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School board discusses Wenona TIF district

Thursday, July 17, 2003 Posted 10:30 p.m.
The Fieldcrest Board of Education indicated that they are working with the City of Wenona in hopes of reaching some kind of financial agreement that would funnel more tax dollars from Wenona's TIF district into the Fieldcrest school system. Gene Oncken of Minonk asked the board if they were planning to do anything about the Wenona TIF district and what time frame they have set for resolving the issue. Oncken said it has been 3 months since it was made public that the school district is losing thousands of dollars a year to the TIF district. Board president Jeff Pickard said that Wenona's TIF district is not illegal and it would be a waste of money to try to take it to the court system to resolve anything. Pickard said that the City of Wenona created the TIF district with good intentions to improve its infrastructure.

Oncken said that he knows of people from Wenona who are embarrassed about the TIF issue. He asked why the board doesn't create a committee to go the Wenona city council meetings to discuss the TIF issue. Oncken said that this issue is not going to die.

Pickard replied that the board is considering approaching the Wenona City Council. He explained that since the TIF district is not deemed illegal, the board's hands are tied. Board member Tom Barth said that he doesn't like the Wenona TIF situation either but doesn't have an answer as to what the board can do about it.

Pickard said that Wenona's City Administrator and Mayor are sympathetic to the school's plight with the TIF district. However, he said none of the council members have children in school and seem to be less sympathetic about the school losing tax revenue to the TIF district. Pickard added that the Wenona City Council refused to contribute $50,000 towards the $250,000 cost of installing a new elevator at Fieldcrest East in Wenona last year. He said that he is trying to work out an intergovernmental agreement with Wenona that will give the school some more of the tax revenue from Wenona's TIF district. Pickard mentioned that his taxes have gone up last year like everyone else's. Oncken replied that his taxes(Pickard's) may have gone up but none of the increase went to the Fieldcrest school district like his(Oncken's) did.

Dave Uphoff mentioned to the board that while the TIF district may not be technically illegal, the way it was set up was not in keeping with the spirit and the intent of TIF districts. He added that TIF districts are meant to redevelop blighted areas, not to subsidize a new sewer system for the city. Uphoff suggested that the school board approach the Wenona City Council in a spirit of cooperation in an attempt to get them to understand the importance of doing the right thing in order to keep solidarity among the communities. Oncken added that if Wenona doesn't want to alter the amount of money going to the school district from their TIF district, there will be other measures that can be taken.

Superintendent sounds alarm on school's financial situation

Fieldcrest Superintendent Michael Stagliano gave a stern warning to the board of education about the district's financial situation. He said the survival of the district is at stake. Stagliano said that lower EVA and a decline in state aid is going to result in a financial crisis for the school unless drastic measures are taken. The state is moving in the direction of letting education's financial problems to be resolved locally since ISBE is downsizing and ROEs will be phased out and downsized. The Governor's insistence on no new taxes in the face of declining revenues means that cuts will have to be made locally in order to remain solvent.

Stagliano said EAV has declined about $1,600,000 from 2002, which translates into local revenues declining by $70-90 thousand. Revenues last year totaled $9,223,000 while this year's revenue will total $8,853.000. To help stem the financial tide, $650,000 in tax anticipation warrants were taken out and $275,000 were borrowed towards the building fund. He said that as of July 1, 2003, the education fund was $395,000 in the red. The school will be overspending by $263,000 in the education fund and $279,000 in the building fund.

Stagliano said there could be a deficit of well over $1,000,000 by June 30, 2004 if expenses are not cut further and some type of revenue stream is instituted such as Working Cash bonds, Tax Anticipation Warrants or another referendum for the Education fund. He said decisions have to be made on what additional cuts are to be made. If something is not done soon, Fieldcrest will lose control of its financial operations to the state and could signal the demise of the school district. He said it is possible that EVA's will increase next year to bolster revenues. Also, the possible consolidation with the Flanagan school district could help improve revenues and improve efficiencies. He said that the district is spending 4.8% less than last year, but that we are still spending more that we take in. He said the board must look into the possibility of another tax referendum, increasing class sizes, and cutting extra curriculars. Setting up attendance centers was another way to cut costs although it may require a building addition (not a new building) to an existing building. Board member Joe Kirkpatrick said that based on the results of the last tax referendum, it is necessary for the school to cut expenses first before considering another tax referendum.

Stagliano said that working cash bonds are not a long term solution because the interest and the loans must eventually be paid off. He said that the district will be on the financial watch list if expenses are not cut by next spring. At least $500,000 in additional cuts must be made to the Education fund just to balance the budget in FY '05 but then the Board still has to contend with addressing debt. Both the state auditor and Stagliano agree that the financial condition of Illinois schools is the worse both have seen in their 20 plus years in education.

Bus routes to be revised

Fieldcrest Principal Steve Wallick showed the school board his plans to revise the Fieldcrest bus routes in order to make them more efficient and to cut down on transporation time and costs. Wallick said that the bus routes that existed before the school consolidation in 1992 are still being used. This resulted in overlapping of routes. Wallick plans to rearrange the routes and do some tweaking in order to come up with a more efficient bus route after the new registration figures are known. He plans to make a recommendation to the board this fall.

Wallick stated that the board may have to change its policy on having separate buses for Wenona, Minonk, and Toluca. He said efficencies can be gained by having a bus pick up students from different communities and then exhange students at a staging point and shuttling them to their final destination. He added that there are 292 square miles in the school district's bus route.

Fall registration

Fall registration will be on August 11 and 12. Plans are to have students register at the school in which they will be attending. This will facilitate the collection of fees since they are different at each school. In addition, there will be more room for individual and private registration.

High water bills at Minonk

Superintendent Michael Stagliano said that the total water bill for schools in Minonk last year totaled $15,000. In contrast the total water bill for Toluca and Wenona combined was only $5,000. Stagliano added that the water usage was the same for both communities implying that Minonk's water rate was much higher. Gene Oncken told the board that the reason for higher Minonk water bills is that Minonk includes the cost of its employees in determining the water rate.

Special meetings

The school board agreed to hold monthly special meetings on the first Thursday of each month to work on the budget problems. The meetings will be limited to 1 and 1/2 hours.