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Niles schools fiscally sound

State releases district from emergency

NILES — It was a day for celebrating as the Niles City School District on Thursday was officially removed from state fiscal emergency.

Members of the Niles Board of Education and school administration joined the Niles Financial Planning and Supervision Commission to officially hear from State Auditor Keith Faber that they have been removed from the fiscal emergency designation.

“Today is a good day to celebrate the achievement and leadership of the school district. The leadership has had to make difficult decisions and sacrifices, which has led to where we are today,” he said.

Faber said the district was placed in fiscal emergency in February 2019 because it was not able to submit to the state a recovery plan to eliminate a deficit in the five-year forecast.

“We are in a challenging time with the global pandemic, but this team has worked hard for the fiscal stability of this district. It was not easy… This was a pretty good turnaround for a school district, which is something you all should be proud of. You are to be recognized for your fiscal integrity” Faber said.

He said the district was able to eliminate a deficit of $326,000 in the general fund in 2018, was able to get a renewal levy passed in 2019 to generate $1.3 million and implemented reductions totaling $1.5 million that included employee retirements and a new health care plan.

School Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said teamwork and collaboration helped to get the district to where it is today.

“It is truly a great day in Niles. Our school district and Niles community came together to to help us navigate these challenging times and get the schools released from fiscal emergency. Our taxpayers can feel very confident in knowing we have had the highest level of transparency, especially over the last two years and 10 months,” Thigpen said.

She said every purchase over $5,000 has been thoroughly reviewed by the board of education and the financial commission.

Treasurer Rhonda Baldwin-Amorganos said “Niles is now more financially solvent than it has been in the last 20 years.”

She said with teamwork the district was able to go from a negative general fund balance to a growing general fund cash balance for the next five years.

Bob Fosse of the Department of Education and chairman of the financial commission said when a district goes into fiscal emergency, it is often difficult to get out, but with dedication and hard work the district did turn the situation around and is heading in the right direction.

“It is nice to know that Niles is in such a strong financial position now compared to when the process began” he said.

Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz presented a proclamation to the board praising the accomplishment.

In September 2017, the district was placed in fiscal caution and then in June 2018 was placed in fiscal watch before getting the fiscal emergency designation in February 2019.

“We thank the community for supporting us during this challenge. It has been a long journey. I look forward to the future for Niles city schools,” said board president Tony Perrone.

Nita Hendryx, northeast chief project manager of the state auditor’s office, said all fiscal emergency conditions have been addressed by Niles schools, as well as having an acceptable recovery plan in place. She said the district’s general fund is not forecasting any deficit and the five-year forecast looks solvent.

She said the district is forecasting a $14.10 million budget for 2022 and $14.49 million budget for 2023.

Hendryx said the district has reduced certified employees from 266 in 2019 to 246 in 2022 through retirement buyouts and attrition. The one-time retirement incentive in 2021 paid certified retirees $8,000 per person and classified retirees $4,000 per person over two years.

“Having 20 less employees has made a huge impact,” she said.

In addition, three classified employees were not replaced in 2021.

Officials said state ESSER and federal American Recovery Plan funds have helped cover costs of 15 employees.

“Niles schools is now able to bring in more money every year, which is critical,” Hendryx said.

Hendryx said the district also has adopted and implemented an effective accounting recording system, corrected and eliminated all fiscal emergency conditions, created and followed a recovery plan and prepared a five-year financial forecast.

The financial commission was officially disbanded at Thursday’s meeting.

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