There were a lot of ideas and not many solutions as a panel debated teacher pensions Monday at Springfield High School. A panel debated the issue of whether the state continue funding their promised share of pensions for teachers or to shift that burden to the local school districts.
Members of a panel discussion from Springfield High School Monday. Left to right: Collin Hitt, Scott McFarland & Cinda Klickna. Photo by Greg Bishop
School Board member Scott McFarland, the president of the Illinois Education Association, Cinda Klickna, and Collin Hitt, Senior Director of Government Affairs for the Illinois Policy Institute discussed the pros and cons of the cost shift.
The Illinois Policy Institute supports shifting the pension costs to local districts saying that the status quo where the state picks up the majority of the pension cost is an unfair subsidy for more wealthy school districts who can afford to hand out six figure salaries for teachers and not be on the hook for the pension obligation.
The inevitability of the shift seems certain to McFarland. He says that signs coming from the general assembly and the governor’s office show the cost shift of pensions is likely.
"After hearing the arguments for and against, do you support local or oppose local pension accountability? 39% support, 48% oppose, 14% unsure"
McFarland also says that District 186 budget talks for the next fiscal year indicate that the district is already anticipating an $8 million deficit and shifting the pension costs locally could tack on an additional $7 million.
McFarland and Klickna say there are other ways to fund the pensions including changing the tax structure and even raising property taxes.
Monday’s discussion began with a text poll of those in attendance. Before the debate just over a third supported the cost shift to local districts. After the debate nearly half of 29 respondents opposed the cost shift.
The Illinois Policy Institute hosted the discussion.