More than 230 Belleville school district employees earn more than $100K

More than 230 Belleville school district employees earn more than $100K

Many school district employees’ earnings are more than double that of the typical Belleville household.

Hundreds of school district employees in Belleville are collecting six-figure compensation, records show, despite slow income growth for the area taxpayers funding those salaries.

According to recent compensation records from all six public school districts in Belleville, 235 public school employees earn more than $100,000 annually, when factoring in perks and fringe benefits.

This contrasts sharply with Belleville’s median household income of just under $42,400 as of 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sky-high salaries

The highest-earning district official is Jeff Dosier, Belleville Township School District 201’s superintendent. He earned a gross salary of $180,825 from July 2016 to July 2017. Retirement and health care benefits brought Dosier’s total annual compensation to $217,170.

Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matthew Klosterman isn’t far behind, however. Including annuities and other benefits, Klosterman collected nearly $206,000 in total compensation for the 2017 school year, according to district records.

To put these earnings in perspective, the highest paid state governor earned $190,823 in 2016.

Other highly paid district superintendents include, according to the districts’ most recently available compensation records:

  • Belle Valley School District 119 Superintendent R. Dane Gale, with total compensation of $156,000
  • Harmony Emge School District 175 Superintendent Pam Leonard, with total compensation of more than $159,000
  • Signal Hill School District 181 Superintendent Janice Kunz, with total compensation of $133,500
  • Whiteside School District 115 Superintendent Peggy Burke, with total compensation of $148,800

But six-figure compensation isn’t confined to top administrative staff. Take District 201, Belleville’s largest school district payroll. With roughly 460 employees, district compensation records dated July 2016 to July 2017 show the total annual compensation for 166 employees – more than one-third – topping $100,000. This includes 30 employees who earn at least $100,000 before benefits, more than half of whom are instructors, according to district records. Bringing benefits and perks into account, 128 instructors at District 201 earn total annual compensation exceeding $100,000.

Across all six school districts, 171 instructors and 50 administrators received six-figure total compensation, according to school district records.

Property tax plight

High payroll costs only add to residents’ property tax burden. And don’t forget that government-employee pensions are based, in part, on end-of-career salaries. Outsized compensation for school district employees strains taxpayers’ ability to meet those retirement obligations, crowding out dollars meant for the classroom.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for districts to boost employees’ late-career earnings in an effort to maximize pensioners’ retirement collections. Five of Belleville’s six school districts were penalized and fined in 2015 for engaging in this practice, known as “pension spiking.” The region’s special education system was additionally penalized for pension spiking. All told, penalties for pension spiking cost Belleville taxpayers more than $115,000 in 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Meanwhile, area taxpayers are in desperate need of relief.

St. Clair County homeowners paid an effective property tax rate of 2.40 percent in 2017, according to a recent study by ATTOM Data Solutions, a property data company. That exceeded the national average of 1.17 percent and the state average of 2.22 percent. In April 2017, the St. Clair County board hiked property taxes. And the city of Belleville increased its property tax levy 12 percent in December 2017, citing shortfalls in its police and fire pension funds.

Formula for reform

Fortunately, there are still a number of reforms local leaders could pursue to offer residents property tax relief.

An abundance of six-figure salaries, upon which future pension payouts will be calculated, ties taxpayers to unaffordable commitments. By allowing district employees to opt for a 401(k)-style alternative to defined-benefit pensions, both taxpayers and public retirees could see greater stability. Taking a cue from other municipalities across the state, Belleville could also move to dissolve its web of Tax Increment Financing districts that divert property tax revenues away from local taxing bodies – like local school districts.

Labor inequities bred by Illinois’ collective bargaining protections also force property taxes upward. This power imbalance has tethered school districts to long-term fiscal instability. Taxpayers should retrieve their seat at the negotiating table by calling upon state lawmakers to mend this imbalance.

But the most immediate path toward relief for Belleville taxpayers could be through the consolidation of waste and duplication within Belleville’s six school districts. Not to be confused with consolidating individual schools, consolidating resources at the district level, including costly administrative salaries, would trim unnecessary costs while preserving education quality.

Belleville residents could do their part in reversing these setbacks by pressuring state and local lawmakers to address the primary cost drivers that catapult the cost of government beyond the means of taxpayers.

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