by Dennis Sullivan
April 15, 2014
A local CPA is blasting the Crete-Monee School board for failing to rein in costs overall, and for neglecting Crete facilities in particular.
Crete resident Doris Harmon-Warren, speaking at Monday’s village board meeting, said the district operated a $3 million deficit this year — repeating last year’s deficit.
“We don’t have enough money to cover the cost,” she said. “In the last 10 years, they haven’t been in the black a lot.”
Harmon-Warren said the board of education is approving a plan that:
- Expands classroom space in Monee and University Park,
- Spends $2 million on additional school district improvements,
- Leaves existing Crete buildings “as is” unless residents authorize improvements in a referendum,
- Spends down all of the $21 million it has received in state grant money,
- Anticipates continued annual losses and
- Fails to address Life-Safety issues.
District plans, Harmon-Warren said, also call for moving students out of the Early Learning Center east of Crete-Monee High School.
Steve Johnson, the village trustee most closely involved with the school district, said the issues outlined by Harmon-Warren are significantly different from those he and other members of an advisory group had worked out with the board of education.
“I didn’t think it was feasible to do that,” Johnson said of one of the items Harmon-Warren reported on.
Trustee Dan Taylor agreed Harmon-Warren’s information came as a surprise.
“This not what the community said should be the road map — at all,” Taylor said.
Mayor Mike Einhorn recalled the school district previously “had rated all this stuff,” during a third needs analysis by consultants, and questioned why the analysis was done.
Harmon-Warren said the K-12 school district accounts for 63.14 percent of a property owner’s tax bill — 65.76 if rebated money is included. Using a $140,000 home as an example, she said the owner paid $5,215.56 in property taxes, with the school district taking $3,293.15.
Harmon-Warren also said there is no direct relationship between district spending and the number of students — currently 5,164 — from Monee and most of Crete and University Park, as well as the Will County portion of Park Forest.
“We’re not going up in student enrollment,” she said, citing discussions at school board finance committee meetings.
In addition, she said, the district is spending $1 million on salaries at the Monee Education Center, which serves 40 students.Board of education members — all unpaid — are elected from geographic-based districts within the school district.
Harmon-Warren, who unsuccessfully ran for the school board’s district 5 seat in 2007, attributed part of the problem to board members’ lack of a financial background.
But she was quick to acknowledge Finance Committee Chairman Maurice Brown’s engineering background. She also credited Brown with allowing “give and take” between the committee and residents attending the meetings.
Harmon-Warren said Crete is the first of several village boards she intends to address on the issue.
“It’s time for everyone to begin thinking about how we get better decisions,” she said, noting four of Crete-Monee’s seven school board positions are coming up for election.
“I want you to know the direction they’re taking,” Harmon-Warren said. “It’s coming up soon. They want to have this done by next fall.”
Original material copyright 2014 Eastern Will County News; all rights reserved.
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