Representatives from were part of a sit-down with Gov. Pat Quinn late last month to discuss pension reform and the future of state school funding.
But officials don’t expect the discussion to bring a reprieve from possible general state aid (GSA) cuts or plans to shift the teachers’ pension burden to local school districts, according to District 202 Board of Education President Roger Bonuchi.
Bonuchi said he and Superintendent John Harper were part of a contingent comprised of 12 officials from five Illinois school districts.
Pension reform was a hot topic at the July 23 meeting, Bonuchi said, especially since Quinn has called all state lawmakers back to Springfield later this month for a special session to tackle the issue.
In May, pension reform talks came to a halt after Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) agreed to drop a controversial proposal to shift the cost of teacher pensions from the state onto local school districts, universities and community colleges.
But with continued state budget woes, Quinn told school officials that it could come down to one of two options for local school districts: Have the pension burden phased in over a period of years, or accept a reduction in the rate at which funding is doled out to school districts.
Currently, general state aid is paid out to local school districts at a rate of 95 percent, but that could drop to 89 percent, Bonuchi said.
“If we keep state aid at 95 percent proration, we will have to shift the pension costs,” Bonuchi said. “[Quinn] said it will be less painful for us to accept responsibility for the state’s portion of the pension over a period of 10, 12 [or] 15 years, and wouldn’t we rather do that than take the 89 percent proration.”
In total, Bonuchi estimated it could cost the district $11 to $12 million to take on the burden of teachers’ pensions. Dropping from 95 to 89 percent proration would cost about $5 million, he said.
Either way, it will mean another financial blow to District 202, which is projecting an $8.1 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year. Bonuchi added that the proposed budget was crafted based on the assumption that the rate will drop to 89 percent.
Currently, the board of education is debating how to use an estimated $7.5 million surplus from the 2011-12 school year.
“We want to try to avoid cutting jobs,” Bonuchi said.
Since 2009, District 202 has cut about 345 full-time equivalent jobs to save $42 million.
Bonuchi said the July 23 meeting with Quinn was arranged by State Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, to allow officials to explain to the governor the financial impact the pension and GSA changes will have on local districts.
“He was certainly cordial and personable with us,” Bonuchi said of Quinn, but noted the governor did not have much of a response to suggestions from the group on ways to change the pension system.
“I think he understands that we’re in pain right now, and he told us [the state is] in pain,” Bonuchi said. “It was a little bit of a tug of war — whose balance sheet is going to look better at the end of the day.”
District 202's proposed budget will be placed on display Aug. 10. A public hearing is set for Sept. 10, and the board plans to vote on the budget Sept. 24.
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