Since Illinois is likely a safe state for President Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election, much political talk in Illinois is focused around the state's pension crisis. The pension funds for state workers and teachers are underfunded, so Governor Pat Quinn and others have proposed shifting costs from the state to the local level.
Various proposals have been presented, including a plan to have school districts pay 1% of teachers' salaries per year over six years or pay .5% of teachers' salaries for up to 12 years.
State Representative Daniel Biss has hosted various public forums on this topic, including one entitled "What is 'Cost Shift' and Why Does it Matter?" As CSNA member Jeff Smith previously wrote, "it matters because shifting pension costs from the state to local school districts will put pressure on local districts either to reduce payroll or other expenses, or raise taxes, but not making that shift lets districts continue to be unaccountable for benefits and makes it difficult for the state to solve the pension crisis."
Decisions on pension reform could directly affect Evanston Township High School and Evanston/Skokie School District 65. The big question on the minds of locals is "Where will our schools find the funds?" I spoke with a few local voices to find possible solutions...
Bill Stafford, ETHS Chief Financial Officer: "Several members of the Board of Education and the Superintendent had a meeting [in July] with the governor saying that they were concerned that this was going to reduce our budget because more money would have to go to pay for pensions. Because we have tax caps, we would have to reduce other expenses. There would be no attempt to raise taxes...I think a reduction in funding to education is what it will be."
Mark Metz, ETHS Board of Education President: "Down to the bottom line, all it means is just more and more cuts to the state funding of education and the reason for that is we are under tax caps, so we cannot simply raise revenues. So where does that come from? Well, there's a few things we can do, but certainly the thing we will try to avoid is cuts to the classroom. [But] we are to the point that such a large percentage of our budget is teacher salary, that it might be unavoidable."
Daniel Biss, State Representative: "There are a lot of options, [including] trying to decrease raises or other personnel costs with administration. The most recent proposal of .5% per year would give school districts a substantial amount of time to plan. It's a really tough issue; it's a really challenging thing for everybody and everyone is very passionate and emotional."