Once again, a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would allow Lyons Township High School to withdraw from the Lyons Township Trustees of Schools Treasurer’s Office (TTO) has stalled in the state Senate after unanimously passing in the state’s House of Representatives.
The bill never came up for a vote in the state Senate, stalling in the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Steven Landek (D-Bridgeview).
Landek has proposed an amendment to the bill, which some see as designed to kill it. Landek’s amendment would force LTHS District 204 to set aside $6.5 million in escrow in case the high school district loses a $4.7 million lawsuit that the TTO has filed against LTHS.
Landek, however, said his amendment only seeks fairness for other districts served by the township treasurer’s office. He said the amendment would allow LTHS to withdraw from the office a year from now, so long as they protect the financial interests of the other school districts who would have to shoulder more of the costs if LTHS leaves.
The amendment would also prohibit District 204 from investing money and doing the finances for other school districts.
“The amendment calls for a logical disconnection of two units of government,” Landek said. “The district that leaves needs to be responsible for some things that were created while they were there.”
As for putting $6.5 million in escrow to cover potential lawsuit liability, Landek said LTHS can afford it.
“I’m not holding them back,” Landek said. “They have $60 million in reserves there. You still have $54 million you’re leaving with. It’s not like you’re using that money tomorrow.”
At least two of the elected members of the Lyons Township Trustees of Schools have contributed money in the past to political committees associated with Landek. Theron Tobolski contributed $550 to Citizens for Steven Landek in August 2014 and $300 to Landek’s political party, the Bridgeview Active Party, in 2013.
Michael Thiessen and his company, Thiessen/Madison Group, have contributed a total of $3,500 to the Landek-related political committees since 2007.
The Township Treasurer of Schools office is used only in Cook County and handles the financial affairs of school districts, such as investing cash reserves and paying bills.
District 204 officials contend that they don’t need the services of the office and can manage their own financial affairs just fine.
LTHS Superintendent Tim Kilrea doesn’t think much of Landek’s amendment.
“It was a surprise to me,” Kilrea said. “I thought it was rather strange; seems rather punitive.”
Kilrea says that LTHS doesn’t need the services of the TTO.
“We bring our checks over to them and they run them through their printer [for a signature], but we run our own checks, we figure our own payroll,” Kilrea said. “We have our own business functions in-house and we have for decades.”
Kilrea disputes the notion that the high school pulling out of the TTO would result in layoffs.
“We really don’t run anything through them, so I don’t know why they would need staff to handle us, because they don’t handle our day-to-day functions,” Kilrea said.
Lyons Township TTO treasurer Susan Birkenmaier, a paid staff member appointed by the TTO trustees, says LTHS has not paid its share of the costs of her office, which she said is set by law, except for a partial payment of about $150,000 last year.
“They did not pay from 2000 on, except when they made this little payment to us last year,” Birkenmaier said. “We are attempting to collect past-due payments. They have a … perspective that they provide their own services and don’t utilize the services of this office. Of course, we disagree with that.”
State law requires that LTHS use the services of the TTO, whether they want to or not.
“All of my jobs are designated by school code,” Birkenmaier said. “Ultimately, I have the ultimate financial responsibility for the financial records of the district.”
The TTO’s lawsuit also contends that former Lyons Township Treasurer Robert Healy, who was sentenced in March to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $100,000 from the TTO, wrongly paid for LTHS’ auditing bills and that District 204 was given a too large a share of interest earnings.
“My predecessor Bob had been paying their auditing bills and we’re trying to recover that expense,” Birkenmaier said.
District 204 contends that because LTHS doesn’t use many of the services the TTO, District 204 should not have to pay what other districts, which heavily rely on the TTO, pay.
“We don’t interact with that office too much,” Kilrea said.
Kilrea said LTHS officials will continue to push to get legislation passed that would allow the school district to withdraw from the township treasurer’s office and completely manage its own finances.
“We will continue to have the bill filed,” Kilrea said. “We think this is the responsible thing to do for our taxpayers, and so we don’t intend to drop our desire to separate from that office.”