A superintendent of a school district serving a small community in western Illinois is bullish about the future, despite it being named high on a list of those in financial distress.
Pleasant Hill Community Unit School District 3, which serves a town of just over 1.000 people in Pike County north of St. Louis, was third on the 2018 financial ratings list compiled by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Ron Edwards, the school district's superintendent, does not dispute the district is financially troubled but blames years of cuts in state aid caused by the way the pot was divided among communities.
Over the last nine years, the amount the district, which covers one elementary and one high school, has received from the general state fund dropped from $1.3 million in 2007 to $937,000 last year due to the proration, Edwards told the West Central Reporter. Legislation signed in 2017, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, has made a difference but it is small, Edwards said, adding that the district received an extra $22,000 but nevertheless was the first increase in years.
"I believe it is a situation that was created by the state of Illinois and not the Pleasant Hill School District," Edwards said of the ISBE rating, which gives the school a mark of 2.1, placing it on the state watch list.
ISBE, which starting the financial rating in 2003, evaluates fund-balance-to-revenue ratio, expenditure-to-revenue ratio, days cash on hand, and short-term and long-term borrowing ability. Scores range from between 1 and 2.61, which puts districts on "financial watch," to 2.62 and 3.07 on a warning, 3.08 and 3.53 on review, and 3.54 and 4.00 on recognition.
For the last nine years, the district has been starved of funds, which has led to cuts across the board, including transportation, with the result that is has dripped in to all reserves to pay expenses, including the largest, payroll, Edwards said. Another issue, and Edwards is clear that his view is not political, is health insurance.
Some decades ago, staff, with union backing, agreed to forego health insurance, and in return received extra in their pay packets, Edwards explained. But with the advent of Obamacare, the district had to provide health insurance, which amounts to a "significant" $180,000 a year.
Edwards believes the community cannot be taxed any extra on top of the $29 million a year members are already contributing. But, he said, the community has pulled and worked together, with staff and volunteers pitching in to help out, particularly to keep the sports programs running.
Staff are doubling up teaching with coaching. Edwards himself is an administrator, a teacher, and the coach of three sports teams.
"There is an uptick in the number of students," Edwards said. "Pleasant Hill will weather the storm with everyone working together."