Jones, Ives push Ford Heights School District toward consolidation
With no state budget in place, Ford Heights School District (SD) 169 is on the brink of disaster, two state representatives say.
According to Reps. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) and Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City), the district is suffering from one of the worst financial crises ever to hit a local school district. From little to no tax base, high costs per pupil and a superintendent they say is grossly overpaid.
The only way they see to save the district is to consolidate it with neighboring Chicago Heights School District 170. That's what House Bill 3052 would do.
Jones told the South Cook News said consolidation is an important personal issue for him.
“The goal of HB3052 is to stop the massive theft of funds by the superintendent, Dr. Greg Jackson, and school board through questionable bond deals, vendor contracts and unnecessary expenditures of funds,” Jones said. “The district is spending $27,125 per student -- one of the highest in the State of Illinois; however, only 20 percent of the $27,125 is being spent on student instruction. Furthermore, the district is over $20 million in debt -- one of the highest in the state -- with no plan of repayment.”
Jones argued that Jackson's pay could not be justified.
“There are only 411 students enrolled at SD169; however, Superintendent Jackson muscled a new contract for himself, which the board approved, that provided him with Cadillac benefits worth an estimated $412,000 annually," he said.
In fact, it was revealed that the school board authorized a revision in Jackson’s contract in late March that guarantees him approximately $1.8 million if HB3052 passes, Jones said.
South Cook News obtained a copy of the revision that clearly lays out a contingency plan for the superintendent’s pay if the consolidation passes the Legislature.
“Further in the event of the dissolution, consolidation, combination, merger and/or annexation of the District as provided in House Bill 3052 or as however it may be amended... the Superintendent shall be paid by the District the equivalent value of all compensation and benefits due and owing for the remaining term of the Agreement...,” the amended contract reads.
Jackson received a total payout of $330,000 in 2016, Jones said.
“This is the same superintendent who was fired from a school district in Proviso Township under the same cloud of allegations,” Jones said. “As a graduate of Ford Heights School District 169, the education of young black kids in Ford Heights should be the same as children throughout our state.”
Under HB3052, an audit of the school’s finances by an independent entity will be required.
The South Cook News acquired the district’s budgetary documents in an effort to understand other financial commitments of the district. Estimates show more than $2.3 million being spent on non-teacher employees and administrators. For the 411 students and two school buildings, there are 10 full-time custodians, nine full-time secretaries, two principals, two assistant principals and two attendance officers among several other district-level positions.
The district's annual transportation budget is approximately $1.6 million annually, and although only half of that was used, it was still several times higher the average expenditure of similar-sized school districts.
District 169 is also $20 million in debt, with no contingency plan in place to pay creditors.
Ives (R–Wheaton) says consolidation would save taxpayers' money.
“The Ford Heights School District 169 is just one example of how out of control these school boards have gotten in regards to accumulating debt that requires increasing property taxes to service the debt,” Ives said. “Businesses are paying exorbitant tax rates and are threatening to leave if they don't get some relief, and still the board will not listen. I feel legislative action is appropriate in this case to protect homeowners and businesses.”
In fact, most of the district's tax revenue comes from businesses in the Chicago Heights industrial complex.
“Our staff analysis shows that this bill would lower taxes by 25 percent,” Ives said. “It also appears that the school keeps taxing at high rates despite having sufficient reserves, so they are apparently hoarding taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers are being taken advantage of, and it is time to expose what's going on and fix the problems.”
HB3052 is one of the bills still under consideration in a special legislative session. Sen. Napoleon Harris III (D-Harvey) is the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.