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Legislation could help Lyons Township High School leave treasurer’s office

<p>Lyons Township High School | Sun-Times Media file photo</p>

Lyons Township High School | Sun-Times Media file photo

Legislation has been introduced again in Springfield to allow Lyons Township High School District 204 to withdraw from the Lyons Township School Treasurer’s Office and chart the high school’s own financial future.

Rep. Jim Durkin, R-82nd of Western Springs, sponsored House Bill 5572, which unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee March 26.

The House passed a similar measure, House Bill 3152, on April 9, but it is stuck in a Senate subcommittee, said Vicki Crawford, Durkin’s press secretary.

“It will be an uphill battle to get this bill through the House and Senate, but I am going to keep pushing because I trust the Lyons Township High School parents and school officials to know what is best for them, and the decision whether or not to break away from the Township Treasurer should be theirs alone,” Durkin said in a prepared statement.

Durkin feels strongly about the high school’s right to local control of its finances and sought to bring the matter to the forefront by introducing additional legislation, Crawford said.

The measure would amend the school code allowing the high school to legally separate from the treasurer’s office. The school would then be required to appoint or elect its own school treasurer.

The legislation was prompted by a dispute over financial control and the treasurer’s office contention LT owes $4.4 million in back fees and interest on investments paid out in error.

Mike Thiessen, president of the three-member board governing the township treasurer’s office, expressed disappointment with Durkin’s second attempt to pass a law Thiessen says will negatively impact the other member school districts.

“I would really expect Rep. Durkin would provide professional courtesy and talk about this,” Thiessen said. “I have reached out a number of times by email to initiate a discussion, and he has not responded.”

The treasurer’s office filed suit Oct. 14 in the chancellery division of Cook County Circuit Court seeking $4.4 million from LT. The treasurer’s office oversees investments, payroll and financial services for 11 school districts and two cooperatives.

“As a former prosecutor, I would think Rep. Durkin would respect the legal process,” Thiessen said. “Knowing there are pending lawsuits, it would be in his best interest to let them play out before introducing legislation.”

Thiessen said the suit was filed because state law requires LT to continue to pay fees for financial services assessed to member districts, even if the high school isn’t using the services, until there is a change in the school’s legal status.

A host of financial irregularities within the treasurer’s office were uncovered by a Better Government Association investigation of former Treasurer Robert Healy in May 2012.

Healy resigned that August, was sued by the treasurer’s office in October and was charged with felony theft of government property totaling $1.5 million in August by Cook County prosecutors.

LT officials contend an agreement was reached in 1999 in open session so that the high school would process its own payroll and accounts receivable and payable and receive a credit from the treasurer’s office to avoid paying twice for the same function. Both the high school and treasurer’s boards approved operating procedures based on the agreement every year since then, LT officials said.

Without the legislation introduced by Durkin, LT would have to seek approval to separate from at least five members of each school district in the township and pass a resolution to remove jurisdiction from each school board.

In addition, LT would have to seek voter approval through a referendum proposal to remove jurisdiction of the township treasurer.

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