Most school officials, union members and elected officials in Springfield, Chicago and around the state probably don't know much about Cary Elementary District 26.
They should. Cary teachers and school board members last week ratified a significant contract.
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The contract calls for a 3 percent pay cut next year and pay freezes for the next two years. That's a painful and highly admirable move on the part of teachers to help a district that has been in dire financial trouble for years and has had to cut special programs, including art and music.
But that is not what makes this contract significant. Indeed, several suburban districts in recent years have successfully negotiated contracts that cut or freeze pay to reflect the tough economy.
What makes this agreement significant is that all this was done while lengthening the school day for 30 minutes. What makes this agreement significant is that the Cary board and union also agreed to end the practice of giving retiring teachers 6 percent pay boosts in the last four years of their careers. And they agreed to quit giving retirees a $20,000 lump sum payout and a $10 a day credit for unused sick days.
Those are groundbreaking moves. This practice of boosting teachers' pay and therefore padding their pensions for the rest of their lives absolutely must end all over Illinois. It must especially end for administrators who obviously earn higher salaries to start. A Daily Herald investigation last year demonstrated it's the administrators in Illinois who get the biggest and most egregious end-of-career pension gifts.
Teachers and administrators are not to blame for the $85 billion pension shortfall Illinois faces, but this end-of-career pension padding with lump sum payouts certainly exacerbates the problem. As we've said before, sick time is to be used for being sick. It's not meant to be guaranteed bonus pay. Most companies in the private sector do not pay employees any more for unused sick time, and governments everywhere need to follow suit. If they have a pension, teachers, administrators and public employees everywhere should expect it to be based on their final salary on its merits rather than on some artificially inflated gift.
Many school districts give out these end-of-career bumps and, until recently, there was nothing preventing them from giving even more than 6 percent. Now, officials still can give teachers and administrators more, but state law requires those districts to pay the Teachers' Retirement System a penalty to cover bumps greater than 6 percent. Our 2010 investigation found 200 such payments from suburban schools for bumps that were more than 6 percent for the three previous school years.
How about a law that forbids these bumps altogether? Cary teachers are leading the way. We commend them. We recommend everyone else follow.