Photo by Jeff Vorva. District 230 Assistant Superintendent Steve Langert said there were discrepancies in financial figures between District 230 and Cook County.
It’s been a confusing five-day period for District 230 and its financial status.
District officials are disputing figures reported in a daily newspaper and that their finances are a “mess” as alleged by an anonymous writer to the district whose letter was read aloud at last Thursday’s school board meeting.
The letter contained a copy of the individual’s tax bill, which highlighted the district’s pension and other post-employment benefits debt with a note stating, “your pensions are breaking the taxpayers in Illinois, keep up the great work!? What a mess!?” District 230 Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Steve Langert read at the meeting.
Figures from sample bills were also used in a Southtown Star column that reported the district is $23 million short and can’t pay 37.8 percent of its $37.5 million pension and healthcare debt, which likely sparked the letter.
The next day, Cook Country Treasurer Maria Pappas responded that her office used financial figures provided under the watch of the district and on Monday afternoon, the District sent out a lengthy statement explaining its finances.
“Cook County made their own calculations saying we could only pay 37 percent,” Langert said. “I don’t know how they could make that calculation and report it to the public.”
Pappas, however, said the $37.5 million is the combined totals for pension liability ($25.3 million) and Other Post Employment Benefits ($12.2 million) which was collected by the district’s pension agency. The total for both pension and OPEB is calculated with the district’s unfunded $23 million, which leaves the funded ratio at 37.8 percent.
“Those are their figures, I don’t make the figures or manipulate them in any way,” Pappas said. “Our calculations are done with simple math based on figures they provided.”
Langert said the finances are not a ‘’mess.’’
“We have no issues paying our pension obligations, we’ve never missed a payment and we’re very proud of how well we manage debt,” Langert said. “The post-retirement insurance benefits are a pay-as-you-go and when our employees retire they are replaced by less expensive employees.”
Langert also said that the school district could pay off 100 percent of its pension and OPEB debt. However, according to officials at the Treasurer’s Office, one of the ways to pay off 100 percent would be for the school district to completely pay the debt is by terminating OPEB. By law, the school district is not required to provide OPEB to its employees and could terminate the program at any time.
“I think the intentions are good and they’re trying to promote transparency by providing the taxpayers with this information, but unfortunately they really missed the mark,” Langert said.
Langert said he contacted the Cook County Treasurer’s Office to discuss the discrepancies in the figures published on the Cook County website and mailed to taxpayers in CHSD 230’s taxing district. Despite Langert’s concerns the numbers were provided by the IMRF who was overseen by the school district.
The taxpayers are able to view the school district’s financial information on the Cook County Treasurer’s Office website, cookcountytreasurer.com, by simply entering their property index number or searching by name of the taxing district.
After the meeting, some District 230 members were angry about the way they were portrayed in the media. School board member Tony Serratore called for the Southtown to retract the Jan. 27 column that cited the figures published on Cook County’s website.
“The article in the Southtown really got me going on this and I think since they never show up to our meetings anyway, I think we need to address with them the fact that there needs to be some sort of retraction,” Serratore said. “There was false information printed that is being shared with the residents in our district and I think that needs to be retracted.”
Board President Richard Nogal and Gay sent out a statement to the District 230 community Monday with a chart and a message that said “We hope to make clear that the property tax bill inaccurately implies that District 230 has a ‘shortage’ in meeting its pension and healthcare obligations. The District 230 school board and administration have kept a keen eye on its financial obligations and have met and will continue to meet 100 percent of those obligations.’’
Langert said the school district does not want to get into a situation where they say the Cook County Treasurer’s Office numbers are inaccurate and the school district numbers are accurate. However, he hopes next year the numbers more accurately depict the school district’s financial strength.
“I’m not surprised that the school districts are upset about the figures they submitted, it shows them in a negative light,” Pappas said. “Taxpayers are starting to see what’s going on in the school districts and municipalities and they are not happy with the way their tax dollars are being spent.”