High school rented out $500 per month home to football coach making $110K a year

It’s a deal that seems almost too good to be true: a single family home in southwest suburban New Lenox for only $500 per month.

But you never had a chance at renting that house, because the school district that owns it picked its own tenant, who also happens to coach the high school football team.

FOX 32's Dane Placko investigates what some parents are calling a giveaway by a district that's bleeding money.

"Nobody knew that this was going on. We did some digging,” said parent Marisa Barnas.

And what these parents uncovered is once again calling into question the financial practices of Lincoln Way High School District 210, which has been placed on the state's financial watch list and is now closing one of its four schools, Lincoln Way North, because of money troubles and declining enrollment.

"Why did we own a house? What did we buy a house for?" parent Jane Forlenza said.

In 2013, the district paid $110k to buy a two bedroom ranch home on an acre of property that adjoins the campus of Lincoln Way West High School. The district then spent several thousand dollars fixing up the home and installing new appliances.
"They could have rented this property for market value,” parent Geraldine Kwan said.

But instead of advertising the property, the district began renting the home to Dave Ernst, who happens to be the head football coach at Lincoln Way West and is paid $110k a year.

It was a handshake deal, no lease agreement, for $500 a month, and there's no record the arrangement was ever approved by the school board. The district also paid for landscaping, snow removal and utilities, which records show sometimes cost hundreds of dollars a month, as well as the property taxes.

"This was just basically given to the football coach, and you really can't blame the football coach in a sense because if somebody offered me a good deal I'd take it,” said concerned citizen Lee Talley.

So just how much money was the district leaving on the table? Well, FOX 32 did a Google search for comparable single family homes for rent here in New Lenox, and found that the coach was getting a pretty sweet deal.
The 1250 square foot New Lenox home is on the market for $1550 a month. A slightly larger home is going for $1750, and even a tiny two bedroom apartment is going for $950.

"Where is this coming from? Why are you wasting potential income and you're putting kids' priorities aside? It should be all for the kids,” Kwan said.

In a statement, a district spokesperson says: "The anger and frustrations that many citizens are experiencing is understandable, as there are a number of instances when the district could have done things differently... The district is currently borrowing $30 million dollars to operate, and this board and administration is committed to stabilizing the finances of the district."

"How many other things are out there that we don't know about? That's frustrating,” Forlenza said.

Coach Ernst did not return any of FOX 32’s calls. He moved out of the house a month ago, about the same time we began the investigation.