Moms, do you want to pay more for diapers?
How about kicking over more money to the county the next time you have to buy a new refrigerator?
St. Clair County government officials are hoping your answer to those questions is “yes” and that voters will support two sales tax referendums on April 4. If approved, these two tax increases will cost taxpayers $44 million annually.
Although most voters have yet to hit the ballot boxes, area school leaders are already buzzing with ideas on how to spend the new revenue.
O’Fallon Township High School District 203 has attracted significant attention in recent months. The district faces a $2.3 million budget deficit, and plans to make $610,000 in budget cuts. It’s relying on passage of the sales tax increase to help close the remainder of the budget hole.
In many ways, District 203 represents the classic case of a government agency claiming it is cut to the bone and has no other option than to increase taxes. This is seldom true.
And it’s not the case in District 203. Close inspection of the district’s budget and contracts reveals many opportunities for savings.
▪ District 203 teachers don’t contribute to their own pensions.
All teachers in Illinois are supposed to put 9.4 percent of their pay toward their own retirement. But according to the teachers union contract for District 203, the district (read: taxpayers) picks up this cost for teachers as a benefit. This is an expensive perk the school board should never have agreed to.
The district also hands out end-of-career raises that inflate teachers’ pensions. In each of the three years before they retire, eligible teachers receive consecutive 5.6 percent raises – which local residents pay for through their property tax bills. After teachers retire, taxpayers pay for these inflated pensions through their state taxes.
The district also pays certain teachers “longevity” bonuses of up to $6,625 per year.
▪ District 203 inflates teachers’ pensions through its sick leave policy.
Over the course of their careers, teachers can accumulate dozens, or even hundreds of unused sick days that can be used to inflate their pensions. Even unused personal days can be converted into pension-boosting sick time. The district should offer sick time on an annual use-it-or-lose-it basis – as happens in the private sector.
▪ Taxpayers shoulder the burden for health insurance costs.
Taxpayers pay 80 percent of teachers’ health insurance premium costs, and 75 percent of their family plan premiums. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the norm in the private sector is for the employer to pay 70 percent of the cost – and it’s not uncommon for employers to pay only 60 percent.
▪ Administrators are paid more than twice as much as the average worker.
The 10 full-time administrators in District 203 all are paid more than $100,000 in total compensation. These salaries are not in line with what the average taxpayer in O’Fallon can afford. The U.S. Census Bureau pegs the median worker income in O’Fallon at $40,846.
Administrators should not be untouchable when taking a close look at school district spending.
No one should ask for more money from hardworking taxpayers without first reforming excessive spending. This should be the rule in O’Fallon as well as in Springfield.