Sullivan holds pension-reform roundtable with educators

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is calling the state legislature into a special session next month to deal with pension reform.

State Sen. John Sullivan met with school superintendents and other legislative leaders Monday to find out how school districts would be affected if a pension reform plan is adopted.

Sullivan and the superintendents met during a roundtable discussion in Mt. Sterling.

There were plenty of opinions there were offered during the two hour meeting.

"There's going to be pain felt across the board. But not coming up with a solution is not an option. We have to come up with a way to curb that cost," Sullivan said. The senator was referring to the escalating cost the state is facing for their share of pension payments for public employees and teachers.

There was a proposal in the last general assembly session that would shift the cost of teacher pensions from the state level to the local level. And one of the questions Monday was how would that proposal affect the local school districts. That proposal, if adopted, would see the cost of what is paid into the pension system increase by one percent for five years and after that a half a percent until the percentage is reached. That percentage is 9.4 percent. If eventually the school districts are mandated to pay that amount, the consensus at the meeting was that it will have a negative impact on many districts.

"It's going to impact our district in a negative way. The reserves we do have are there because of the cuts we made years ago, before my tenure at North Greene began. And any cuts we make to our educational programs is going to have an affect on kids in a bad way," North Greene School District Superintendent Les Stevens said.

Bud Martin, the interim superintendent of the Quincy Public School district, said if the proposal goes through, there needs to be another source of revenue available for the districts. Martin said if you ask the districts to come up with more money for the pension payments, many of them will end up cutting more and that means fewer programs and fewer teachers.

"It goes back to the same thing. We don't want to take services away from kids to fund another obligation. And the state doesn't want to take money away from other programs to fund a debt that they've incurred," Martin said.

This was the first of three roundtable discussions and Sullivan says he will take this information to Springfield when the debate on pension reform comes up again