Suburban districts to pick up part of new teacher pensions in 2020

A change buried in this year's state budget would require suburban school districts to pick up a portion of costs for teacher pensions beginning in 2020.

The state's newest teachers - who will enter into a new retirement plan called Tier III that's a hybrid between a traditional pension and a 401(k) style plan - would for the first time have the school districts that employ them, instead of the state, pick up 2 percent of their pension costs starting that year.

The change has to be approved by the Internal Revenue Service before it can be implemented.

When it does go into effect, the state will "still be on the hook" for paying for the vast majority of pensions for suburban and downstate teachers who were hired before this fiscal year, said Dave Urbanek, spokesman for the Teachers' Retirement System. Chicago Public Schools, meanwhile, will continue to pay for its own teacher pensions.

<h3 class="leadin">Manageable, for now

Local superintendents acknowledge state funding for schools is a constant source of uncertainty, but say this change should be manageable.

Beginning the 2 percent shift in 2020 "gives us enough time to manage it and budget it," Maine Township High School District 207 spokesman David Beery says.

Meanwhile, Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders says, "I don't think we really know yet what we're in for." He notes that U-46, the state's second largest district, has more teachers in the Teachers' Retirement System than any other district in the state. "I just don't know what it will be yet," Sanders says of the cost. "It's quite a bit fuzzy." Sanders says that U-46 hired 179 new teachers for this school year.

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State Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park sponsored a new law that will allow police dogs to be transported in ambulances. Associated Press File Photo

Helping furry first responders

Police dogs injured in the line of duty will be able to be transported via ambulance to a veterinary clinic under a new law sponsored by state Sen. Tom Cullerton. The Villa Park Democrat's legislation was signed by the governor on Tuesday and allows medical professionals to transport police dogs, though under the law, people must receive medical attention first.

Cullerton's office notes the cost for a police dog's training can run a local department about $30,000. It's an "investment in humanity and public safety that needs to be protected," he said.

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  Cook County's penny-per-ounce soda tax won't hit schools hard because federal nutrition standards already limit many sweetened drinks. Mark Welsh/

Soda tax in schools?

Just how is the Cook County "soda tax" affecting drinks sold in schools?

Rob Nash, spokesman for the American Beverage Assocation, says it's relatively minimal, pointing to a federal law that already prohibits full-calorie sweetened beverages in schools as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

But many high schoolers can buy diet sodas, which are taxed, and full-calorie beverages are allowed at high schools during non-school hours under federal guidelines.

<h3 class="leadin">More school breakouts

Abdon Pallasch, spokesman for Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, broke down how much some suburban schools got from the $429 million that was released to Illinois schools districts last week.

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 based in Aurora got $4.1 million, Waukegan Unit District 60 got $3.4 million, Naperville Unit District 203 got $2.9 million, Palatine Elementary District 15 got $2.3 million, Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 got $1.1 million and Des Plaines Elementary District 62 got $834,000.

Mendoza's payment was aimed at helping schools with cash flow after the state missed its first regularly scheduled payments for the 2017-18 academic year. Those checks are on hold until the state legislature acts on GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a school funding overhaul bill. The Senate overrode Rauner's veto Sunday. On Wednesday, the House moved not to take up the override vote, a move designed to build pressure as schools open amid funding uncertainty.

<h3 class="leadin">$180K for elevator

Nearly $180,000 was raised for the Elk Grove Village VFW Post on Devon Avenue to install an elevator for its disabled veterans.

The effort, spearheaded by Mayor Craig Johnson and Kitty Weiner, culminated with a fundraiser July 25 where Castle Chevrolet auctioned off a 2017 Corvette for the cause.

Weiner, a political consultant and former longtime aide to U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, said the idea came after she offered to give a double-amputee war veteran a tour of the VFW post. The veteran had to be carried in and out of the building because he was unable to navigate the stairs. The elevator is expected to be installed in the next few months.

<h3 class="leadin">A big thanks

To the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning for having me moderate a forum Tuesday focused on doing more with fewer government resources. The event at the Libertyville Civic Center included as panelists North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Mano a Mano Director Megan McKenna, Illinois Justice Project Director Paula Wolff and PortaeCo Chairman John Gate. While it's clear that resources are dwindling, these bright minds gave the roughly 125 attendees - and me - hope that creative solutions will help place the state and local communities on a brighter, more sustainable path going forward.

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