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Orland School District 135 Moves Paying Dividends

 

Seven weeks after the Orland School District 135 Board of Education accepted the resignation of its assistant superintendent for business services and then immediately split the position into two, the move is paying dividends, several board members said earlier this week.

The thoughts were offered at the school board’s committee-of-the-whole meeting held Monday evening at Orland Junior High School, 14855 S. West Ave., Orland Park.

The centerpiece of the meeting was a discussion of district finances. The first was a look at an amended budget proposed by Carl L. Forn, the district’s new full-time director of finance of schools, and the second was a report released by Jan V. Prieto-McCarthy, the new part-time board treasurer.

In a nod to increased transparency, board President Joseph La Margo added that the financial information discussed at the committee meeting will soon be posted at orland135.org, the district’s website.

“It’s just check and balances,” La Margo. “As you can see, Carl’s saying one thing, and the treasurer’s report is reconciling to what he’s saying. It’s doing exactly what I wanted when I asked for the two separate positions. They are independent people looking at the same financials.”

In his presentation, Forn talked about amending the district’s budget to reflect a previously approved purchase of new computers, including nearly 2,000 MacBook Air laptops for junior high students and more than 550 iPad Air tablets for third graders.

The move is part of a plan announced several months ago to equip every student in the district (grades 3 through 8) with a take-home computer within five years.

The revised budget also includes a $4.7 million transfer that was used last fall to retire the district debt early as a means of saving money on local property tax bills.

“We had to correct the budget, and it was like, ‘Hey guys, we moved $4.7 million that was not part of the budget. We abated the property taxes that were included in the budget, so now we have to amend the budget, because basically we’re substituting fund balance for debt service tax levy,’” Forn added.

The bottom line, Forn said, is that district finances remain stable and taxpayers still enjoy the benefits of a rebate.

“I mean, the reduction of the levy for debt service will mean something to the average person, but for the school district, that doesn’t change our education fund levy. It doesn’t change our operations money. It just says, ‘Hey, you know what? We owed some money, we paid off the money, and we don’t owe it anymore. So we don’t need to reach into your pockets for that amount of money anymore.”

The district current has more than $50 million in reserves.

After the meeting, board Vice President Michael Carroll gave Forn a pat on the back and said, “Nicely done.” He also praised Prieto-McCarthy for sharing a treasurer’s report, saying that the board “never had the luxury” of such monthly reports in the past.

La Margo added, “Since Day 1, I’ve kept a very close eye on our financials. We’re retiring debt, which is always good, which will result in real savings to the homeowners, taxpayers. We’ve got a healthy fund balance and making sure that we are not dipping below the revenues that are coming in.

“The computers are a necessity, and we’re not borrowing money to purchase them. We’re taking it from our fund balance, which is what it’s designed for,” he continued.

What La Margo is “more excited about,” he said “is looking forward to finally have a fund balance policy that the board has to live with. We’ve never had that before. We had a fund balance, but never a fund balance policy.”

A draft policy is expected to be considered by the board in the weeks ahead.

“We’ll set a floor, so you’ll not be able to dip under it, so you won’t be able to open up the floodgates and start spending as much money as you want, and we’re putting a ceiling, too, to prevent what the former board did, which was hoard the money and not spend the money on teachers, students and everything.”

After the committee meeting, the public was offered an opportunity to comment on the proposed amended budget at the regular board meeting. No one spoke. The document will be on public display for 30 days, per state law, and will be voted on next month.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, April 14 at the district’s administration center, 15100 S. 94th Ave., Orland Park. The public is invited.

 

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