As Lyons Township High School District 204 pursues legislation to leave the Lyons Township school treasurer's office, smaller school districts that are part of the office are split on whether they'd like to stay in the system or leave it.
Some school officials said the treasurer's office's services — ranging from payroll to investment management — could be better handled by their own staff, while others said managing their own finances would be costly and inefficient.
Lyons Township High School, which has managed its own payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable functions for decades, has worked with state Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, on a bill that would allow the high school to leave the treasurer's office. House Bill 5572, which recently passed the House, would allow the high school to appoint its own treasurer, move its money from the treasurer's office to its own accounts and to stop paying the office for services. State law now requires most Cook County schools to use township treasurer's offices.
The legislation is Durkin's second effort to free the high school following allegations that former Lyons Township school Treasurer Robert Healy transferred about $1.5 million from school accounts to his own over more than two decades before resigning in 2012.
" ... With all the problems there, we should have more direct control of our money," La Grange Elementary School District 102 Superintendent Warren Shillingburg said, adding that efforts to leave are complicated.
But Jon Nebor, superintendent of Indian Springs School District 109, which uses the treasurer, said the office should not be judged on one official's behavior.
"We don't view Bob Healy's arrest as a detriment to the office. Bob Healy's arrest is a detriment to Bob Healy's character," Nebor said.
Nebor said the office, now headed by Susan Birkenmaier and a new set of trustees, saves District 109 money and provides another check and balance on all local school districts' finances. Thirteen districts and educational organizations are part of the treasurer's office, which manages about $200 million and handles about 150,000 transactions per year.
"If the system is in place correctly, it actually protects the taxpayers," he said.
Other districts are taking a more cautious approach.
"Right now our position is we're a member of the (treasurer's office) and supportive of it," La Grange School District 105 Superintendent Glenn Schlichting said. Because the district doesn't have the option under current law to manage its own finances, it has not seriously evaluated the costs of doing so, he said, but believes it benefits from the economies of scale the office provides.
Sheri Wernsing, executive director of the La Grange Area Department of Special Education, which uses the treasurer's office, said Lyons Township High School should be free to leave the system. But she said her organization is supportive of the office under its new treasurer, who formerly was its business director.
"I think they brought in a good person to bring more transparency and bring integrity to the office," Wernsing said.
One other high school, Argo Community High School District 217, is part of the treasurer's office. District 217 Superintendent Kevin O'Mara said the high school hasn't considered leaving.
"Nothing's perfect, and we were certainly disappointed to learn of Healy's mismanagement over the years, and alleged theft, but by and large the system works for us," O'Mara said.
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