Friday, August 26, 2011

Court rules against regional superintendents

By Jamey Dunn

A circuit judge ruled today that he does not have the power to force Gov. Pat Quinn to pay regional school administrators who have not seen a paycheck since the start of the fiscal year.

Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the pay for regional superintendents and their assistants in June, saying they should be paid from local revenues. As a result the elected administrators have not been paid since the fiscal year began on July 1. The group was working with the governor on a plan that could appear before the legislature in the fall veto session, scheduled for October. They were also lobbying lawmakers to override the governor’s veto if the plan fell through. In the meantime, they took the state to court asking to be paid until a solution can be found.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt sympathized with the superintendents in a hearing yesterday, saying he knew the lack of pay was causing them hardship, but he voiced concerns that ordering Quinn to pay would blur the separation of powers between the branches of government. He ruled today that he does not have the authority to essentially override the governor’s veto and force the state to cut the checks. “The Illinois Constitution states very plainly that the governor may veto an item of appropriation. To hold otherwise would thrust the court into the appropriation process. Such would be contrary to the Illinois Constitution.”

One of the superintendents’ lawyers, Charles Schmadeke, argued at the hearing yesterday that the group was asking Schmidt to enforce the statute that creates their positions and sets requirements for their pay. “While we respect Judge Schmidt and the difficultly of this decision, we are clearly disappointed in the ruling,” Raylene DeWitte Grischow, another lawyer working on the case, said in a prepared statement. “If the judiciary cannot compel the executive branch to follow the law, the result is that there are 80 Illinois families who are doing the state's important and critical work in education without payment and struggling each day to make ends meet. It is our view that the state is making the superintendents fund the operations of their offices out of their own pockets,”

Bob Daiber, president Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said the group plans to meet this afternoon to sort out what it plans to do next. “We respect the court's decision but are disappointed that the judge did not agree with us,” Daiber said in a prepared statement. “State law clearly calls for us to be paid for the good work we continue to do, but our fight continues. Today's outcome doesn't change that we believe this situation is totally unfair and against what this state stands for. We continue to work hard for the students, parents, educators and taxpayers of Illinois. And we will find a way through discussions with state lawmakers for a long-term funding solution. Clearly, the pain continues for many superintendents and their families during this very difficult time, and hardships are growing every day. They will have to make difficult decisions as this crisis continues, as we work through the inconsiderate decision to end our funding with no other plan in place to pay us for doing our jobs,” 

Quinn's administration says it is still working with the superintendents to find a way to get them paid in the near future. "We feel the court adopted the correct legal conclusion,”  Kelly Kraft, Quinn's budget spokesperson, said in a written statement.  “We look forward to continuing to work with representatives of the Regional Offices of Education on a short-term solution to ensure payment through the veto session."   


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