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Schools: Numbers sinking

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has released its annual financial profile of the state’s public schools, and the numbers were not good.

According to the report, more than 100 school districts dropped out of the highest financial ranking in the past year, and the number of districts in the lowest category doubled, reflecting the significant cuts to the state education budget and decreased local revenues of the past several years.

The report is of particular interest as state lawmakers are considering additional funding reductions after already slashing nearly $900 million from the K-12 education budget since 2009.

“It is no surprise that our analysis shows the harmful effects of multiple cuts to education funding by the legislature. School districts have already eliminated thousands of teaching positions, increased class sizes, delayed facility repairs and so on, all in an effort to reduce expenses,” said board Chairman Gery J. Chico. “We cannot expect Illinois to remain competitive in a global economy if we continue to shirk our responsibility to children as our schools struggle to make ends meet.”

The Financial Profile is a snapshot in time that helps ISBE gauge school districts’ financial condition. The profile is based on an analysis of school districts’ annual financial reports, and each district receives a designation ranging from Financial Recognition, down through Financial Review, Financial Early Warning and Financial Watch.

The designation is created by using five indicators of financial performance, which include fund balance to revenue ratio, expenditures to revenues ratio, days cash on hand, percent of short-term borrowing available, and percent of long-term debt remaining.

The profiles are determined using revised Fiscal Year 2011 data that takes into account the state remains behind in payments for the third consecutive year to school districts. As of last week, the state owed more than $4.4 billion in overdue payments, including $729 million in education-related bills.

The 2013 Financial Profile scores show that the number of districts in Financial Recognition, the highest category, decreased from 670 last year to this year’s 562 or 65 percent of the state’s 865 districts. The number of districts listed in Financial Watch, the lowest designation, increased from 17 last year to 45 this year. Additionally, nearly 13 percent of the state’s school districts are in the lowest two designation categories for 2013 compared to 6.2 percent last year.

In Bureau County, eight of the county’s 14 districts received the Financial Recognition designation, six fewer than last year.

Once again LaMoille High School received a perfect 4.0, and it was joined this year by the Ohio High School District, also with a 4.0.

Following in the Recognition category were DePue with a 3.8; Spring Valley Elementary with 3.7; Princeton High School with a 3.65; and Dalzell, Ladd and Ohio Grade School, each with a 3.55.

Following in the Review category were Hall High School and Malden, each with a 3.45.
Cherry remained in the Early Warning category, joined by the Princeton Elementary District, each with a 2.75.

Only two districts were in the Financial Watch category. Bureau Valley appeared there for the first time with a 2.30, dropping from last year’s 3.35. Leepertown, which has since been annexed into the Ladd School District, completed the list with a 2.1.

Overall, the Ohio High School District was the only district to improve its rating, climbing from a 3.9 to the 4.0.

Cherry, DePue, LaMoille, Princeton High School and Spring Valley Elementary all saw their ratings remain the same, while the remaining eight districts saw their ratings drop.

The financial picture is not expected to improve in the near future. Information provided by school districts for Fiscal Year 2013 forecasts that the number of districts deficit-spending will increase to 573 or 66.7 percent of all districts, compared to 415 or 48.2 percent in Fiscal Year 2012.

To help ease school district’s financial burden, the ISBE is asking for an $875 million increase in preschool-12th grade education funding for Fiscal Year 2014 over the previous year, a majority of which would go directly to districts through the GSA formula.

“The Illinois State Board of Education is simply asking for what is required by law in fully funding General State Aid,” said Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch “While we understand that difficult decisions must be made and that there is a great deal of pressure on the state budget, we are asking the legislature to meet its constitutional commitment. This recommendation is aggressive but desperately needed to provide much-needed financial relief to districts.”

The 2013 Financial Profile for all districts in Illinois can be found online at:

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