Tax Watchdog: One-third of suburban educators paid more than $90,000

Wheeling Elementary District 21 Superintendent Michael Connolly knows payroll for his district is higher than average, but he doesn't expect that to change any time soon.

The district's pay level helps retain employees in a state experiencing a growing teacher shortage, Connolly believes.

“We do have teachers that when they come to us they stay with us,” he said. “We have become a destination district and that's a very good thing for us.”

A recent report issued by Advance Illinois, a public education policy and research group, showed more than 1,000 teaching vacancies throughout the state. Only one of those unfilled positions was in District 21.

Nearly 60 percent of District 21's 530 educators were paid more than $90,000 last year, according to the district's 2018 Annual Statement of Affairs report submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education.

A Daily Herald analysis of 95 suburban school districts showed more than 35 percent of educators in those districts received “gross compensation” of $90,000 or more last year. Those figures include salaries for full-time certified teachers and administrators as well as any coaching or teaching stipends that count as pensionable earnings with the Teachers' Retirement System. ISBE requires districts to identify how many educators fall within certain compensation ranges. The $90,000-plus category is the highest tracked in the reports.

The suburban school districts included 58 elementary districts, 19 high school districts and 18 unit districts. District 21 is one of 19 districts where more than 50 percent of educators received more than $90,000 in compensation last year, but it's only one of four elementary school districts that did.

In all but five of the high school districts, more than half the certified educators were paid more than $90,000 last year. Libertyville High School District 128 reported 86 percent of its 308 educators received more than $90,000 in compensation in 2018, however, district officials argued only 75 percent received salaries exceeding the $90,000 figure.

“Salaries are generally a reflection of the age, education degree level and experience,” said Dan Stanley, District 128's assistant superintendent for business. “In a district like ours that does not experience a lot of staff turnover, these factors greatly impact the average base salary.”

District 128 did not report any teaching position vacancies to Advance Illinois for its study.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox Lake Elementary District 114 reported only 3.8 percent — three of its 78 certified employees — were compensated above the $90,000 threshold in 2018. Keeneyville Elementary District 20 based in Hanover Park had 5.7 percent making that much and Millburn Elementary District 24 in Old Mill Creek had 5.8 percent.

State Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from downstate Bunker Hill, is proposing increasing the minimum starting salary for new teachers to $32,076 for the 2020-2021 school year and then incrementally increasing it up to $40,000 by the 2023-2024 school year. He believes this new minimum will attract and retain new teachers to the profession and the state.

Manar noted that it's not a new idea to set a minimum pay for teachers — that was done in 1980 when it was set at $9,000. The problem is that it's stayed at that level ever since.

He acknowledged the minimum will have little impact in many suburbs where starting salaries already exceed $40,000. But he added suburban districts aren't experiencing the teacher shortage to the extent some poorer downstate districts are.

“Paying a teacher $32,000 is a reasonable step forward,” Manar said. “The goal here is to even out the playing field because there are hot spots in the state where other school districts poach because they can offer a better salary.”

According to the 2018 state report cards, the average compensation for educators was $65,721.

Manar's bill was passed by the Senate Education Committee 14-3. One of those opposed was St. Charles Republican state Sen. Don DeWitte, who said the bill imposes a financial burden on school districts that might not be able to afford it.

“I'm always concerned when legislation comes down the pike that the state government knows better than the local school districts do,” he said. “It's important to raise the starting and base salaries for new teachers, but local school districts should determine what is a competitive salary.”

Connolly said suburban schools aren't immune. The staff shortage “is real and it's coming,” he warned. “Having a large and diverse student base, we have specialized needs in a thinning market. It's difficult now already.”

School district leaders and school board members from around the state are in Springfield this week lobbying legislators on topics including Manar's bill.

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  More than 85 percent of teachers and administrators at Libertyville High School District 128 received more than $90,000 in compensation in 2018, the highest volume of among 95 suburban school districts. Joe Lewnard/

Teacher pay

A Daily Herald analysis of 95 suburban school districts showed more than 35 percent of the educators in those districts received $90,000 or more in 2018 compensation, a figure that includes salary plus coaching and extracurricular stipends. Here's where those levels were highest:

<h3 class="breakHead">High school districts</h3>

Libertyville HS Dist. 128, 85.7% exceeding $90K

Maine Township HS Dist. 207, 83.6% exceeding $90K

Stevenson HS Dist. 125, 79.1% exceeding $90K

Northwest Suburban HS Dist. 214, 77.9% exceeding $90K

Palatine-Schaumburg HS Dist. 211, 77.5% exceeding $90K

<h3 class="breakHead">Unit districts</h3>

Barrington Unit Dist. 220, 44.5% exceeding $90K

Naperville Unit Dist. 203, 44.1% exceeding $90K

Batavia Unit Dist. 101, 43.1% exceeding $90K

Lisle Unit Dist. 202, 42% exceeding $90K

Elgin Area Dist. U-46, 40.7% exceeding $90K

<h3 class="breakHead">Elementary districts</h3>

Rondout Elem. Dist. 72, 60% exceeding $90K

Wheeling Elem. Dist. 21, 59.2% exceeding $90K

Glen Ellyn Elem. Dist. 89, 53.4% exceeding $90K

Elk Grove Township Elem. Dist. 59, 53.4% exceeding $90K

Glen Ellyn Elem. Dist. 41, 52.7% exceeding $90K

Source: Analysis of school district and Illinois State Board of Education records

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