Shifting some of the Illinois school district’s administrative overhead could attract top talent to more than 4,100 teaching positions. The savings could amount to $ 1,317 per taxpayer in the hometown of a seasoned teacher. Reform pensions, and this amount increases.
For 30 years, Deb Roti was a special education teacher at a public school in Cary, Ill., And saw firsthand how Illinois prioritizes administration over education.
“I have a firm belief that we have too many directors making huge salaries that will require increasingly large pension payments,” Roti said. “The reported figures for the most important pensions shocked everyone, including teachers and grassroots police and firefighters. “
“Huge salaries and large payouts for the biggest earners require money and resources that could be used to attract talented staff and invest in resources for students and communities. “
Illinois public schools have 4 120 unfilled teaching positions, more than double the number in 2017, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Minimum wage for a teacher in Illinois was set at $ 32,076 for fiscal year 2021 by state law.
The average salary for directors in Illinois is $ 111,293, according to the ISBE. More than 9,000 state administrators earn more than $ 100,000 a year, according to an analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute.
Add high salaries from too much administrative costs to large retirement debt and both crowd out investments in schools, classrooms and students. They also result in property taxes so high that Illinois homeowners pay double the national average, with only New Jersey property taxes higher.
Roti and his neighbors could save an average of $ 1,317 on their property tax bills just by consolidating the four separate school districts they help support, according to an analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute.
Roti worked in Cary, a suburb in the far northwest of Chicago, where the the population is 18,271. Cary Community School District 26 has five schools with 16 administrators. Next door is Prairie Grove District 46 with eight administrators overseeing two schools for a town with a population of 1805. Neighbor Fox River Grove 3, population 4,854, employs four administrators for two schools.
“This equates to over 28 admins in a small area,” Roti said. “And all of these foster schools go to the same high school, which is a separate district with more administrators.”
Illinois has 852 school districts and nearly half serve only one or two schools, as do Prairie Grove and Fox River Grove that Roti’s taxes help support. All this excess bureaucracy comes at a high cost: Illinois spent $ 1.27 billion on district-level administration in 2020 for 1.9 million students. Florida is able to serve 2.8 million students for one fifth of that cost.
A solution was nearly passed by the Illinois General Assembly last spring – until teachers’ unions derailed it. The idea nevertheless remains viable.
The Classrooms First Act would create a commission to make specific recommendations on consolidating school districts with the goal of reducing the number by at least 25% in Illinois. Parents, teachers and all other residents would have the opportunity to contribute through a public comment period with hearings across the state. All district merger recommendations would require voter approval, with a majority of voters from each affected school district agreeing to the change. This maximizes local control.
The consolidation would only apply to districts – the administrative units overseeing schools – and the Classrooms First Act explicitly prohibits recommending school closures. But if the administration of the separate school districts and the secondary district were consolidated, it would free up $ 38.2 million in the community of Roti, which could help improve classroom instruction, increase teachers’ salaries, or provide a land tax relief.
Another important solution to ensuring Illinois prioritizes classroom education dollars is pension reform. Illinois spends nearly 40% of its dollars on retirement education, and there is still a massive gap between the dollars available and the dollars promised to school retirees.
“The retirement problem in Illinois is multifaceted and poorly understood,” Roti said. “Now we have huge teacher shortages because salaries are low in Illinois for educators, and because of the pension crisis, the state cannot even promise that it will have any. money to support already retired teachers. This is decimating the field of education.
The Teachers’ Pension Plan is required to fund more $ 80.7 billion in pension promises for which there are no funds. This threatens the retirement security of current teachers and retirees. The system has 40% of the money he will face future obligations, which pension experts consider to be so low that he may be a point of no return from which only major tax injections or major changes in benefits can keep retirement checks ahead.
Pensions are consuming more and more Illinois education dollars, reducing the number of teachers and their salaries. The state has increased spending on teachers’ pensions by 200% since 2000, compared to a mere 20% increase in classroom spending during that period.
A “harmless” pension reform plan developed by the Illinois Policy Institute for the five statewide pension systems could save about $ 2.4 billion to the state budget in the first year and more than $ 50 billion until 2045. The plan would also completely eliminate the state’s pension debt. during that time, rather than the 90% reduction that state leaders are hoping for. It does all of this while preserving every dollar in pension benefits promised to public workers for the work already done.
Without meaningful pension reform, hundreds of schools across the state will continue to be forced to cut curricula, increase class sizes, lay off teachers or raise property taxes as more in addition new state dollars are diverted from classrooms and into the district administration and over-promised pensions. advantages.
Teachers work hard every day for their students and their communities. Consolidation of school districts and constitutional pension reform can ensure that teachers like Roti are fairly paid, have a secure retirement, and do not face inflated property tax bills that threaten their ability to stay at home.