NEW LENOX – Community members at Thursday’s Lincoln-Way High School District 210 Board meeting made one thing very clear to the board: They are watching.
A full audience attended the district meeting, many speaking out with frustrations about the budget and the actions of former Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie, who is alleged by federal prosecutors to have misappropriated school funds for his own benefit and concealed the true financial condition of the district.
Karen Town, a former board candidate who was part of the five-member Citizens For 210 slate that lost in the April election, was one of a few who spoke during open session about holding Superintendent Scott Tingley and board more responsible for their duties as representatives of the community moving forward.
“The superintendent works for you, not the other way around. So please, always remember to hold him accountable. I think we’ve all seen what can happen when that doesn’t occur,” Town said.
The board passed the 2018 budget and a property tax abatement on Surface Shield, which plans to move into the Will County area with a promise of jobs.
“At this point, we’ve decided to move ahead with the budget as presented, given the cash restraints the district still does have, so we haven’t made any changes to that budget at this time,” said Bradley Cauffman, assistant superintendent of business. “Absolute worse-case scenario, we’d receive $28,000 more than what’s in the budget now.”
The board set the budget not knowing what state funding will be, but Cauffman estimated that it can be anywhere from a minimum of $28,000 more than last year’s to a maximum total of about $3 million because of back payments that are owed and a new formula the state uses to calculate district needs.
District officials said in a news release that the fiscal 2018 budget will have revenues of about $104 million and expenses of about $101 million. They anticipate a surplus of all district funds of $2.3 million and an operating fund surplus of $3.3 million.
"The budgeted surplus does not include additional anticipated proceeds of $4.6 million from land sales," district officials said.
The board approved Surface Shield’s request for a four-year, 50 percent tax abatement, according to documents submitted to the board. The relocation from Orland Park is expected to bring 55 existing jobs, and over the first 36 months of operation, can increase employment by 35 more jobs.
“They're an Orland business who wants to come to Tinley Park to get a tax break. It’s logical from a business standpoint, but in a sense, it affects the residents, too, of course,” said Steve Cook, a resident of the district.
The vote on the decision was 6-1. Board member Christopher Lucchetti was the lone vote against it, and he spoke out during the discussion about his concerns.
“I think it’s hard for us, at this point, with negative cash balances to move right in to being an economic development. How we have to provide for growth is to make sure the schools are in the best shape and they’re attracting people into the area,” Lucchetti said.
According to Illinois State Board of Education documents, District 210 ranks 850 out of 852 districts, earning a place on the watch list, which means the ISBE will be monitoring its finances closely.
“They’re spending more then they’re taking in. Now, they’re trying to control it. They’re making efforts to slow that process down, and that’s why they went from $28 million in [tax anticipation warrants] to $27 million in [tax anticipation warrants]. They’re still borrowing, and trying to control it and rein in back in,” Cook said.
Over the years, district officials have been using tax anticipation warrants, or short-term debt, to finance district operations.
“It makes us feel angry. They need to stay in their budget,” said Laurie Cook, a parent of three district students.
The absence of board member Christine Glatz, who has served on the board since 1993, was noticed by attendees, and pointed out by a concerned parent, Jay Curatolo, during public comment. Curatolo also held the board members accountable as a whole for active participation.
“I seem to recall a campaign promise from a few of the candidates sitting at this table during the past election of Lincoln-Way. As Wyllie faces a federal judge, I’m wondering if this is the type of reputation you had in mind,” Curatolo said. “For over two decades, the man who built the Lincoln-Way empire was a god, all the while no one was watching. No one was holding him accountable.”
Town also has two children who went to District 210 high schools.
“The board should question if this is best for the community. I came out tonight because I want to remind the board to ask is this for the student or taxpayer first?” Town said after the meeting.
The board did not comment on Wyllie's upcoming federal indictment during the course of the meeting.