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Local school officials say shifting the pension burden will hurt

Updated: December 23, 2012 11:07PM



If the state shifts pension costs to individual school districts, south suburban superintendents said there is no way they can generate enough revenue to cover the millions of dollars needed to fund such an expense. School districts – operating under a property tax cap - will be forced to make cuts and that likely will mean fewer teachers and larger class sizes, they said.

But at least they know that if they are in control, the payments will be made, they said.

Cook County School District Supt. Ray Lauk said he is not opposed to shifting the pension payments to the local school districts over time.

“We know we will be responsible and make those payments. If we leave it to the legislators, who knows what will happen. The Legislature has been playing a shell game for years and years,” he said. “At least we could ensure the long term viability of the system, because in the hands of the state government, it’s a gamble.”

State legislators have failed to pay into the pension system as needed, superintendents said.

“They created the problem and now they’re asking us to fix their problem,” Kirby School District 140 Supt. Michael Byrne said.

Even if pension costs were shifted over time to the school districts, as proposed, it ultimately will cost his district — which serves 3,600 students from Tinley Park, Orland Park and Orland Hills — at least $5 million, he said. Ninety percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes.

And when significant cuts have to be made, it will come from personnel costs, which comprise the bulk of any school’s budget, superintendents said. No matter who pays, funds for the pensions come from the same source – taxpayers, Byrne said.

School leaders are waiting to see what Springfield comes up with, but they know it will include shifting at least some of the pension costs their way.

“We can’t tax for it, with the tax cap,” LincolnWay High School District 210 Supt. Lawrence Wyllie said. “There is no way to fund additional expenses. We will have to cut something else to make up for it.”

Most districts have healthy reserves, but an expense like this will erode those funds and “eventually erode the type of education we have now,” Lauk said.



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