Teachers in school districts headquartered in Park Ridge and Naperville and near Lake Forest are among the highest paid in the suburbs, state data show.
Maine Township High School District 207 topped the list with an average teacher salary of $110,929. That's well above the $63,453 state average.
To come up with the rankings, the Daily Herald analyzed average salaries at more than 90 elementary, high school and unit districts in the North, Northwest and West suburbs. The data was included in the Illinois State Board of Education's school report cards released last month.
Maine Township's average is high, in part, because many of its teachers are highly experienced and at the top of the district's pay scale, District 207 spokesman David Beery said.
"We don't have a lot of turnover," he said.
But the average also is a reminder of the financial crisis District 207 experienced about six years ago, Beery said. Facing a mounting multimillion-dollar deficit, the district in 2010 laid off more than 130 employees, including 75 teachers.
As required by a labor agreement, the teachers who were let go had lower seniority and were paid less.
So, removing them from the payroll "significantly" boosted the district's average salary, Beery said.
That a high school district topped the pay chart shouldn't be a surprise.
Teachers in suburban high school districts generally are paid more than those in elementary or unit districts. Factors include experience, the acquisition of advanced degrees and district budget, officials said.
Additionally, bigger districts with more homes, more school buildings and more students generally pay teachers more than smaller districts. Although, this year, the average salaries at the best-paying elementary districts in the suburbs were greater than those at the best-paying unit districts.
Among elementary districts, Rondout School District 72 near Lake Forest was tops in the region with an average teacher salary of $95,237.
Superintendent Jenny Wojcik said the average is high because so many of Rondout's teachers are veteran educators who, because of their tenure, have climbed up the pay ladder.
Twelve of the one-school district's 18 full-time teachers have been there at least 10 years. Six have taught at Rondout for more than 20 years. They include first-grade teacher Roxanne Greenberg, who's set to retire in the spring after 38 years in the classroom.
Additionally, many Rondout teachers have advanced degrees, which further boosts their pay, Wojcik said.
"Rondout is a unique school community that provides extraordinary opportunities for students to learn and for teachers to teach," Wojcik said. "Rondout is a special place that can capture your professional heart and inspire you to be your best professionally."
Among the region's unit districts -- high schools and their elementary feeder schools -- Naperville District 203 led the way with an average teacher salary of $78,253.
With a whopping 23 campuses, District 203 is among the largest districts in the Chicago area. Salaries there are relatively high to attract the best teachers, spokeswoman Michelle Fregoso said.
Job applications, she said, far outnumber the district's job openings. "This is a desired district. People want to work here."
The explanations may make sense and the descriptions of life in these schools may sound idyllic, but tax watchdogs such as Gerry Verbeten still are concerned about how much teachers are paid.
Verbeten, a Libertyville resident whose wife is a retired teacher, is frustrated by the tendency to boost teachers' salaries as their careers draw to a close to ensure higher pension payouts.
"Wouldn't you love to have a retirement package like that?" Verbeten said.
Verbeten has been especially critical of spending in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, where the average teacher salary is $101,941, among the highest in the region.
"The taxpayer cannot afford it anymore," he said.
Spokeswoman Mary Todoric said District 128 officials strive to offer competitive salaries while being mindful of the tax burden on residents.
The high academic performance of Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools reflect the quality of the schools' teachers, she said, and that fair compensation "helps maintain a quality staff."
At the low end ...
On the other end of the pay scale, the Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake reported the lowest average teacher salary among the elementary districts surveyed by the Daily Herald, $41,717.
That didn't surprise Prairie Crossing Executive Director Geoff Deigan.
Whereas most public schools are funded with property tax revenue from throughout the district, charter schools merely get per-student tuition reimbursements from the state, Deigan said.
With less money coming in, salaries have to be capped, Deigan said. Although salaries for new teachers at Prairie Crossing are competitive with area districts, the school can't match what other districts are willing to pay more experienced teachers.
"We do get some attrition," he said.
On the other hand, because it's a charter school, Prairie Crossing offers teachers the opportunity to be more creative and innovative, Deigan said, and many employees value those perks over pay.
"We have some who have been here since we opened our doors in 1999, and they're not going anywhere," Deigan said.
Burlington-based Central Unit District 301 reported the lowest average salary for teachers in a unit district, $55,826. But Superintendent Todd Stirn isn't concerned about keeping up with the Joneses.
Enrollment in the seven-school district has been increasing, Stirn said, and officials typically hire three to five new teachers annually to keep up with the growth.
More than 40 percent of the District 301 teaching staff has five or fewer years experience, he said. And so many new hires year after year keeps the salary average down.
Grant Community District 124 in Fox Lake had the lowest average salary among high school districts in the area, $59,392.
Superintendent Christy Sefcik said the sum reflects the district's relatively young staff.
"Over 63 percent of our staff have less than 10 years of teaching experience," Sefcik said. "The average number of years of experience for all staff is just over eight."
Although the average base salary for Grant teachers is relatively low, Sefcik said the district makes up for it by offering employees a strong health insurance plan. That seems to be working -- teacher retention at Grant is nearly 92 percent, Sefcik said, and morale is high.
"We typically lose very few teachers to higher-paying districts," Sefcik said.