A retirement incentive approved as part of Palatine Township Elementary District 15's unprecedented 10-year teachers' contract will boost salaries of some higher-paid, long-serving educators by 26.2 percent in just four years.
But district administrators believe the program, which could lure up to a quarter of the district's faculty into retirement, will ultimately help stabilize personnel costs. By eliminating that many higher-paid employees, district officials contend personnel costs will rise on average less than 1 percent annually over the course of the contract.
By the contract's end in 2026, the highest-paid teachers in the district will make a base salary of $121,265, up 11.6 percent from this year's highest base salary of $108,701.
Teachers making the highest current salary who take advantage of the retirement incentive will make $137,233 when they retire at the end of the 2020 school year. Their starting pensions would then be 75 percent of the average salary over those last four years of work, which would be $94,511 in the first year if they hadn't received any additional extra-duty stipends. Like all teacher pensions, that will increase by 3 percent a year.
Unlike other state pensions, most teachers don't receive Social Security.
The funds needed to cover those increased pension obligations will be borne by taxpayers across the state.
Details of the retirement program were made public Thursday when District 15 finally released copies of the contract, weeks after the school board ratified it April 13. The school district previously had refused Freedom of Information requests seeking access to the contract.
A clause in the contract requires eligible teachers to "access the incentive at the earliest possible point in time" or risk losing eligibility forever. Once the teachers sign up for the incentive, which guarantees 6 percent raises over the subsequent four years, they cannot withdraw nor can the district revoke the offer, according to the contract.
Earlier, District 15 released a summary of the contract's terms, which showed average annual raises of 2.5 percent for the first four years of the contract and average annual raises of 4 percent for the last six years for nonretiring faculty.
District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said he believes most of the teachers eligible for the incentive program will take advantage of it.
"We have reviewed historical data regarding how many teachers accessed the previous retirement benefit we offered," he said. "Based on that, we anticipate that teachers will want to continue to access this opportunity."
District officials believe the length of the contract as well as the pay will entice the best new teachers to apply for openings. Though the contract has two salary tiers, it allows the newer teachers to join the more lucrative tier after six years of service. That means a teacher with no experience and no advanced degree hired at the start of this year with a base salary of $39,944 stands to make 41.5 percent more -- a base salary of $56,534 -- by the end of the 10-year contract.
However, a similarly inexperienced new teacher hired in the final year of the new contract will start with a base salary of $42,401, or just 6.2 percent more than the current starting salary. That worries some residents who are skeptical of the new contract.
"One of the biggest problems is inadequate starting teacher salaries even if inflation is low," said Scott Herr, a resident and former school board member. "With inflation at 2 percent, nearby districts will be offering starting teacher salaries 21 percent higher than District 15 in 10 years."
The Daily Herald filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the contract when it was approved by the board, but the request was formally denied April 22.
District officials had said that they couldn't release the agreement because, while both sides had agreed to the basic terms, the final language in the 85-page document still needed to be drafted. They said the contract was still a preliminary document and exempt from public records laws.
The Daily Herald appealed that decision to the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor on April 25, but has not yet received an opinion.