School district goofs on budget

School district goofs on budget

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

Several local officials provided comments as to Rockford School District 205’s most recent financial peril. The district apparently forgot to deduct $8.4 million in tort funds from its budget.

Finance Director Tom Hoffman explained the reason for the mistake, but he said it fails to pose a problem. “It presents no problem in that there were no users in that budgeted financial statement that would rely on it,” Hoffman said.

He said the board adopted the budget in August 2000. The court-ordered initiative of the Illinois Tort Immunity Act was included in that fund. The court-rendered opinion in October stated the district wasn’t authorized to use the act from the court orders.

Then, the district began to seek out alternative funding for that. In the past, about $19 million in property taxes existed. That’s when the district worked on the education fund, which increased by 58 cents from $3.12 to $3.70 via a referendum approved by voters in April.

To collect that money, the district needed to amend a certificate of levy filed in December. “Before we could amend that, we had to amend the budget. We needed that budget to support the certificate of levy,” he said.

He said the district didn’t amend anything else other than to reflect what was necessary to get an increase, and that was the only item amended in the budget. “We had lost the revenue from the Tort Immunity Act, and we did not take that out,” Hoffman asserted. He said the district needed to amend the budget, so it had a number to support the certificate of levy.

Superintendent Dr. Alan Brown said that six months ago, the district created a six-year budget designed to reach a balanced budget. He believes the district will reach that goal. Board member Stephanie Caltagerone said when the board amended the budget in January, the portion of the tort which the district would no longer be receiving was omitted from the budget.

“Between February and August, they put it back in to show a larger deficit,” she said. “I have no idea how or why that would happen. Certainly, the board will continue to investigate.”

Board member Ted Biondo said the state gave the board an additional $900,000. “We spent that,” he stated. “We had $2.7 million more; we spent that.” He said that there was then a prediction of $4.2 million and supposedly, the board lost $8.4 million.”

Mary Hitchcock of R.E.A.C.H. disagrees with the daily’s assertion the district forgot to deduct the amount. “Of course, they didn’t forget,” she said. “I don’t know why they made the mistake. I’m not surprised, because there’s no consideration whatsoever for the taxpayer.”

Hitchcock said she was referring to the administration, not the board. “They have no desire to make the cuts that have to be made,” she said.

Scott Richert, executive editor of Chronicles, the Rockford Institute’s magazine, said, “My initial reaction was that I couldn’t understand how the district could make such a mistake. Now, I’m not so certain it was a mistake. The administration and the school board were able to sell this April referendum largely because they said they were making cuts roughly equal to the amount of the referendum. Now, that turns out not to be the case.

“Ultimately, this ‘mistake’ proves what Mary Hitchock and I have been arguing for the past three years: that the end of the lawsuit will not mean the end of problems and high taxes in the Rockford School District.”

Mayor Doug Scott said the district can bounce back. He said one can argue the district shouldn’t miss something like this.

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