How pension debate played out in District 211 teacher contract talks
Before the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board's recent 5-2 approval of a two-year teachers contract, most of the debate centered on a specific change in retirement benefits rather than the 3% annual salary increases.
A discussion between board members Kim Cavill and Mark Cramer focused on how much discretion the district had in changing the annual pay increase cap for teachers in their last four years before retirement, to 6% from 3%.
Cavill said recent state legislation has enabled such an increase after only a few years of being reduced to 3%.
But Cramer argued it isn't required for any district to go to the new maximum. When districts do -- particularly in affluent districts like 211 -- it stresses the state's entire Teachers' Retirement System, he said.
At the heart of the issue is how pensions are determined for Illinois teachers based on the average of their four consecutive highest-paid years.
During their last four years, after declaring their intention to retire, teachers are taken off the normal payment schedule and receive a retirement incentive of 20% of their annual compensation spread over those four years.
But until the recent legislation was adopted, there was a cap of a 3% pay increase per year, with any remainder to be delivered in a lump sum after retirement. Only the amounts paid before their retirements contributed to their pensions.
Under the return to the 6% cap, the 20% incentive can be worth more, which adds to the pension calculation.
Cramer and fellow board member Pete Dombrowski said this change -- including what they call a retroactive provision in the contract -- strongly contributed to their votes against the contract.
Under the new terms, modifications can't be made any earlier than to the current 2021-22 school year.
District 211 Chief Operating Officer Lauren Hummel said that while the new contract allows teachers already on the four-year retirement track to get raises in their remaining years that are different from what was originally declared, it does not allow them to retroactively change the raises of years already paid.
Representatives of the district's teachers union did not respond to a request for comment on how strong a priority this change in the cap was in their negotiations for a new contract. Members did vote to authorize a potential strike four weeks before a contract was approved, claiming the district's offers were not competitive for the recruitment and retention of good teachers.
On the night of the vote, District 211 board President Anna Klimkowicz said the union's threat of a strike didn't sit well with her. Keeping students in school should be the top priority of all concerned, she said.
Klimkowicz described the contract as "imperfect" but workable for its two-year term.
"The most important thing is that we were able to get it settled and move forward," she said last week.
Cramer released a statement after the vote explaining his opposition and why he believes the decisions of individual school districts affect the state's overall retirement system for teachers.
"Because wealthier school districts are more likely to have the resources to boost salaries, pension spiking forces state income taxpayers in poorer school districts to subsidize those wealthier districts' pension costs," Cramer wrote. "Pension spiking funnels scarce education funds to a fortunate few retirees (who are employed by affluent school districts such as D211) at the expense of teachers currently serving and future teachers still in training.
"While local property taxpayers aren't directly on the hook for TRS benefits, they do pay the price in a painful but overlooked way," Cramer said.