, Gegenheimer said.

“The laws are upside down,” he said. “We are doing right by our students and community, the problem is it’s costing a tremendous amount of money. I need everyone to understand that.”

Bright Star Award

Despite the financial woes and AYP shortfalls, the district was a recipient of the Bright Star Award.

District 201 was one of 85 Illinois school districts, out of 868, to be honored with the award.

The criteria is based on districts whose students’ academic performance ranks in the upper third in the state while the per-pupil expenditures rank in the lower fourth.

“We are facing a deficit, but our district is not over spending, we are currently underfunded,” Gegenheimer said.

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