Illinois school administrators fearful over lack of funding due to pension debt
Springfield District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill is admittedly frightened over her district's lack of funding.
Gill and her peers from the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) shared their fear of the pending pension debt continuing to take from their classrooms during a recent Senate Appropriations I & II Committee hearing.
The debt they did not create cannot end up on their shoulders alone, the association maintains.
Gill noted they hoped what has been proposed by lawmakers is negotiable since taxpayers should not have to pay for 30 years of Illinois' past sins.
“I am here to honor the fact that the state is facing many tough financial decisions,” Gill said.
Gill began her testimony noting she is a lifelong resident and Springfield citizen; and as the superintendent of a Springfield school district, she often sees the state battling a billion-dollar deficit. Although she is grateful for the newly passed Illinois State Board of Education (ISBOE) evidence-based funding formula, the superintendent is not thrilled with being short more than $1 million while attempting to live within the district's means.
"It has had a devastating effect," Gill said, adding the $1.4 million loss has made an impact in the classroom quickly.
Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said sitting through the many years of education reform that she and lawmakers have done with the association, she finds herself surprised at the disconnect.
“I think our side was a little shocked by what we hear in Springfield and what we are hearing from superintendents locally,” Rezin said.
Proposing a cost-shift from four to 12 years, Rezin helped deflate some of Gill's fears.
The lawmaker said if it was possible to spread the cost over time, then local superintendents can assume the local tax more reasonably.
“The actual part of the pension cost, not the unfunded liability,” Rezin said.
“Definitely the lesser of two evils,” Gill said, noting since being with the district for four years, she has yet to see a bill paid on time.
If the district were able to have some idea of what the future looked like, things wouldn’t seem so bleak, she added.
"If we had the ability to know what our money was coming in and get that on a regular schedule of payments and have knowledge of how far it is going to be paid out,” Gill said. "That’s our job, to learn how to budget and make that work."
Rep. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) said he was happy the association was open for discussion.
“You would agree it is impossible to answer the question as to how you would react to this if the variable of certainty and funding was not there,” McCarter said. “If the funding is not there, the deal is off.
McCarter also said he already proposed an eight-year-plan that could also work.
Senators are taking into consideration the IASA's concerns, and no final action was taken.