Reporters at the Daily Southtown, based in southwest-suburban Tinley Park, Illinois, it seems, are having a hard time getting a hold of officials in Lincoln-Way District 210 over a financial report that wasn’t released to the public in 2014 and shows the district, which closed Lincoln-Way North High School only eight years after building it, to be in poor financial health.
The 2014 report presented to the District 210 board by Steven Crouse, a senior financial analyst at PMA Financial, but never released to the public until the Southtown dug for it, leaves very little doubt—with pictures, even—that the district was headed for financial ruin and wouldn’t be able to serve students unless drastic action reversed the death spiral.
District officials, as has been widely reported, took those drastic steps in closing Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort after the commencement ceremonies for the 2015-16 school year. The school first opened in the 2008-09 school year. In 2015, the district joined the Illinois State Board of Education’s financial watch list, so even though the district’s secrecy kept its poor financial health out of the pubic eye temporarily, there were signs and symptoms of financial woes in the district long before the Southtown published its exposé.
However, Scott Tingley, the district’s superintendent, posted a balanced budget in 2015, and that has clearly baffled reporters. That, and more recent secrecy, led Southtown columnist Ted Slowik to predict earlier today that people were going to show up at tomorrow’s board meeting to seek answers from Mr Tingley, who, like only one elected school board member, is still in the district after 2014’s non-release of the PMA Financial report.
The district still has problems to overcome, as financial woes with this many zeroes take time. There’s also a clear lack of transparency at District 210, and any guess as to the cause of that opaque window is merely speculation.
Some recovery for the financial troubles may be in sight, given the assistance the ISBE can provide as a result of the watch-list designation. But the way it works in Illinois, if the district doesn’t actively seek that help from the state, the district can mismanage itself right down a rabbit hole, since the state doesn’t have enforcement authority over a district’s finances.
“A lot of people thought the state was keeping an eye on things and therefore we can sit back and accept whatever they say,” the Chicago Tribune quoted Steven Wahlert, a New Lenox Township resident who has studied the district’s finances, as saying in November 2016. “We found that’s a definite lesson learned.”