C-U districts please taxpayers

By Alissa Groeninger

Despite the lagging economy, school districts in Illinois are doing well financially, including the Champaign and Urbana districts.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2008 Annual Financial Profile, almost 70 percent of the state’s public school districts are in the highest rated category for financial review. Of the 873 school districts, 602 fall into this category, which is called “financial recognition.”

The data in the profile is based on the school districts annual financial reports from June 30, 2007.

Andrea Preston, spokeswoman for the board, said most of the credit goes to local school boards.

“They’re making the tough decisions on their end,” she said.

She said increased funding from the state also helped districts improve their schools’ financial situations.

Champaign financial officer Greg Locus credited the Champaign Board of Education superintendent, the principals of each school, the teachers’ union and the support staff union for Champaign’s improved financial situation. The district was placed in the “financial recognition” category, which is the most favorable group for districts.

The 2007 surplus of $1.7 million and the district’s goal to spend less than they receive contributed to the designation in the top category, Locus said.

“We’re very happy with the improved financial status because we believe it demonstrates to our taxpayers that we’re being good financial stewards of their tax dollars,” Locus said.

He also credited other school districts around the state, and said the majority of the schools are doing well with their finances.

“There’s a huge increase (in recognized schools) over the last couple of years,” Locus said.

The betterment of the Urbana School District’s finances is due to budget cuts between 2002 and 2003, said Carol Baker, director of business for the Urbana schools.

Baker said the district had acquired a deficit before reducing the budget.

The district is also receiving tax dollars from Carle Foundation Hospital, which was tax exempt until recently. Baker said the $1.3 million the district brings in due to hospital’s taxes has helped financially.

The profile places every public school district in the state in one of four possible categories, based on five indicators: the fund balance to revenue ratio, expenditures to revenues ratio, days cash on hand, percent of short-term borrowing available, and the percent of long-term debt remaining.

“It gives community members, board members a snapshot of how a district is doing,” Preston said.

While majority of public school districts in the state are doing well financially, more than 30 percent of districts are not in the best possible financial category.

Preston said improvement comes at a local level, and districts need to figure out what they need to change.

“We encourage boards to work together and make sound decisions,” she said.