Resident asks D115 to hire inspector general
Updated: January 22, 2013 6:13PM
LAKE FOREST — Alleging that the Lake Forest High School has unwarranted expenses, a District 115 resident has asked that an inspector general be put in place to examine the district’s spending and finances.
Nancy Thorner of Lake Bluff said that the district raising its tax levy to the maximum allowable level, 5 percent, for 2013 is one example of excessive spending.
“In these hard economic times, we need trimming of the budget, not augmentation,” Thorner said.
Jim Carey, a District 115 School Board member, takes exception to Thorner’s allegations and says much of the tax-levy increase is due to the expiration of a Lake Forest tax increment financing district — where school district revenue has been frozen for two decades. To capture the increase in revenue between what the district’s tax revenue was frozen at and what the TIF properties should be paying to the district, a higher levy than normal had to be sought, Carey noted.
“The tax levy increase is to make sure all landowners are paying the right amount,” Carey said. “It is driven by the TIF properties being back on the (district’s) tax rolls. We had to do it.”
Carey estimated that 2.2 percent of the requested 5 percent tax-levy increase is to recover the TIF money that the district has been without for years.
In tax increment financing districts, all taxing bodies have their revenue frozen for parcels in the district. Tax revenue over the frozen amount — money that would have gone to the respective taxing body — goes into a municipal fund to finance public improvements and other incentives. TIF districts, which can last for up to 23 years, are deemed a redevelopment tool and are popular with many municipalities.
Claims need is there
Thorner contends that a temporary, paid inspector general would sort out the many questions that the public has about the “ever-increasing” expenses of LFHS.
The Lake Bluff resident has asked the District 115 Board of Education to put establishment of an inspector general position on the agenda for its February meeting. She said the district definitely has areas to reduce spending.
“Trimming could be accomplished without any adverse effect on the quality of education by reducing the fat from non-teaching ‘support’ positions,” Thorner said.
She noted that the district has more than 120 non-teaching positions for a school with only 140 teachers and 1,765 students.
“This nearly 1:1 ratio of non-teachers to teachers is quite disturbing given that teaching, after all, is what justifies a school’s existence,” Thorner said.
Carey said that Thorner insinuates that the non-teaching positions are high-priced administrators, which is far from the truth.
He said the 120 non-teachers include 10 cafeteria workers, 15 custodians and 15 office employees.
“This board has been focused on putting the district in the black,” Carey said. “We cut significant personnel. We cut administrators and administrator salaries. We cut optional programs. Through everything, we kept our eyes on the classes and didn’t cut student education.”
Thorner contends that the district is still administrator heavy.
“Lake Forest High School District 115 shares 50/50 with District 67 the cost of a cadre of administrators housed in the West Campus. A conservative estimate of the payroll of the West Campus administrative staff is $2.5 million,” she said. “On the LFHS premises, there is another layer of pricey administrators and support staff.”
She contends an inspector general is needed to scrutinize the district’s excesses.
“The current costs per pupil at LFHS of $22,003 could be substantially curbed over time without hurting the quality of education one iota by reducing this massive administrative staff. Let’s start teaching our children fiscal responsibility by practicing it,” Thorner said.
Carey noted that district operating revenue has been cut by 10 percent and that changes and cuts continue to be made to keep finances in order.
“We were targeted by the state (for the district’s finances),” Carey said. “But we are back in the state’s good graces.”
Carey noted that only one school district – Chicago – has an inspector general on staff.