When school districts outside of Chicago negotiate contracts, they do so with the assurance that the state will pick up the tab on pensions. To control growing pension costs, lawmakers capped salary bumps at 6 percent in 2005. This year, the cap tightened to 3 percent.
Illinois' teachers unions have collected more than 15,000 signatures on petitions urging state lawmakers to reverse that measure.
State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) chairs the House K-12 appropriations committee, and was involved in budget negotiations.
"I mean, things like this are tough conversations. But you know there's also a manner in which we also have to look at the long-term viability of our state,” he says. “Not everybody's in favor of raising taxes for the things we want to pay for. Sometimes we do have to make relatively tough decisions, and this fits into that category."
Senator Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) says districts are free to offer bigger raises, but will have to kick in pension costs for any amount that exceeds the cap.
"If the school district still wants to negotiate those increases, they certainly can. And it would just be a matter of the resources having to be paid locally as opposed to being paid at the state level,” Sims says.
Education unions are gathering petition signatures in hopes of getting that provision reversed. They say it effectively limits salary increases to an amount that barely covers inflation, and will discourage teachers from taking on extracurricular jobs like coaching athletic teams or directing plays.
"There's always the statement that someone won't do something,” Davis says. “I mean, we don't know what the district will do if somebody makes over the 3 percent. It depends how much over the 3 percent they're making."
Davis and Sims both support another measure, now awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature, that would raise the minimum salary for teachers from $9,000 to $40,000 over the next four years. If enacted, it could remove some of the need to boost teachers' pay at retirement time.
"The plan and the goal for us has always been in making sure that we are providing for investments in teacher salaries and educator salaries during the entirety of their service, not just at the end," Sims says.
Rauner had proposed shifting all pension costs to local districts over the next four years, or tightening the cap to 2 percen