Metro East school districts contribute to state's pension spiking

By Cole Lauterbach, Illinois News Network | Jul 27, 2018

Over the past five years, schools in the Metro East have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for giving teachers in the twilight of their careers pension-boosting raises.

According to documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the Teachers Retirement Fund, Illinois’ public teacher retirement pool, has received $527,845 from school districts in East St. Louis, Alton, East Alton, Belleville, and Edwardsville for excessive pay increases and sick leave days.

The way the law works is that any raise of more than six percent given to a school employee vested with TRS or the State University Retirement System must then be coupled with a payment to the pension fund to offset the calculated additional cost in pension benefits that the teacher receives if he or she lives out their actuarial lifespan. This is meant to deter schools from spiking pensions and leaving the state fund with the bill. 

As of Jan. 1, 2018, TRS has an unfunded liability of $73.4 billion.

Statewide, school districts have paid $23.8 million in penalties to TRS since fiscal 2014 for excess sick time and excessive end-of-career pay raises.

East St. Louis District 189 had the largest price tag. Taxpayers there have paid a total of $186,106.51 in penalties since 2014. Most of that was from penalties on excess pay increases.

School district officials there did not respond to requests for comment.

DistrictExcess pay penaltyExcess Sick leave PenaltyDistrict total
East St Louis SD 189$ 186,106.51 $ 186,106.51
Alton CUSD 11$ 25,384.36$ 4,112.22$ 29,496.58
East Alton SD 13$ 31,177.36 $ 31,177.36
East Alton-Wood River CHS 14$ 63,995.24$ 52,935.13$ 116,930.37
Belleville SD 118$ 6,418.84 $ 6,418.84
Whiteside SD 115$ 1,615.60 $ 1,615.60
Belle Valley SD 119 $ 716.92$ 716.92
Harmony Emge SD 175 $ 888.03$ 888.03
Signal Hill SD 181$ 6,260.95 $ 6,260.95
Belleville THSD 201$ 55,069.78$ 33,457.05$ 88,526.83
Belleville Area Spec Ed$ 58.32 $ 58.32
St Clair Co Reg Educ Programs$ 1,468.09 $ 1,468.09
Edwardsville CUSD 7$ 55,113.08$ 2,706.17$ 57,819.25
Madison Co ROE 41$ 361.35 $ 361.35
    
Total$ 433,029.48$ 94,815.52$ 527,845.00 

“It’s inexcusable that school districts were spiking pensions at the end of their careers to the point where they’ve got to pay penalties,” said state Rep. Peter Breen, a Lombard Republican who has worked to publicize end-of-career pay spikes in other state pension systems.

“This data is Exhibit A for what’s wrong with Illinois’ pension systems,” he said.

The state budget for the 2019 fiscal year lowers the threshold for triggering excessive pay raise penalties to three percent, down from six. The Illinois Federation of Teachers has created a petition opposing the change.

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Organizations in this Story

Alton Community Unit School District 11 East Alton School District 13 East St Louis School District 189

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