Nearly nine months after a routine audit discovered unallowable grant expenses and six months after news broke of an FBI search at the home of Paris Union School District 95’s superintendent of schools Jeremy Larson, the district is anticipating additional paybacks of misappropriated grant money.
On Friday, Dec. 1, auditors visited Paris 95 once more to sift through grant-related receipts and records. Their findings could result in a third batch of paybacks for the district. This time around, the Illinois Department of Public Health is conducting the audit.
The grants, five in total, were designated for the implementation of District 95’s recently opened Tiger Health Center and for bolstering mental health services available to students.
“The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) which paid for the Tiger Health Center and mental health first aid has started their audit and while it is not complete, they are finding the same issues as found in the other two agencies,” said acting superintendent Lorraine Bailey in an email statement distributed to Paris 95 teachers and staff earlier this week.
Auditors are requesting receipts and supporting documentation for a 28-page single-spaced list of grant expenditures, Bailey explained. Currently, she believes there will be another sizeable payback to the tune of more than $450,000, but that figure is based on guesstimation – an official amount will not be available for some time.
“They have given no timetable at all as to what to expect,” said Bailey in an interview with a Prairie Press reporter.
This to-be-determined amount of unallowable funding will join other payback plans already penned between Paris 95 and two other fiscal agents: the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the State of Illinois.
The ISBE, which awarded Paris 95 several grants earmarked for early childhood development and Title I matters, asked the district for $1,589,611 to be returned. The first payment was a 10 percent payment (approximately $158,961.10), followed by monthly $30,000 payments for the next four years. The ISBE payment plan began in October.
By comparison, the amount and length of the payback plan between Paris 95 and the State of Illinois is greater in scale, totaling $1,768,298, paid back in quarterly increments of $55,259.31 for eight years.
Paris 95 owes the State of Illinois for National School Lunch Program grants. The USDA operates the program, but funds are distributed at the state level.
In total, Paris 95 is in the process of returning more than $3.3 million, a number which will likely approach $4 million depending on the findings of the IDPH audit.
The last two agencies to provide grants to the district during the period in question, the Federal Criminal Justice System and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, have yet to conduct an audit.
“It appears to me that while there may be a small payback eventually required, it will not be nearly as large as the above-mentioned ones,” said Bailey in the email.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining for taxpayers in the district – the paybacks will not result in high rates. The payback plans, which cannot be fulfilled using other grant funding, come from the district’s education fund. The education fund is a catchall for tax funds and some state aid, but taxpayers need not worry about a corresponding rate hike.
“The tax rate for the Education Fund is capped at 1.84 so the district cannot ask for more and taxes will not increase,” Bailey explained.
For now, much of the grant funding directed to Paris 95 is frozen.