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Pension Reform: Observations from a New Illinois School Superintendent

Glenbard Township High School District 87 Superintendent David F. Larson shares his observations on pension reform. Glen Ellyn Patch welcomes letters and opinion pieces. E-mail Mary Ann Lopez at maryl@patch.com.

Pension Reform Observations

As a new superintendent in Illinois, it has been intriguing watching the saga of the state's long-term troubled pension system.  The following are a few observations from a newcomer’s perspective regarding the lessons to learn from our pension woes: 

Lesson One - Poor Stewardship Can Be Costly

It is unfortunate that the consequence for the lack of political will and fiscal responsibility has been passed on to future generations.

The current Legislature is tasked with fixing a system that commissions and task forces in previous decades had reported on.  In 1973, one commission reported, "The pension obligation still remains almost wholly obscured or ignored by some public officials." The lack of collective stewardship and the necessary resolve on the part of generations of elected officials is bewildering.

Lesson Two - Pay Your Expenses As You Go

Similar to the federal government, a mechanism is needed to ensure financial liabilities are covered annually.  This trigger would require the state to take in enough revenue to pay the true cost of services it provides.  Previous governors and legislators should never have been allowed to make pension contributions discretionary.

Lesson Three - Necessary Conflict and Compromise Is A Good Thing

A state's governing structure is designed, through a division of power and fulfilling key roles, to resolve issues.  Consistent single party control of the legislature and governor offices, both now and through the decades, seems to have resulted in indecision and paralysis among our lawmakers. The kind of conflict that would have resulted in compromise and consensus on long-term solutions apparently never happened.

Lesson Four - Avoid Harming the Community's Greatest Investment

A variety of solutions are being proposed, including increasing employee contributions,  freezing cost-of-living increases for retirees, limiting the amount of salary upon which pensions are based and increasing tax rates.  The reality is that, in most school districts, these remedies may not be enough, and programs and services for our community's most important asset – our students – will be reduced. 

Leadership can be defined as the ability to proactively confront our challenges and problems and to proactively protect and pursue our future possibilities. Will the 98th General Assembly finally provide this needed leadership?

David F. Larson, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Glenbard Township High School District 87

Wire Points January 11, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Absolutely not. That "trigger" provision you mention is the most dangerous, foolish thing put fort in any of the reform proposals. It would essentially put a mortgage on the state's dwindling free cash flow, allowing courts to seize the cash and redirect it to doomed defined benefit pensions, with no say by the legislature. It's discussed here: http://www.wirepoints.com/one-particular-bit-of-insanity-in-illinois-pension-reform-efforts-wirepoints-original/ The teachers' pension, the TRS, has only 18% of the money it needs and is beyond repair. We need a far more comprehensive set of reforms put together by those who understand how bad it really is. The rest of this is bland platitude. Teach our kids economics, which you don't do now. Economic illiteracy is the route source of Illinois problems, and the school system bears much of the blame.

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