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191st Street Development   Sunday, October 22, 2017
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 Former Lincoln-Way schools chief Wyllie pleads not guilty to fraud charges

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Lincoln-Way schools chief responds to criticism of District 210; public asks for his removal
Thursday, October 05, 2017

By Susan DeMar Lafferty
Reprinted from the Daily Southtown

Countering public criticism for Lincoln-Way High School District 210`s recent financial woes, Superintendent Scott Tingley opened Thursday night`s board meeting with a defense of his past decisions and touted his administration`s current fiscal course.

Tingley also separated himself from Lincoln-Way`s decision to withhold from the public an independent financial firm`s 2014 report that included a dire five-year financial projection for the district. He also accepted responsibility for presenting a balanced budget in June 2014, shortly after PMA Financial predicted the district would be $8 million in the red and out of cash reserves by summer 2016.

The district released the report this week after a rebuke from the Illinois attorney general that said the findings by PMA Financial were improperly withheld when the Daily Southtown requested the document through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“The board was provided a copy of the analysis and projections. The PMA information was contrary to what they had been led to believe in the past,” Tingley said in prepared remarks. “There were individuals who were not confident in the PMA numbers provided. It was then decided that the document would not be presented at a public meeting, and this was NOT MY recommendation.”

The Illinois State Board of Education in 2015 placed the district on its financial watch list, a prediction also included in PMA`s report. School district officials later voted to shutter Lincoln-Way North High School, which was nearly brand new at the time, as a way to balance spending.

Tingley noted in his remarks Thursday that when he succeeded former Lincoln-Way Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie in July 2013, the district`s financial and business operations were not under scrutiny. Deficits of only a few million dollars had been reported publicly over the previous years before Tingley took over, he said.

He acknowledged, however, that the district should not have crafted the 2014-15 budget - the first under his watch - as it had during Wyllie`s tenure.

“That was a mistake,” Tingley said. “We now know that the district`s business operations were not up to standard. Presenting a balanced budget in June 2014 was a result of my own inexperience and in working with the Business Manager at the time.”

Federal prosecutors last month indicted Wyllie on fraud charges and alleged he hid the district`s “true financial health” by misusing millions in bond dollars and presenting the public with false information. Wyllie, 79, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In providing a timeline of his administration, Tingley attempted to show he did not hide anything and noted that the district`s financial projections were discussed in public meetings.

He said that “within a short time” of taking over as superintendent he noticed “inconsistencies in the accounting” and a deficit of a “few million dollars” had been publicly reported in previous years.

At the time, Tingley said, school officials thought they might be able to balance the budget through cutting programs and making other cuts.

“We could not cut - or fundraise - our way out of the many years of deficit spending that we had inherited,” Tingley said.

Concerned about declining revenues, and the increasing need for using tax anticipation warrants to cover spending, Tingley said he saw in January 2014 the need for an “outside perspective” from PMA.

School board officials eventually decided to use PMA`s report as a “planning document” in the district`s teacher contract negotiations and thus felt it was exempt from release to the public under the state`s open records law.

Since the document was no longer being used for negotiations, the attorney general advised the district to release it, he said.

The district has turned around, with a surplus this year of $3 million, and academically the students are performing better than ever, he said, crediting the “incredible job” of the faculty.

However, three members of the public who spoke during public comment at Thursday night`s meeting asked the board to remove him as superintendent.

The district cannot heal “under the direction of untrustworthy leadership,” said resident Jay Curatolo.

The “true picture of impending doom” was held “secret” for another year and until after the board election in April 2015, he said.

Resident Ted Westerberg said after the meeting that “everything” Tingley said was “true.”

“I attended all those meetings. None of this was a secret,” he said.
Twitter @SusanLaff

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