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updated: 2/7/2013 9:48 AM

Editorial: Price of District 54 raises keeps going up

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How many times can the Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 board hit taxpayers for raises as high as 22 percent it gave several administrators a few years ago? Let us count the ways.

First, the raises themselves: A handful of District 54 administrators got substantial raises, most notably three successive 22 percent raises for Assistant Superintendent Mohsin Dada that boosted his pay to $341,747 the year before he retired in 2011.

And the pension: Dada got $244,011 last year from the Teachers' Retirement System, one of the highest among TRS retirees. Pensions are based on educators' pay.

Then the penalties: The state charged District 54 $586,000 to cover additional pension costs triggered when seven administrators' raises topped a 6 percent per year cap, plus another $97,000 in penalties related to Dada's raises.

Now, the legal fees: District 54 has yet to release costs of its lawsuit against TRS over the penalties for the seven administrators, which it's taking to the Illinois Supreme Court after losing at the appellate level last month. District 54 is suing TRS separately in hopes of getting back the penalty money triggered by Dada's raises.

If you don't live in District 54, read on anyway, because this case still has the potential to hit you in the wallet.

We take issue, of course, with repeated taxpayer-funded raises of more than 20 percent for any school administrator. Especially when the raises are designed to create pension millionaires out of public school retirees.

Beyond that, taxpayers across the state should object to District 54's attempts to get out of the penalties those raises incurred. If the school board believed -- and could convince District 54 taxpayers -- that the administrators were worth every penny, well, then, it should live with the consequences. Not pass the resulting pension costs on to taxpayers across Illinois.

District 54 administrators argue the penalties shouldn't apply to them because the contracts giving the raises predated the 6-percent law. TRS and the appellate panel disagreed, saying that while existing contracts were grandfathered in, the District 54 contracts had been extended for two years.

Unfortunately, this example could come at a bad time for property taxpayers across the suburbs. Lawmakers are trying to cut pension expenses dramatically, and one idea would hold local school districts responsible for the portion of pension costs now covered by the state -- which many suburban school administrators believe would raise property taxes.

Proponents say school districts won't act responsibly unless they have a stake in what pensions cost. Actions like those playing out in District 54 certainly add fuel to that argument.

Meanwhile, those raises that seemed awfully generous a few years ago continue to ratchet up costs in ways that no one, it seems, ever predicted.

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