Lyons Township High School District 204 is closer to managing its own finances after an Illinois House of Representatives bill cleared a committee vote Wednesday.
House Bill 5572 would allow the high school to break from the Lyons Township school treasurer's office and appoint its own treasurer, according to a news release from the office of Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, who is the bill's sponsor. The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure in a unanimous vote, the release states.
The bill is Durkin's second attempt to remove the high school from the treasurer's office, which handles some financial tasks for 13 school districts and educational organizations in the Lyons area, said Durkin spokeswoman Victoria Crawford. The bill comes after a former Lyons Township school treasurer was criminally charged with moving funds from school accounts into his personal account.
"(The measure) is about local control," Durkin said in the release. "Lyons Township High School can capably handle their accounting and payroll. The township treasurer is an outdated branch of government and Lyons Township High School should be allowed to perform these services in house."
The 4,000-student school already handles several of the functions the treasurer's office performs for smaller districts, Lyons Township High School Superintendent Timothy Kilrea said. The school took over payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable functions decades ago, he said.
"It was a duplication of efforts where we felt quite frankly that we did a much more efficient and better job," he said.
But state law dating back to the creation of township treasurer's offices in 1819 keeps the high school in the system. The school's fund balances remain with the treasurer's office, where the money is pooled with smaller districts' funds for investments, Kilrea said.
The office manages about $200 million and handles about 150,000 transactions per year.
Michael Thiessen, who was elected president of the Lyons Township Trustees of Schools — the board that oversees the treasurer's office — said the high school's exit from the system would cause "irreparable financial harm" to the smaller districts because of money Thiessen said the high school owes the treasurer's office.
The Trustees of Schools filed suit in October 2013 in the chancery division of Cook County Circuit Court against the high school, saying the school has failed to make some required payments to the treasurer's office. The suit claims the high school didn't make about $2.58 million in payments from 2000 to 2012, and didn't make certain principal and interest payments and audit fees dating to 1994. Thiessen said the money, about $4.4 million total, would be remanded to the smaller districts. If the high school breaks from the treasurer's office, the money could become uncollectable, he said.
Kilrea has said the school made an agreement with the treasurer's office in 1999 that the office would stop billing the school for services the school handled on its own. The treasurer's office has said no record of the agreement exists.
The office's treasurer from 1988 to 2012, Robert Healy, was charged by the Cook County state's attorney with converting about $1.5 million from the office's accounts to his own. Healy is awaiting trial.
The office has a new treasurer, Susan Birkenmaier, Thiessen said. Birkenmaier is the former business director of the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education.
Durkin said he expects an "uphill battle" to get the measure passed by the General Assembly. If it passes, the high school would have to elect or appoint a treasurer, according to the release. Crawford said the bill is not markedly different from the bill Durkin tried to pass a year ago.
The township treasurer's office system was abolished in most of Illinois in 1962, but was retained in Cook County. Several other townships in the area, including the Cicero Township Trustees of Schools, have been dissolved by voters or General Assembly bills.
Twitter @wesventeicherCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun