Quinn’s proposal could lead to accountability in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff schools

May 18, 2012

In April of this year Governor Pat Quinn proposed ending the state’s practice of paying the “employer share” of teachers’ pensions and shifting more of the burden to the school districts.

Immediately a firestorm of protest was heard statewide from Illinois school leaders claiming the change would result in program cancellations, increased class sizes, properly tax increases or even “destroy public education.”

Lake Forester readers, not unlike other Illinoisans, are not well grounded in how their schools systems are financially funded. Most residents do realize that local property taxes are the main funding source for District 67 and 115 in Lake Forest and District 65 in Lake Bluff, but there is also a state funding program designed to ensure that a base amount of money is available to educate every student in Illinois. Known as General State Aid (GSA), its goal is to counter inequalities in local property tax wealth through the dollars it routinely sends to school districts in less affluent communities where property taxes are unable to generate the designated base per student funding amount.

But there is also another state funding program which represents the second-largest education expenditure after GSA. It involves the contributions made by the state to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS). Because TRS “employer” contributions made by the state are based on how much local school districts pay their teachers, wealthier districts like here in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff do very well as salaries paid are on the high end of the scale state-wide.

Illinois Policy Institute findings indicate that in 555 out of 867 Illinois school districts teachers pay little or nothing into their pensions. In Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115, full pension pickup is a negotiated perk and a sweet deal for teachers. Most health benefits are likewise picked up.

Quinn’s proposal to require school districts in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff to absorb some of the “employer” TSA contributions could be a blessing in disguise for Lake Forest/Lake Bluff taxpayers. For if citizens and taxpayers were informed that a property tax increase would be necessary to pay for a portion of TRS employer pensions now paid in full by the state, it could be done through cost-saving measures instituted by our school districts which would provide more than adequate financial resources. Without question, teachers and administrations are benefiting the most from our ever-increasing property tax bills here in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. Shouldn’t it be the students?

One obvious way would be to have future contracts written that would require our teachers to pay at least some of their TSA retirement fund pensions and healthcare benefits.

Other options might include:

1. Freeze teachers’ salaries for one year. On average, teacher salaries have increased by more than 7 percent per year since 2000. In District 67, 35 teachers make in excess of $100,000 per year. In District 115, 92 teachers are members of the $100,000 club.

2. Limit teacher salary increases to 3.65 percent for three years.

3. Eliminate the two-year sick-leave credit available for retiring teachers. Current law allows teachers to accrue from 10 to 15 days per year, which can then be credited as two years of work. These two years then counts toward their pension  calculations at no cost to the teacher.

4. Eliminate the automatic 25 percent salary increase over the last four years for retiring teachers.

5. Eliminate the number of administrative positions and their cost. Illinois school administrators make 67 percent more than Wisconsin’s.

 
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