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School district has good audit, but still has some challenges

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By Dave Bell

The Vandalia Board of Education heard some good news on the financial and educational fronts Tuesday night. But those positive reports were balanced by several challenges that still face the district.

On the positive side, the board heard an upbeat audit report from Joe Barth of the accounting firm of Luallen, Cearlock, Barth & Burnam. Barth noted the district’s “strong fund balances,” and said that the district “is on the right track” financially.

The board also was presented a summary of the district’s financial “score,” as calculated by the Illinois State Board of Education. That rating is based on the district’s performance in five areas, with scores ranging from zero (the worst) to four (the best). The results are shown below, with the Vandalia district’s score in parentheses.

•Fund balance to revenue ratio (3).

•Expenditures to revenue ratio (4).

•Days cash on hand (3).

•Percent of short-term borrowing maximum remaining (4).

•Percent of long-term debt margin remaining (1).

Overall, the Vandalia district recorded a composite score of 3.25.

Well said that the district’s composite score has been on an upward or stable trajectory since it bottomed out in 2006 at 1.70 – a number that placed the district on the state financial “watch list.” In both 2007 and 2008, it was 3.15.

Well said that a composite score of 3.0 to 3.5 places a district on the state’s “review” status, and 3.5 to 4.0 earns a “recognition” status, which he described as “the elite level in regard to financial stability.”

He said that the 1.0 score in the long-term-debt category would remain low until the district pays off its current bonds in about 10 years.

Shifting to the district’s current-year finances, Well said that no money has been received from the first round of property taxes. He expects that payment from the county “in the very near future.” Most area districts, he said, have already received that funding.

“Because we have fund balances, we’re using those balances to cover our expenses until the tax money comes in,” Well said. “We’re on solid ground.”

His financial report indicated that the district has a total balance of about $2.55 million in its four operating accounts (education, building, transportation and working cash). Because of that balance, the district no longer has to borrow money (and pay interest on it) to cover its bills as it did before taxpayers passed a referendum two years ago.

The rest of the hour-long board meeting was spent discussing the district’s “report card” results, as assessed by the Illinois State Board of Education. Using the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, districts are rated on their progress toward achieving those standards.

Well’s report indicated that the district is meeting the state standards “in all areas except for students with disabilities subgroup and students in the economically disadvantaged subgroup.”

As a part of a federal program called “No Child Left Behind,” students in third through eighth grades take the ISAT test each year and students in the eleventh grade take the Prairie State Achievement Evaluation. The goal is for the district’s students to meet or exceed state standards each year. However, that standard – which was 70 percent this year – increases each year. Next year, it jumps to 77.5 percent, Well said. By 2014, 100 percent of students are expected to meet the standard.

For the district as a whole, 68.5 percent of the students met the standard in reading and 76.8 percent met the standard in math. Among students with disabilities, only 22.9 percent met the standard in reading and 42.1 percent met the standard in math. Among economically disadvantaged students, 57.7 percent met the standard in reading and 70.3 percent met the standard in math.

Well noted that the Vandalia district has a higher percentage of students falling in the low-income category (48.6 percent) than the state as a whole (42.9 percent). Another key measure, he said, is mobility – the percentage of students moving in or out of the district. Vandalia’s mobility rate is 19.7 percent, while the state average is 13.5 percent.

“Mobility causes upheaval in students’ lives, and that is often detrimental to their education,” Well said. “There’s often no continuity in their education. Plus, there is a lot of social anxiety when they move around. A comfortable and confident kid has a better chance to test well and succeed academically.”

Scores are available for each of the district’s buildings.

Vandalia Community High School did not make the 70 percent standard in either reading or math. The score was 38.1 percent in both reading and math.

Vandalia Junior High School surpassed the state standard in both categories – scoring 78.9 percent in reading and 83.3 percent in math.

Vandalia Elementary School missed the state standard in reading with 61.7 percent, but made the standard in math with 80.6 percent.

Principals at those schools each provided a written report to the school board, describing some of the factors that affect the scores at their school, and outlining what they are doing to address deficiencies.

Several of those administrators expressed concern about the state’s goal of having 100 percent of the students meeting or exceeding the state standard by 2014.

Well said that scores on the standardized tests often don’t tell the whole story.

“ISAT and PSAE are important,” he said, “but will not accurately measure what is going on within our district and within our students. Many quality programs are untested and provide a great service to our students and community.”

In other business, the board took the following action:

• Approved the annual joint agreement with the Okaw Area Vocation Center.

• Approved the following volunteer coaches: Angel Kopp (VCHS cheerleading), Brock Brannon (VJHS basketball) and Joe Schaal (VCHS basketball).

• Approved the employment of Sandra Kleinik as a full-time bus driver.