The Illinois Policy Institute will host a public forum Thursday to debate teacher pension costs and the potential shift from state to local school districts.
The debate, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lemont Township Community Center, 16300 Alba St.
The event will be moderated by Illiniois Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) and Jerry Moore, opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications.
Debate participants include Ted Dabrowski, vice-president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute; Rainy Kaplan, executive committee member for the Illinois Education Association; and Dave Molitor; president of the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A Board of Education.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Policy Institute said the debate will focus on who should pay the employers' share of teacher pension costs—local school districts or the state.
Both Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) have spoken out in favor of the shift, which they say would help address Illinois' $83 billion unfunded pension liability—$44 billion of which is from the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS).
TRS pension covers certified employees including teachers, administrators, social workers and counselors. Currently, a TRS employee pays 9.4 percent of his or her salary into the pension system.
By comparison, typical U.S. workers pay 6.2 percent of their pay into Social Security. TRS employees pay 1.45 percent into Medicare, as other U.S. workers do. The local school district then pays another portion of the pension contribution and the state pays its share.
A recent poll conducted by the institute found that half of likely Illinois voters oppose shifting the cost to school districts, while the other half is split between indecision and favoring the proposal, according to a press release.
In response, the institute has organized a series of debates across the state. Events have already been held in Quincy, Carbondale and Springfield, and more are planned in Decatur, Cary and Rockford.
"The Institute's poll indicates that the public needs more information on how local pension accountability would affect schools and taxpayers, and that they're confused about who owns this policy in the statehouse," said Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute. "To improve understanding of this issue, the Institute is launching this statewide tour to engage stakeholders and move toward consensus on much-needed pension relief."
Officials in District 113A and Lemont High School District 210 have publicly expressed their opposition to the pension shift and the "detrimental" effects it would have on education.
The shift could cost the two districts each more than $730,000 annually, officials said.
"As I have said all along, it is unfair for the legislature—which created the equation for its portion of TRS, established the increases in COLA (cost-of-living adjustment), and for many years did not to meet its own financial obligations under the system it established—to give the responsibility for those payments to school districts with no funding source, especially when they were reducing state revenue to schools at the same time," said former District 210 Superintendent Sandra Doebert, who retired in June.
The Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to tackle pension reform during a special session on Aug. 17.
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