ISBE requests accounting rule change, seeks budget input

Capitol News

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (WCIA) — The State Board of Education invited public comments and solicited project requests ahead of making its official budget recommendation to the legislature next year during an open hearing.

School board officials hosted their first of four public budget hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday at the School District 189 building in East St. Louis.

Parents, teachers, and administrators submitted a wide variety of ideas, including requests for the state to increase funding for agricultural education, teacher mentoring programs, smaller class sizes, and transportation.

“We are taking those requests online this year,” ISBE spokesperson Jackie Mathews said. “We rolled out a new online form for the first time this year where we’re asking everyone, even if they come and testify in person, to submit those budget requests online.”

You can submit a budget or spending request to the Illinois State Board of Education at this website.

The state board plans to hold three more budget hearings open to the public. The next meeting will be one week from today on October 23rd, in the Bloomington High School cafeteria. Two more meetings are scheduled in Chicago and Mount Vernon next month.

During Wednesday’s hearing, school board officials proposed a rule change to allow school districts more flexibility in how they code or count their expenses so they can accurately distinguish risk management or liability costs and keep them separate from the administrative expense column.

The well-funded conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute published a report last month criticizing local school districts for “administrative bloat.” However, that report relied on misleading data to make an apples-to-oranges comparison, and then used that data to argue in favor of closing local school districts.

“We took a look at that report and those numbers, and it turns out that Illinois is not reporting data that is comparable to other states,” Mathews confirmed on Wednesday.

“Illinois uses an accounting protocol that we implemented in 2009 that has school districts report anything related to risk management or liability — it’s called the tort fund — into a single line item,” she explained. “That is part of the administrative bucket of costs. The rule that we’re proposing today would help bring us in line and our reporting here in Illinois in line with other states, and that would allow school districts to report different expenses that are related to that category into different lines.”

Mathews did not predict whether or not the total administrative spending would drop to similar totals as nearby states, but said “the accounting would be on par,” under a new rule change, which could take up to six months or longer to implement.

“But this will fix and bring us, make our data comparable to other states,” she said.

She said many school districts could be counting insurance expenses for school buses in along with “administrative” expenses, which significantly inflates the appearance of the total cost in that line item.

“Currently, because that is part of risk management, that is part of liability, that gets reported in the tort fund, and that gets reported as part of administrative costs,” she said.

“Other states give school districts more flexibility to say, ‘Where does that expense belong in your accounting?’ Some school districts might say, ‘That actually belongs in transportation.’ Or, ‘That actually belongs in student services.’ And those are things that would not be included in purely administrative costs.”

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