Litchfield Board Hears Audit, Approves Bonds

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It was a night of numbers for members of the Litchfield School Board, who approved the district’s annual audit and issued $25 million in bonds for new construction and rehabilitation projects on elementary school buildings.

The board met on Thursday evening, Oct. 15, for their regular monthly meeting at Sihler School. Board members Valerie Cain (who just had a baby) and Gregg Hires were absent from the meeting.

First up, Sarah Smith and Josh Andres of Scheffel Boyle presented their findings in the district’s annual audit. Following the Illinois State Board of Education’s basis of reporting, the district received a clean, unmodified opinion with no issues. 

In the education fund, Smith noted an increase in revenues and expenditures as the district took on the employees of Mid-State Special Education. Since the district pays teachers and aides more than Mid-State, that accounted for additional expenses, although the district did receive additional federal funding as well.

She said the district also showed an increase of about 5 percent in the education fund, due to additional Education Based Funding from the state. The district will not receive that additional funding in the coming year, and will also see a decrease in tax levy dollars and corporate personal property replacement tax. 

Other funds stayed the same, except for transportation, which saw an increase due to the purchase of several new buses. The district also received a $50,000 maintenance grant from the state. 

Overall, Smith said the district received a 3.55 out of 4 rating, which is down a little from last year’s 3.9 out of 4, but Smith said that was due to spending a little more than the district brought in.

Board member Mike Fleming asked about the district’s pension liability, which comes in at $44 million. Currently, that liability belongs to the state, but Smith said in the past there has been talk of passing that onto local school districts, which is why it is included in the audit. She said she hasn’t heard that option suggested in a while, though. Fleming asked if there was anything the district should do to prepare for it, and Smith said no, if the state mandated that, they would likely have to give the district a mechanism to pay for it, which would likely fall back on the taxpayers.

Before concluding her report, Smith said they reviewed three federal grants the district receives and offered a few small measures that would help with efficiency and internal control. She added that district administration was already working to implement the changes.

Board members approved the audit unanimously.

After the report from Scheffel Boyle, Kendall King of Kings Financial Consulting presented the board with three resolutions to issue $25 million in bonds for working cash as well as capital improvement projects to rehabilitate the Colt School building and erect a new second through fifth grade building downtown.

The district issued $2.36 million in general obligation bonds to be used for working cash, as well as $12 million in alternate revenue bonds and $8.5 million in health life safety bonds.

King said it was a long process, but an exciting time for the district. 

The $2.36 million in working cash bonds and $12 in alternate revenue bonds were all placed with local banks in Litchfield.

“That’s a huge win for the district,” King said. “They all stepped up with a very, very fair rate for the district. Plus it cuts out substantial fees (about $60,000).”

Those bonds will close on Nov. 2, and the district will receive the money on that day. 

The health life safety bonds are up for a public offering, and will be finalized shortly.  King said it was a good time to buy bonds with low interest rates, and the payback plan should not have a significant impact on local taxpayers. In three years, the district will have another opportunity to issue working cash bonds.

“Kendall did a great job, and he was great to work with,” said Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau. “When you get local support, it’s a huge help. We are blessed in this community.”

Board members approved all three bond resolutions. Fleming would not vote on the $2.36 million in working cash bonds and abstained from the other two votes. He is currently the president of Litchfield National Bank, who purchased some of the bonds from the district.

In approving the consent agenda, Dr. Fuerstenau added one additional bill for $148,947.31, as the district closed on the property at W. St. John Street for the new elementary school. Moving forward the district will handle taking care of the grounds.

“We will get it cleaned up and looking top notch as soon as possible,” said Building and Grounds Coordinator Bob Witter. 

Board President Julie Abel said Litchfield Unlimited would be taking its signs down, and Witter suggested the district get signs noting the future home of the school.

In addition to the property purchase, the board approved $357,077 in bills for October. That includes $297,400 from the education fund, $29,101 from operations and maintenance, $28,377 from transportation and $2,199 from tort.

The treasurer’s report notes the total of all district funds as of Sept. 30 is $7.9 million, with $5.94 million in operating funds and $699,211 in capital projects.

Information Items

Dr. Fuerstenau presented the monthly enrollment  report, noting the district is still concerned about missing some kindergarten students who are not registered. In the state of Illinois, students are not required to attend kindergarten, but he feels they are missing 30 to 40 students, based on pre-K numbers from last year. 

The administration team reported the district finished its second week of four-day weeks for in-person learning. They made a change to allow high school students to return after the end of the first quarter, instead of the semester. Elementary and middle school students who chose all-remote but wish to return to in-person learning may do so at the end of the first trimester at the beginning of March.

“As we continue to move forward and take these students back in, we see no reason to change the schedule through December,” said Dr. Fuerstenau.

In his report, LHS Principal Doug Hoster said seniors took the SAT and juniors took the PSAT. He added the first quarter ends on Oct. 16, meaning report cards will go home and the school will host parent-teacher conferences by phone. More than 30 high school students will return to in-person learning on Monday.

The administration team reported that they got good feedback from the latest Capturing Kids Hearts visit at all schools, and students are excited for the return of hot meals at breakfast and lunch. Dr. Fuerstenau said the district received a waiver from the USDA to continue providing free meals for all students through June 30.

Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson reported half of the Wi-Fi hotspots have been delivered to the district and they hope to assign them to families soon. Families with no internet access receive first priority.

“We just want to thank every district employee for their hard work in safely keeping our schools open,” said Abel.

In his report, Dr. Fuerstenau said the district will receive a state report card from the ISBE, but with no spring testing, it will be the same results as last year.

He added that he attended Title 9 training with LMS Principal Dr. Russ Tepen, who will be the district’s Title 9 coordinator.

In a final note, Dr. Fuerstenau reminded the board that Hoster is retiring at the end of the school year, and they will begin the search for a new high school principal in January.

He also reminded the board that the next meeting will be held on Tuesday evening, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. at Sihler School. In a typical year, the board attends the annual school board conference in Chicago that week, so they always move their Thursday meeting. They will not be attending conference this year, but the meeting was already set for that date.

With no closed session and no personnel changes, the board voted to adjourn at 7:32 p.m.

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