Relief was tempered with caution Thursday as board members reacted to the news that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) was
The plan, part of Senate Bill 1673, was aimed at addressing the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability. More than half — $44 billion — of that is from the Teachers Retirement System (TRS).
“It does give me hope,” said board member Mike Kelly, who has traveled to Springfield numerous times to lobby for school funding reform.
According to Kelly, if Madigan’s plan had become a reality, it would have cost District 202 between $10 million and $15 million per year.
That would have meant more job cuts in a district that’s already .
“We were looking at 200 jobs at the very least if [Madigan’s amendment] was on there, so that’s a big deal,” Kelly said, adding that there would have been no other way to make up that cost.
“These shifts just cost jobs,” he said. “We, for one thing, are tax capped. We can’t levy these things. We can’t go to referendum — people are hurting.”
Fellow board member Rod Westfall remained critical of state leaders, accusing legislators of trying to pawn the state’s debt off on local taxpayers.
“They’ve raided these pension funds,” he said. “Why should taxpayers have to pay twice for what these idiots have screwed up? They’re leaving us to clean up the mess they created, and that’s not fair.”
Kelly’s optimism was dimmed by uncertainty over where the pension debate may head next.
“What that’s going to look like, God only knows, and He isn’t telling us,” Kelly said.
And, as state lawmakers continue budget talks, the fate of education funding is also unclear.
“We don’t know on transportation,” Kelly said, explaining it’s unknown whether the state will continue to reimburse districts at the current rate of 50 percent for transportation expenditures.
“If the allocation goes down, we have to come up with that money,” Westfall said. “They haven’t been paying the full amount for years.”
If legislators vote to decrease the foundation level for general state aid — the amount allotted to school districts per student — it could also mean huge costs to District 202, Kelly said. The current foundation level of $6,119 per student has remained flat since 2010.
“We were told it’s going to be flatlined,” Westfall said, but noted the uncertainty makes it tough for school districts to plan their own budgets.
“No local school district can plan a budget because we don’t know the amount,” he said.
Madigan pension shift plan dead?
House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, told General Assembly members that Gov. Pat Quinn asked him not to call SB 1673 for a vote.
Earlier in the week, Cross slammed Madigan's pension shift demand, calling it a "poison pill" intended to kill reform legislation.
"It doesn't do us any good to continue to fight," Cross said of the pension debate. "We need to let emotions settle down. We have to be willing to find some common ground on some issues, and I'm certainly willing to do that."
Cross, whose Plainfield office was the site of an last week, said he expects Quinn to call a special session this summer to address the unfunded pension liability.
Click here to view video of Cross' remarks.