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BUILDING A BETTER DISTRICT

Information | Communication | Transparency | Accountability

A Movement By Citizens  Demanding Transparency, Accountability, and Community Engagement for school districts in the State of Illinois.

Building A Better District is a taxpayer-led movement and is not affiliated with, nor endorsed by, the State or Regional Board of Education, any individual school district, or administration/Board of Education. 


Questions Related to the $5 Million Purchase of 300+ Acres On Route 47

In the month of May, Micheline Welch sent a letter to Dr. Esther Mongan asking for clarification on the purchase of 300+ acres off of Route 47 as it relates to the $5 million used for the purchase.  These questions were asked after the expense for this purchase showed up as an "actual expense" on a GL Code for "Grounds/Improvements" that had an original budget amount of $90,000 for the year.  The $5 million expense is well above and beyond the $90,000 budgeted line item.

In June's Board of Education meeting, Diana Pflug, the district's business manager, stated, "School code says that the budgeted expenditures is an estimate um it does not expressly prohibit expenditures from going over."  Our district business manager is inferring that our budget is just a suggestion.

While it is true that ISBE says in its document Mechanics of a School Budget, "The budget is an estimate of revenues, expenditures and other sources/uses and is not be expected to come out exactly to the penny. The budget is a tentative outline or plan for the fiscal year", we are certain that they would consider a $5 million change in budget expenditures worthy of a budget amendment and the appropriate hearing before the public.  School finance is quite convoluted. If we asked our board members to explain Ms. Pflug's explanation on moving around fund balances and so on, could they easily explain to a community member exactly how that works and what that means and what she just proposed that they approved?

There are limits such as the 5% tax cap that are meant as a check and balance to keep districts from overextending their tax base.  Truth-in-Taxation hearings exist for the board to scrutinize the budget to make sure there are no areas that could be remedied in order to avoid exceeding that 5% tax cap.  We've exceeded our tax cap 2 years in a row now by unanimous board approval.  Now our district is saying they can spend $5 million additional taxpayer dollars without it being in a budget or subject to budget amendment.  Clearly there are insufficient checks and balances on school district spending when you take a look at the 2023-2024 operational year in Central 301.   Our board of education never says "no".

See the Q & A on this topic below, then revisit the June Board of Education meeting playback to see if you agree that the public should not have been notified that the budget would have an additional $5 million expenditure in it.

Community Question

District's Answer

1. Where did the funds to purchase the 300+ acres on Route 47 come from? Was it derived from the current year’s approved budget and revenues? If so, what line items were determined to be unnecessary in the budget and the revenues diverted from them? 

 


The funds to purchase this land were not listed in a specific line item in the budget and will be paid for out of fund balance reserves. This purchase of land will be partially offset by the sale of other district property, which will reduce the impact in the budget.  No line items were determined unnecessary.


2. Where can I find that $5 million in our revenues to line up with the expenditure since the expenditure is coded to our budget in Fund 20 O&M?  

This expenditure was coded out of Fund 20 and the revenues from the sales of other district property will be put into this same fund.  Per our auditor this could be recorded into either Fund 20 or Fund 60.


3. Is there a reason why this expense was not coded to Fund 60 for Capital Expenditures?


As answered above, per our auditor this could be recorded into either Fund 20 or Fund 60.


4. What district policies or procedures govern making a change in an approved budgeted amount (especially such a dramatic one) over what was presented to the taxpayers for a line item after a budget has been approved and presented to the taxpayers?  

5. As the budget was already approved, I’m assuming the Board of Education had to meet and approve this purchase and whatever funds were used for it. Can you tell me the date of the board meeting where this decision was made? 

November 20, 2023 (BABD Note: in this meeting the board approved the purchase of the land on Route 47)

6. I know a resolution was made in November 2023 that would have allowed the district to reimburse itself for “certain capital expenditures” from the $195 million referendum, had it passed. Was it the intention of the district to reimburse itself for the purchase of the Route 47 parcels from those proceeds? If so, now that the referendum stands defeated, how would these funds be replaced?  

The district did not intend to reimburse itself for the purchase of Route 47 from the defeated referendum.  The purchase of this property is coming out of the district’s current fund balances. These funds will not be replaced. 

 


7. The Mechanics of a School Budget outlines the procedure for amending a budget after approval, requiring a public hearing on the matter and a 30-day notice to the public notifying them about said meeting. I don’t see where such a meeting took place. I would assume a $5 million change would warrant such a meeting. If it wasn’t derived from the approved budget, what is the process by which the district must Notify the public of its intent to secure funds for such a purchase? I’m assuming it is our burden as taxpayers to pay for, so where did the money or debt to secure the money come from? 

 



The Mechanics of a School Budget is a guidance tool for schools to use, not the law.  The School Code requires the budget to include “an estimate of the expenditures contemplated for such fiscal year.” 105 ILCS 5/17-1 (emphasis added). It does not address when an amendment to the budget is mandatory.  Note that Board Policy 4:10 states: “The amount budgeted as the expenditure in each fund is the maximum amount that may be expended for that category, except when a transfer of funds is authorized by the Board.”  In this case, the District will not be amending the budget, but will determine if a transfer is necessary to offset expenditures.  The purchase of this property is coming out of the district’s current fund balances, and no new debt was taken on to purchase the property. 

As it relates to the $4 million line item placed in the budget for new high school planning, I am attaching a copy of an invoice from Larson & Darby showing that at some point in time, a Phase Fee”, of $4.2 million was agreed upon between the district and Larson & Darby. This would have been outside of the scope of work outlined in their Master Agreement. At what point in time was an addendum for $4.2 million approved by our board of education for the proposed high school as I cannot find it in the May 2023 or June 2023 board meeting agendas, nor can I find it in the meeting minutes.  

We do have a Master Agreement that does cover a variety of projects, which is a common practice within many school districts. This project was approved through the budget approval process during the September 18, 2023, Board meeting.


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