Two local elementary school superintendents and the director of the LaGrange Area Special Education District called upon the Lyons Township School Treasurer’s Office, commonly known as the TTO, not to appeal the verdict in its nearly eight-year lawsuit against Lyons Township High School District 204.
On May 21, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Jerry Esrig issued his decision after a lengthy bench trial and handed the TTO a major defeat.
Esrig ruled against the TTO in its major claim that LTHS owed the TTO millions of dollars in unpaid fees, and accrued interest, that LTHS withheld from 2000 to 2012.
The judge did order District 204 to pay $764,789.33 in TTO attorneys’ fees which the high school had withheld since 2013. The high school did so out of principle, arguing they were paying their own attorneys as defendants in the case and should not have had to pay the TTO to prosecute a case against them.
The TTO reportedly has spent approximately $4.1 million in legal fees since the case was filed in 2013. The TTO had sought more than $6 million in damages.
LTHS officials were very happy with the judge’s decision and say that they are ready for the case to end.
“What LT wants is to accept this decision and move ahead,” said LTHS District 204 Superintendent Tim Kilrea.
That’s what most other school superintendents seem to want also. At a special meeting of the TTO Board of Trustees on May 26, LaGrange-Brookfield School District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher, Western Springs District 101 Superintendent Brian Barnhart, and LADSE Executive Director Ellie Ambuehl made public comments by email calling on the TTO to commit to not filing an appeal.
Since the TTO is not a taxing authority and has no money of its own, all of its funds come from the school districts within Lyons Township. The elementary school superintendents are tired of seeing their funds, and those of their taxpayers, being used on lawyers in the nearly eight-year long case.
“This lawsuit has stretched on too long at the expense of all of our communities,” Schumacher wrote. “Appealing this decision will have a negative impact on the ability to educate our students moving forward. Taxpayers in the community are responsible for paying both sides of this lawsuit. We are asking that this stop so that we can focus our resources on the children in our district.”
Schumacher estimated that District 102’s share of the TTO’s legal bills to be between $400,000 and $500,000.
“This is a significant amount that could be used to hire teachers and support staff for our children,” Schumacher said. “Let’s focus our resources on our children and learning.”
Before going into closed session, TTO board President Michael Thiessen made some general comments about the judge’s ruling.
“There’s a lot to unpack here,” Thiessen said. “We’re glad that the judge made a decision and we need to kind of understand the impact that has on us and the other member school districts.”
Thiessen also said the TTO has a structural deficit. In an email sent to the TTO and other school districts on Tuesday, Kilrea called upon the TTO to hire an independent auditor acceptable to LTHS and a majority of the school districts in Lyons Township to account for all unallocated investment income and verify the TTO’s claimed structural deficit.
Under legislation passed in the Illinois General Assembly a couple of years ago, District 204 will be free to leave the TTO, which invests the funds of school districts throughout Lyons Township and performs basic business functions such as issuing checks for school districts.
District 204 officials have long wanted to leave the TTO and say that they can easily handle the functions the TTO performs on their own. Since LTHS is by far the largest school district within the TTO’s boundaries, the office does not want to lose the high school as a client.
This desire by District 204 to leave the TTO is the background of the lawsuit. The judge agreed that the TTO and the high school came to an arrangement in 2000 to credit District 204 for some fees it would have otherwise owed to the TTO, because the high school was handling some of the basic business functions that the TTO performed for other districts.