In Illinois, there are nearly 363,000 people impacted by the Teachers’ Retirement System. Each one has made his or her payments. The state hasn’t paid its portion, part of Illinois’ $83 billion pension problem. One of Governor Pat Quinn’s goals for this term was to reform the system, but negotiations fell apart the final day of session last month.
“There’s really one sticking point and that has to do with basically what’s called shifting the responsibility on to the employer,” said Darlene Senger, State Representative for the 96th District.
Senger is on the state’s pension reform work group, the people in charge of finding a solution. She knows shifting the cost would relieve the state’s burden but hurt local school districts.
“Talking to Superintendent Birkett from District 204, she quoted a figure the other day about it’s going to cost the school district something like $11 million more over the next three years and they’ve already cut like $40 million out of the budget over the last few years,” said Senger.
Local schools receive funding from the state and from property tax bills.
But with the state making education cuts, and the current property tax cap, districts are already strapped for funds. Adding another burden could mean teacher layoffs. In District 203, it would mean program and service cuts.
“We’ll have to squeeze a little harder into what we provide for our students,” said Dave Zager, Assistant Superintendent for Finance for District 203. “It might mean something might change in fees, for example, with our sports teams. We might have to cut back on some of those things.”
Teachers across the state have spoken out against the plan. In Naperville, they’ve held rallies and marched to Senger’s office. Local taxpayers have mixed opinions.
“I don’t like it one single bit,” said Diane Spero, a Lisle resident. “I think they’re overextending their authority.”
“I feel if you’re a public servant you should be willing to sacrifice and the taxpayers should not be so unduly burdened,” said Elise McSwine, a Plainfield resident.
“I understand the idea of the local school districts being responsible for the teachers compensation and the pensions but on the other hand, it’s kind of late to just kind of dump it on the school districts,” said Richard Okonis, a Buffalo Grove resident.
State universities would be impacted as well. For them, it would mean tuition hikes.
The state’s leaders are still meeting to discuss pensions. They hope to call a special session to vote on reform sometime this summer.
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