Geneseo school officials are looking at using the tort/liability levy as a way to increase funding for the district while avoiding the need for a voter referendum.

Geneseo school officials are looking at using the tort/liability levy as a way to increase funding for the district while avoiding the need for a voter referendum.

In Illinois, school districts have the power to levy funds in 11 different categories, such as the education fund and the transportation fund.

When taxing bodies set a levy, they’re submitting a funding request that property tax payers must meet.

The education fund is the Geneseo School District’s largest fund. The levy rate for that fund is $2.35 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, an amount established by voters in 1987.

The school district faces a more than $1 million ed fund deficit, but a referendum would be needed to raise the levy rate for that fund.

Instead, district officials are eyeing a different levy category — tort/liability.

“Every school district in Illinois must have a risk management plan approved by their school board,” explained Tim Gronski, chief school business official for the Geneseo district.

“The risk management plan outlines anything to do with risk management: insurance, security cameras, what we do in the event of a disaster, etc,” said Gronski. “One part of the assessment also identifies employees whose work day could involve some sort of risk management.”

Gronski said employees involved in risk management could range from a staff member supervising children on the playground to an employee who prepares food for the district.

“There are parts of everybody’s day that involves risk management,” he said.

For instance, assistant principals at Geneseo High School might spend a quarter of their day on risk management activities. As a result, 25 percent of their salary could, by law, come from the tort/liability levy.

“To do that requires a lot of work and time studies,” said Gronski.

During a time study, how an employee spends their day would need to be monitored over the course of several weeks.

A time study could reveal employees who spend more time on risk management-related activities than previously determined.

For example, through a time study, the district could learn their technology director spends more time working on firewalls and protecting the district from hackers than previously estimated. As a result, more of the salary for that position could come from the tort/liability levy.

Last year, the district paid just over $11 million in salaries (not including benefits). The bulk of that funding came from the education fund.

District officials believe about $500,000 in salaries could be moved from the district’s ed fund to the tort/liability fund.

Last year, the tort/liability levy was $675,000, or just under 20 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation.

“When you’re putting things on the table and trying to figure out how to cut into a million dollar ed fund deficit, it is an option,” said Gronski. “Using fund accounting laws, you could shift some salaries and take a little pressure off the ed fund.”

Doing so “would raise taxes, no question” said Gronski. “We would have to levy more to do so. It is, in essence, a shell game.”

However, it’s a shell game many districts are using.

“Our auditors have told us more and more districts are doing it, and it is a way to reduce an ed fund deficit, no doubt,” said Gronski.