During a breakfast meeting with area lawmakers at the headquarters Friday, District 200 board members urged the legislators to enact pension reform that is meaningful, but does not burden the already strained finances of local education systems.
“With 1,500 employees in this district it could be a big burden,” Harris said.
Pension reform legislation that will create a level of tiered payment plans is in front of the Illinois House, although the plan is not popular with teachers unions. One plan level calls for pension recipients to pay all their costs, rather than splitting it with the employers. Another plan would allow current pension recipients to move into a new pension plan that was created earlier this year, while the third will allow pension recipients to move their funds into a 401(k) plan.
Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said some kind of pension reform will happen this year in Springfield. He said lawmakers have no choice in addressing pension reform because of the financial burdens of the plans. State pensions are now the second largest expenditure of the state budget following Medicaid, he said.
Sen. Carole Pankau, a Bloomingdale Republican, said it’s likely some legislative work will be done on pension reform during the upcoming veto session, but does not believe anything will be passed until some time in 2012. Pankau said she likes the reform plan because it gives public employees various options rather than lumping them into a “one-size fits all” system.
But, Sen. Thomas Johnson, a West Chicago Republican, reminded board members that pension reform is still a political process, meaning it will be met with a lot of opposition from various parties. He said real sustainable reform means teachers would have to pay approximately 30 percent of their salaries into the pension system.
Board President Rosemary Swanson said teachers in D200 pay their full share into the Illinois Teacher Retirement System.
Harris told legislators one area of pension reform that should be addressed is the early retirement option which was created in the early 1990s to “thin the heard” of some of the top paid employees. He said discontinuing that plan would prevent double dipping by employees who leave one position and then take a new position under a different pension plan.
In addition to pension reform, board members said there are other concerns including unfunded mandates and diminished funds for transportation and special education.
Gov. Quinn’s plan to have regional educational superintendents paid by local taxes is one such concern. Harris said the governor’s plan calls for the regional offices, which were supported by state funds, to rely on county corporate tax dollars – which currently help fund local school districts. He said if the district loses their portion of that revenue source it will put the district in a tight bind and could force them to consider levying a new tax, which the district has not done since 1987.
On the issue of state testing, board members urged the legislators to provide funds to allow the state schools to move toward a growth assessment measurement, rather than the current model governed by the federal No Child Left Behind. Although it is a federal measurement, board member Barb Intihar said the state has some controls over the testing. She said asking students who have limited proficiency in English to take an assessment in English is counter productive.
According to the latest NCLB statistics District 200 has several failing schools, however Harris said the federal statistics paint a poor picture of the reality of education provided by the district. He said the district is a high achieving district and he would measure the academic results of district students against any other school district across the country.