A recent report by Daily Herald Tax Watchdog Columnist Jake Griffin that 42 percent of Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 retirees -- the most in the suburbs -- received pensions of $100,000 or more last year prompted a range of reactions from the five candidates for the district's school board.
Incumbents Anna Klimkowicz, Robert LeFevre and Edward Yung and challengers Roman Golash and Mike Scharringhausen are competing for three open seats in the April 9 election.
The most adamant opponent to the six-figure pensions is Golash, a retired U.S. Army colonel who ran unsuccessfully for the board two years ago.
"I don't get nearly as much in my retirement pay from the military," said Golash, who now works as a microbiologist at the Illinois Department of Public Health. "Inevitably, someone's going to have to bite the bullet because 211 has to function with a much lower budget."
Golash, of Palatine, said the pensions are a product of salary increases and the board's consistent -- and often unquestioned -- hikes in the tax levy. Referring to state law limiting levy increases each year to the rate of inflation, he said levying for more now so as not to lose out in the future is not acceptable reasoning for the bumps. He also said salaries and pensions haven't translated to 211 being among the state's top-performing districts.
Scharringhausen, a general manager at a wholesale fastener distribution company, said there's no easy answer.
"It's a great gig if you can get it type of thing," the Schaumburg man said. "District 211 is a top place to work, so the staff comes in and stays. They don't leave."
Scharringhausen said the pensions and salaries are products of previous collective bargaining agreements in which he had no involvement. He said the state is in "complete shambles" and that something has to change.
The board member who's been around for the most teachers contracts is Klimkowicz, a family case manager and licensed professional counselor elected in 1997.
She said she wouldn't refer to the sizable pensions as justified, but said salaries have evolved to their current levels by virtue of being in the Northwest suburbs.
"Say (District) 214 is paying 'X,' part of negotiations becomes, 'If they're getting it, we should be getting the same amount,'" Klimkowicz, of Schaumburg, said. "I don't think board members ever set out to penalize the (Teachers' Retirement System) or to overpay teachers."
Klimkowicz said when the teachers contract expires in 2014, there will have to be a better discussion that results in a more conservative agreement. She suggested using Interest-based bargaining to focus on how the district will benefit.
Board President LeFevre said District 211 is an outstanding district with outstanding employees, and he fully supports competitive pay.
"I'd gladly pay people more to make sure we put the absolute best teachers we can get our hands on in front of the students," LeFevre, of Palatine, said.
LeFevre, a certified public accountant elected to the board in 2005, said the district didn't make the pension rules, but does abide by them. He said had the state fully funded the pension system, "we wouldn't be in this problem" and urged legislators to figure out a solution so District 211 can absorb any additional costs and move forward.
Yung, an architect who's seeking his second term, said the six-figure pensions are a product of the $94,000 median salary in the district and the longevity among its staff.
"It is what it is," Yung said. "The only problem I have sometimes is that TRS was set up by the state legislature, and they've borrowed from the pension systems ... if they set up the rules and we're following them and they criticize us, how justifiable is that?"
Yung said that during negotiations for the current teachers contract, a comparison of six other districts showed three had higher average salaries and three had lower ones. Regarding administrators' pay, a survey of eight districts showed five with higher and three with lower.
• To see all our coverage of the District 211 board race, including candidate bios, go to dailyherald.com.