OPRF scrambles to avoid pension penalties

Board met June 3 to avoid blowback from state's recent pension changes

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

A series of changes made to the Teacher Retirement System as part of the state's recent bipartisan budget agreement had District 200 school board members scrambling to avoid being hit with penalties earlier this month. 

During an emergency meeting on June 3, the D200 board unanimously approved multiyear contract agreements for two retiring district administrators who are receiving 6 percent salary increases. 

The budget deal that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law earlier this month changed the cap on salary increases for teachers who are at the end of their careers from 6 percent to 3 percent. 

Under the new law, which took effect on June 4, the two retiring administrators —Gwen Walker-Qualls, the director of pupil personnel services, and Sara Roodhouse, the head of the fine and applied arts division — would have been penalized because the district would be providing them compensation far in excess of the new 3 percent maximum.

In a statement released on June 3, Karin Sullivan, the district's communications director, said the change to the pension system by the state legislature was "unexpected."

She added that if the board did not take action on the Sunday before the law went into effect, the penalties paid by the district were estimated to be $13 to $15 for every dollar paid in excess of the 3 percent maximum on salary increases. 

District officials could not provide by Tuesday morning a more precise total estimate of what those penalties would be like when applied to the two administrators.

Approving multiyear agreements for Roodhouse and Walker-Qualls would shield the district from being penalized and adhere to the retirement incentive commitment that it made to those administrators well before the new pension change was enacted, Sullivan said. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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Marc Martinez from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2018 3:40 PM

Maureen, I think you are wrong. The board needed to vote to agree to pay the new penalties that will be assessed because they are not changing the pension sweetener that they claim was 'promised'. So the two administrators get their fat goosed pay and pensions and we get to pay the penalty for excessive sweetening.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: June 15th, 2018 4:57 PM

ok, my take on this is that the pension cost has not changed at all from what they had been promised initially - - but the change in the law necessitated this hocus-pocus to "save" the taxpayers from paying a penalty. The amount the retirees will received doesn't change either way - it's what they were promised. Am I interpreting this correctly?

Terry Stanton  

Posted: June 15th, 2018 10:31 AM

Paul. Rough calculation on the lower of the two salaries. 3 percent of $120,000 = 3600. Pension is 75 percent of that = $2700. (with 3 percent raise annually for life!) Don't forget the 3 percent salary raise is on top of the 3 percent raise (total 6 percent)

Paul Clark  

Posted: June 14th, 2018 6:16 PM

The story first indicates that the retiring administrators would be penalized, then it states that it's the district that would be penalized. I'm assuming it's the district that would have paid the penalty. Either way, it would be good to know how much the extra 3 percentage point pay raise will cost annually, pension-wise.

Terry Stanton  

Posted: June 14th, 2018 5:45 PM

Stop using the inaccurate term "pension incentives." These are pension sweeteners, lifetime bonuses that have been handed out for years because the school board could stick almost all the cost onto the taxpayers. It's a non transparent, unnecessary unearned bonus system that should be abolished.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: June 14th, 2018 3:04 PM

Let's just do what D97 did with the pension-dilemma of the on/off retirement of the Lincoln school principal......just give her a made-up job at D97 admin. Who paid for this? OP taxpayers! But, seriously, perhaps it would be best for local school boards to have nothing to do with salaries, benefits or pensions (ala pension-spiking)......just have it be the same across the state (or region). Then problems like this would end. The money involved is just too large for local communities to any longer manage.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: June 14th, 2018 8:47 AM

Here's an idea - follow the law and there won't be any penalty.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 13th, 2018 4:48 PM

Assuming full pension vesting and only one 6% raise (it is probably more), the Qualls penalty would cost the district around $14,000. That's the low- end estimate. If it's 2 6% raises, that penalty jumps to $43,000.

Nick Polido  

Posted: June 13th, 2018 11:47 AM

Confused: Salaries for Gwen $170K and Sarah 120K, we really needed to give these two a 6% pension kicker??? Our leaders then approved at emergency meeting multiyear contracts for these retiring administrators (what ever that means)? Karen Sullivans (communications director salary 114K) non answer of what it costs in penalties or why no one saw this coming??? Or why our financial director Tod Altenburg salary ($206K) is even being paid!

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