From the Review: Proviso To Explore Detaching From Treasurer’s Office

The Forest Park Review is Now Partnering with The Village Free Press

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 || Jean Lotus, Editor, The Forest Park Review

The Proviso Township Treasurer’s Office (PTTO) has no website. They require schools to pick up documents by carrier instead of sending them electronically. They cannot pay vendor checks electronically. And their services cost the Proviso Township High School District 209 more than $160,000 a year.

Exploring the possibility of detaching from the township treasurer’s office was briefly discussed at the D209 school board meeting, Jan. 14.

The office invests tax dollars for 14 different Proviso school districts, but has been said to be unresponsive, technologically behind, and lacking transparency.

The district’s chief financial officer, Todd Drafall, butted heads with the PTTO when the township refused to credit D209 for $1.8 million in a bank account that had not been properly journalized. It took two years and prompting from the district’s auditors, Mathieson, Moyski, Celer & Co, LLP, to get the PTTO to acknowledge the funds existed, even though a bank balance showed they were there.

The auditors were also frustrated by the PTTO’s pooling of all school funds in a single ledger, which makes transparency nonexistent. School districts cannot have access to that ledger to balance their accounts, said auditor Brett Mathieson. Districts have to take the treasurer’s word for how much money they have in each fund. When asked to run a separate account ledger for the problematic account, the township refused, Mathieson said.

Some school districts see opportunities to streamline business practices to save money, for example by paying checks electronically, which could save $5-10,000 per year. But the PTTO said last fall they do not have the computer acumen to perform these tasks.

In Illinois, the office of township treasurer exists only in Cook County and is a holdover from the pioneer era. The arrangement to consolidate bookkeeping for school districts first went into place in 1819.

More scrutiny has come to the role of this obscure layer of school government after Lyons Township Trustee Robert Healy was charged with stealing $1.5 million by adding illegal payments to his own salary in his years as township treasurer, 1988-2012.

However, some defend the office as a safeguard against district financial malfeasance. According to the Chicago Tribune, Sauk Village Superintendent Thomas Ryan pleaded guilty in 2005 to stealing over $100,000, which he said he spent on his daughters’ college tuition, gifts and hockey tickets. The Bloom Township Treasurer’s Office helped to catch Ryan by providing a second set of records, Bloom Township Schools Treasurer Robert Grossi told the Trib.

Withdrawing from a township treasurer’s office is a lengthy process, but it has been done before in the region. In 2007 two Oak Park school districts, Elementary District 97 and High School District 200 withdrew from the Cicero Township Treasurer’s Office. Berwyn and Cicero school districts then voted to dissolve the office. A majority of voters in the township voted by referendum in 2007 to allow districts 97 and 200 to withdraw from Cicero township oversight. The districts also had the assistance of state Senator Don Harmon.

No proposal has been put forward, but the D209 board gave Drafall permission at the meeting to explore the option. VFP

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