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State releases school funds

Mount Vernon Register News

Tuesday, November 14, 2017  |  Article  |  Travis Morse

Education Funding (36a)
The state has released the final installment of categorical funds from last fiscal year, but not all area schools report being caught up in reimbursements.

Categorical funds are dispersed to Illinois schools to spend on transportation, special education, and a few other programs like tuition reimbursement for students who are orphans.

Mt. Vernon Township High School is still owed about $427,000 from fiscal year 2017, in the categories of special education/orphanage and orphanage tuition, said MVTHS Finance Director Angie Brentlinger.

The late funding is a concern but otherwise MVTHS is in a healthy place financially, Brentlinger said. The district recently received a property tax payment, which was a great help, she said.

“Right at this very moment, I'm feeling comfortable with our cash flow,” Brentlinger said.

In late October, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza reported the release of the final installment of last fiscal year's categorical funds. Last year was fiscal year 2017 and schools are currently in the second quarter of FY '18. The categorical funds released totaled $421 million, according to a news release from the Comptroller's Office.

“When Comptroller Mendoza took office in December, she found the state was behind on two of the quarterly categorical payments,” the release states.

Many area school districts report being caught up on most of their FY'17 categorical payments.

Mt. Vernon City Schools District 80 has received all of last year's funds, but is owed $760,870 in categorical funding for the current fiscal year, said Superintendent Aletta Lawrence.

“But I do think they're catching up as quickly as they can,” Lawrence said of the state, adding of D-80's finances, “We're in a good place right now. I would hope that these bills could get cleared pretty quickly so we're not left with such a big number every month that the state owes us.”

Woodlawn Unit School District 209 has received all of its FY'17 categorical funding except for one small payment of about $200 for agriculture class supplies, said Superintendent David Larkin.

“I'd say we're making progress,” Larkin said. “We're ahead of where we were at this point last year and I hope we continue to improve.”

Bethel Grade School is caught up in its FY'17 funding for special education and transportation but is still owed about $3,000 for orphanage tuition, said Superintendent Craig Kujawa.

Kujawa said Bethel is in good financial standing, especially now that property tax bills are due a month earlier than the prior year.

In addition, Spring Garden School District, Rome Grade School, Grand Prairie Elementary School, and McClellan Grade School all report being caught up on their categorical payments from FY'17.

Even so, Grand Prairie Superintendent Ryan Robinson pointed out the state owes his district about $30,000 in categorical funds for the current fiscal year.

“We should be getting four payments this fiscal year for transportation,” Robinson said. “Only one was supposedly disbursed, but it has not been processed by the Comptroller. That means we do not have it. … That is a lot of money for a small district like ours.”

Grand Prairie, though, is getting its general state aid payments on time, Robinson said. General state aid is another component of school funding, in addition to categorical funds.

Rome Superintendent Erik Estill said schools should likely see revenue from the new evidence-based funding formula for general state aid early next year. Estimates are that Rome will receive about $174,000 more a year in aid based on that formula, Estill said.

“We're looking forward to this evidence-based funding,” Estill said.