A few years ago, schools in the suburbs starting doing away with a perk that was patently unfair to taxpayers.
Starting a few years before retirement, longtime teachers often got an automatic annual pay bump that was significantly bigger than what was received by other teachers in the same district. It allowed them to pocket extra money, but had an even more lucrative goal: boosting the public pension the teacher would receive for the rest of his or her life.
School boards could afford to offer it up because the pension money didn't come from their coffers, but rather from the state.Taxpayers were on the hook either way.
We applauded when some school districts and teachers unions negotiated away the automatic pension-boosting pay raises. But not every school district followed suit, even in the face of financial penalties for school districts that give pre-retirement pay bumps over 6 percent a year.
Those penalties cost $2.7 million from 2015 through 2017 for 86 suburban school districts that gave the pay raises to teachers and administrators who were about to retire, Suburban Tax Watchdog columnist Jake Griffin wrote on Wednesday.
Elgin Area School District U-46 paid the most, $436,542, followed by Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 at $312,949, Aurora East Unit District 131 at $303,151, Stevenson High School District 125 in Lincolnshire at $133,178, Bensenville-based Fenton High School District at $117,152, and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Naperville and Aurora at $107,055.
The penalties also come out of taxpayers' pockets, and there's a simple way to stop them: Get rid of the automatic, unearned final pay boosts. But that bonus dies hard.
Libertyville Elementary District 70 just approved a five-year contract that gives teachers 6 percent raises for up to four years in a row before retirement, as long as they're 55 years old and have 20 years with the district. Compounded, that's a 26 percent raise over four years, taking a $91,805-a-year teacher to $115,902. The district's average annual pay raise is 2.3 percent.
There's no logical way to justify that to taxpayers. And the penalties (you know the refrain -- they're paid by taxpayers) are only going to grow. A new state law requires penalties for end-of-career pay boosts over 3 percent, though it will only apply to new union contracts.
Reasonable people can agree on how to meet the need for high-quality teachers who get decent pay and promised pensions. People in the suburbs value teachers and want to be on their side. But extravagant add-ons weaken that partnership and should end.