Wednesday, November 09, 2011

House approves plan to pay school administrators

By Jamey Dunn

School officials who have worked for months without pay are one step closer to getting a paycheck.

The Illinois House today approved Senate Bill 2147, which would pay regional superintendents out of a local revenue stream. The administrators have not received pay since Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the funding for their salaries last summer. However, many have continued to work. Regional superintendents' duties include inspecting schools, certifying teachers, training bus drivers and conducting background checks on job applicants.

The legislation's sponsor, Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat, called the situation “an embarrassment to the state of Illinois, and it needs to be corrected.”

The bill would allow for regional superintendents to be paid for one year, including back pay from the time they have worked without compensation, out of personal property replacement tax revenues. The measure also calls for the creation of a task force that would make recommendations on potential consolidation of the Regional Offices of Education, which are run by the superintendents.

Mautino said that the plan would cost about $13 million. “It’s a one year hit of less than 1 percent, less than a penny on the dollar.” But local representatives of local governments say the real issue is not the price tag, it’s about the state shifting the cost onto local governments of an office created by the legislature.

Joe McCoy, legislative director for the Illinois Municipal League, said the move to pay regional superintendents from local funds falls into a larger pattern of the state looking to shift expenses to local governments during the current budget crisis. He said there is concern that some lawmakers are starting to view money from the personal property replacement tax as a “slush fund of the state of Illinois.”

McCoy said that although the provision that would end payment out of the tax revenue after one year does provide a safeguard, “it doesn’t really address our underlying concern, which is that the state is going to begin to cost shift onto local governments.”

The deadline has passed for lawmakers to override Quinn’s veto, so the bill appears to be the superintendents’ only hope. “We have to act today because an override is no longer an option. Because if we do not, the next time we will meet will be in January, and they will not have been paid for seven months,” Mautino said today on the House floor.

But some opponents said the General Assembly should not swoop in to fix a problem that Quinn created. "I don’t know how many times we’re going to have to keep cleaning up the mess that our governor is making. This is the mess that he’s created, and he’s asking us to fix it. We shouldn’t do that for him,” said Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat. Franks was critical of Quinn for cutting the superintendents’ pay without a clear plan of who would handle their responsibilities, many of which are required by law. “If he didn’t think that the Regional Offices of Education were necessary, then he should have had their duties transferred to the state superintendent of schools, but he didn’t do that.”

A Senate committee approved the bill this evening, and supporters expect it to come up for a floor vote in that chamber tomorrow.

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