Plan Could Shift Pension Costs to School Districts
By Sean Powers and Chris Slaby
The president of the Champaign School Board says if schools in Illinois are forced to cover more of their retirement costs under a new pension deal, then state education funding must improve.
Laurie Bonnett said that would be a fair compromise, as schools are forced to re-evaluate programs because of lagging state support.
“I do think that that there is some understanding from legislators that if they’re going to ask schools to take on this responsibility, then they have to more fully fund education," Bonnett said. "That has to be more part of the conversation. They can’t continue to cut us, and hold us to standards of doing more with less dollars.”
State universities and community colleges have agreed to gradually pick up their own retirement costs under an initial plan that emerged at a public hearing this week.
Several higher education leaders, including the president of the University of Illinois, are willing to pay half of 1 percent of retirement costs each year starting fiscal year 2015.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan said more discussions will happen next week on the pension issue, including if that same deal would apply to school districts.
Meanwhile, Gery Chico, the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, said the next two weeks represent a "critical period" for public schools.
Two weeks is the amount of time lawmakers have to finish a state budget before they are scheduled to leave the capitol for the summer.
Chico said while he is not sure cuts can be avoided, there is still time to make a case against them.
"We have to reverse that trend to show the people of Illinois that we are serious about the education of our children," he said. "And I am hopeful that we can get there. I don't know, but we are going to fight like crazy until that bell rings ending the session to see if we can restore our money."
Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal would reduce education funding by more than $300 million.
Since 2009, the state has trimmed school money by $860 million. More cuts will likely force additional teacher layoffs and other moves.