Be sure to read this story as you write your check to pay local property taxes if you're inside Rockford District 205. As long as your blood pressure medication is nearby.

The Chicago Tribune reported over the weekend that school districts across the state of Illinois still work to fatten pensions for retiring educators, even though it costs the districts millions in penalties.

Being a Chicago newspaper, the Tribune focuses on the city and suburban schools that show up high on the list. However, a quick look at the data reveals a maddening result: Rockford District 205 leads the state, by far, in the amount of penalties paid for spiking the pay of retiring educators, in turn increasing the pension payments for them as well.

The Tribune analysis of data shows that Rockford District 205 paid a penalty for salary spikes given to 209 educators from 2004-2014. And the sum of the excess salary penalties was $1,850,404. That's almost 50% more than the second-highest district (Schaumburg 54) and more than double the costs for the third-highest district (Elgin U-46). You can pull up all the data at this link.

How does this work? The Tribune explains:

A 2005 pension law was intended to rein in big salary spikes that boost retiree benefits and pension costs statewide, imposing cash penalties on districts that gave raises larger than 6 percent to outgoing educators.

But over the last decade, hundreds of school districts paid the so-called penalties and doled out steeper raises anyway, state data show, pushing some administrator salaries higher than $300,000, and, in one case, $400,000.

In a double whammy, local taxpayers had to foot the bill for those salary spikes, as well as the special penalty payments required to cover higher pensions from the raises.

Again, local Rockford taxpayers not only are on the hook for the excessive end-of-career salary hikes for these educators, but they also paid nearly $2 million in penalties alone. That money didn't go toward hiring extra teachers. That money didn't go toward adding paraprofessionals. That money didn't pay for new science lab equipment or anything else. It simply was taxpayer money given to the state as a penalty for big salary spikes to inflate pensions. In addition, Rockford taxpayers joined the rest of Illinois residents in taking responsibility to pay the spiked pension costs as well.

The topic of local pension accountability for school districts has been discussed in recent years. It's the rare idea pushed by Mike Madigan that I (and Illinois Policy) think has some merit. The question I usually pose is, "Why should Rockford taxpayers be on the hook for whatever generous compensation packages are handed out by school boards in Naperville or Barrington or Wheaton?"

Based on this latest data, though, perhaps the question should be, "Why should Naperville or Barrington taxpayers be on the hook for whatever generous compensation packages are handed out by the school board in Rockford?"

In case you're wondering, Harlem District 122 ended up with the 18th-highest costs in the state, paying $391,099 in penalties over the past decade.



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