Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole story.
That adage has proven true once again, this time as it relates to spending in local school districts.
A recent article on the website South West Illinois News reported the Valmeyer Community Unit School District had overspent by $3.82 million in the last decade.
That is according to data culled from the Illinois Local Education Agency Retrieval Network website, which is operated by the Illinois State Board of Education.
While the numbers on that site are correct, a closer examination reveals the district has not overspent by such exorbitant sums.
Valmeyer Superintendent Eric Frankford said those numbers do not take into account the district’s recent construction projects.
“They’re using construction projects as a way of showing that we’re spending more than we have in the past,” Frankford said. “That would be like you buying a $200,000 house and me saying ‘look, you spent $200,000 more this year than you have in the past.’ Well, that’s true, but that’s not a way to do a trend line expenditure for an entity.”
Frankford also explained that when construction projects are taken into account, the true number the district appears to be overspending by each year is closer to $300,000.
That figure is explained by the district selling working cash bonds twice since 2008, each time borrowing $1.5 million and agreeing to deficit spend approximately $300,000 a year for five years.
The district then uses that $300,000 to balance its budget.
Valmeyer voters approved that action on two referendums on the subject.
“The voters were informed,” Frankford said. “We’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do. And the voters approved it by a 3-1 margin.”
Frankford also added the district has a 3.55 financial rating with the state, with 4 being the highest score.
An analysis of the data on ILEARN also painted a grim picture for Waterloo Community Unit School District.
According to that database, the district has overspent by more than $48 million in the last three years alone.
But, again, the numbers do not tell the whole story.
The biggest reason for that deficit was a 2017 shortfall of almost $44 million.
What the data does not show is the district restructured more than $42 million in debt that year. The site only shows the expenditure of paying off the old debt, but not the new debt in its place.
“We actually restructured debt to get a lower interest rate and saved taxpayers $1.4 million by doing so,” superintendent Brian Charron said. “It’s not like we just leaked out an extra $44 million last year.”
In the other years, the deficits came from major renovations at two schools, but Charron said those deficits are planned.
Charron said that is also the case when there are legitimate, but not catastrophic, deficits.
“There’s just some years where we are consciously spending down our reserves because of a lack of funding from the state and local resources,” he said.
“We’ve done everything in accordance with our budget,” he added.
The district has a 3.6 financial rating with the state.
The only local school district where the data showed a surplus was in Columbia.
There, according to ILEARN, the district has had surpluses the last three years of over $2 million.
“I have always been very conservative when developing the budget and strive to live within the anticipated state and local revenue,” superintendent Gina Segobiano noted. “Columbia is fortunate to have a solid EAV (equalized assess value) base that generates an estimated 78 percent of funding for school operations. Coupled with me watching every penny spent and an understanding faculty, staff and board members, the school district has maintained financial health and stability.”
The district has a 3.9 financial score with Illinois.