COVID tax extensions put St. Clair County schools under scrutiny

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Three of the six Illinois school districts to receive the lowest designation for their state financial profiles this year are in St. Clair County.

Delays in receiving property tax payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic explain the low rating, superintendents say.

Lebanon’s School District 9, School District 90 O’Fallon Consolidated, and Whiteside School District 115 were designated as “financial oversight” in 2021. Financial oversight is the lowest of the four designations for the school district’s financial profile. .

Last summer, St. Clair County pushed back its property tax collection schedule by one month to provide financial assistance to those struggling with COVID-19. The bulk of property taxes go to public schools.

Whiteside Superintendent Mark Heuring said the district needs to take out a line of credit for short-term funding in order to “bridge the gap.”

“It was an unfortunate moment,” he said.

Last year, Whiteside received the second highest designation, “financial review”, as did O’Fallon 90. Lebanon 9 was designated “early warning,” a level above financial oversight.

Between 15% and 20% of Lebanon 9’s budgeted money arrived three months later than expected, Superintendent Patrick Keeney said. The district made up the difference with a loan from its working capital and local loans.

“We literally borrowed the money for 30 to 45 days before we paid it back,” he said.

Superintendent O’Fallon 90, Carrie Hruby, said in an email that her district was also affected by the delay.

Of the 27 school districts in St. Clair County, 11 saw their designation drop by at least one level between 2019 and 2020. Three increased their rankings: Grant Consolidated Community School District 110, New Athens Community Unit School District 60 and O’Fallon Township School District 203.

This trend was unusual compared to other counties in Illinois, most of which have seen school districts maintain or improve their financial designations.

The three school districts that are not in St. Clair County on the Financial Watch List are Calhoun Community Unit School District 40, Tri Point Community Unit School District, and School District 34 of the North Mac Community Unit.

Most counties in Illinois were eligible to grant residents an extension of their property taxes under public law, including Livingston County, where Tri Point CUSD is located.

For comparison, Madison County has granted a two-month extension to allow residents to pay their first property tax deposit, and is one of only two counties in Illinois to divide property taxes into four installments instead of two.

St. Clair County collected almost 99% of its property taxes in 2020 and even increased its rate slightly from the previous year. Although the districts experienced delays in some funding, they were eventually paid close to the total amount collected.

“We had one of our best collections in recent memory,” said Andrew Lopinot, St. Clair County Treasurer. “Typically, we could see around 5,000 properties going for tax sale, and it was closer to less than 4,000 properties in our tax sales. We had a high collection rate this year. ”

Lopinot said a handful of other county treasurers had offered tax extensions or delays, but not all.

School districts received federal funds to help with the transition to distance learning in the fall, but many districts needed the funds to purchase devices like Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots. for students.

The School District Financial Profile aims to monitor school district finances and identify those who are heading into financial difficulty.

The government uses five indicators: the ratio of fund balance to revenue, expenditure to revenue ratio, cash days, percentage of short-term borrowing capacity remaining and percentage of long-term debt margin remaining. .

School districts put under financial supervision are more closely monitored by the Illinois State Board of Education and will be reviewed to determine if they meet the criteria to qualify for a state-appointed financial oversight committee, such as the one implemented in East St. Louis School District 189.

This story was updated at 12:20 p.m. on Thursday April 29 to include information from O’Fallon 90.

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