A new Illinois law will bring more transparency to school district finances.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 3236 into law Aug. 10. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, requires school districts to report administrative costs directly to the state, effective immediately.
Illinois currently spends among the most per pupil on education in the Midwest. However, not all of those funds reach the classroom. A large portion goes to pay for pensions, duplicative school district administrations and executive pay.
In fact, Illinois ranks eighth in the nation in administrative spending as a percentage of education spending. A 2017 report by the Metropolitan Planning Council found that Illinois school districts collectively spend $518 per student – the second-highest in the nation – on “general administration.” This includes costs for administrators’ salaries and benefits.
State law requires education officials to file school report cards annually with the Illinois State Board of Education. These report cards include information such as demographics, curriculum information, student progress and costs per pupil. It will now also include costs associated with executive, administrative and managerial functions.
This new measure will make more transparent the administrative spending of Illinois’ 851 school districts – a win for taxpayers, who are ultimately the ones footing the bill. With more financial information easily accessible, local taxpayers will be empowered to hold their school districts accountable.
Administrative bloat is costly. In many Illinois communities, taxpayers are seeing several school district administrators earn six-figure salaries to provide duplicate services. Take the city of East Moline, for example, where three separate school districts employ superintendents who perform identical duties, while earning between $100,000 and $200,000 annually.
Or take Belleville, where six separate school districts have more than 200 public school employees earning more than $100,000 annually. Since levying property taxes is the main source of revenue for school districts, it’s no wonder Illinois homeowners pay among the highest property taxes in the nation.
End-of-career salary spiking boosts the cost of pensions for school district retirees. This, in part, can explain why pension costs are consuming an increasing portion of education spending in Illinois. Crowding out funds meant for the classroom, rising pension costs drive local school districts to hike property taxes, which only worsens Illinoisans’ high property tax burden.
Making school district administrative spending more transparent is key to identifying some of the cost drivers behind Illinoisans’ sky-high property taxes. Building on SB 3236, state and local lawmakers should take immediate steps toward real property tax relief. This can be delivered through school district consolidation, reducing overhead and administrative expenses, and reforming Illinois’ broken pension system.