River Forest District 90 will pay 100 percent of teacher pension contributions

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
September 15, 2017

River Forest District 90 will pay 100 percent of teacher pension contributions

In the midst of Illinois’ pension crisis, River Forest District 90 has agreed to pay 100 percent of teacher contributions to the Teachers' Retirement System – and it did so secretly.

In Illinois, negotiations between local governments and government workers are done in secret. That’s a problem for taxpayers.

It means residents can be saddled with expensive contract provisions and can’t react until the contract is a done deal. And by then, it’s too late.

The latest example: River Forest District 90. That school district just renewed an agreement to pay 100 percent of teachers’ pensions contributions – the share the teachers are supposed to pay – as an additional benefit.

By law, teachers are obligated to pay 9 percent of their salary into the retirement system. But half of Illinois’ school districts take on that obligation themselves. Instead of having teachers contribute to their own retirement, the school districts agree to pay it for them.

Of course, forcing taxpayers to pay 100 percent of the contribution – while teachers themselves contribute nothing toward their retirement – isn’t the only issue.

A big problem is the secrecy of District 90’s negotiations. Bargaining between the union and school district happened away from public scrutiny. And that means taxpayers couldn’t find out the details of the deal until it was too late.

What’s more, the contract was negotiated under the leadership of School Board President Ralph Martire – whose own organization, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, or CTBA, is heavily funded by government unions.

That means taxpayers in District 90 were essentially left without true representation in the negotiation process.

Illinoisans need protection from hidden negotiations that are all too often conducted by biased school officials.

Hidden, backroom negotiations saddle taxpayers with unreasonable contract obligations

The secrecy in District 90’s contract negotiations is nothing new. That’s just the way things are done in Illinois.

Negotiations between a school district and a teachers’ union are not open to the public. Typically, a tentative contract is not released to the public until after the contract is a done deal – leaving the public no room to voice concerns during negotiations.

That’s exactly what happened in 2016 with Palatine-area Consolidated School District 15. During closed negotiations, the school board agreed to an unprecedented 10-year contract with the teachers union. That contract saddled taxpayers – whose own incomes have stagnated – with paying the cost of a contract that may not be feasible three to four years down the line, let alone 10.

The same backroom deal making happens regularly in communities across the state:

  • In March 2016, East Aurora School District 131 declined to issue details about the agreement it reached with the local teachers’ union, citing an agreement the parties made during negotiations.
  • In 2015, district officials in Dixon refused to release a tentative agreement despite media calls for transparency.
  • That same year, Bloomington School District 87 struck a three-year contract with its teachers’ union, but would not release the contract until after school board approval.
  • Again in 2015, Morton District 709 reached an agreement with its teachers’ union, but the district refused to release the document until after the teachers and school board voted on it.

Taxpayers need real representation in contract negotiations

It’s also nothing out of the ordinary to have a school board representative who has intimate ties with the union.

Of course, that leaves taxpayers without real representation at the bargaining table.

District 90’s school board president, Ralph Martire, is executive director of the CTBA.

CTBA has strong union ties. Its board members include the executives of the Illinois Teachers Federation, Illinois AFL-CIO and the Illinois Education Association – to name a few. A large portion of the group’s funding is derived from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the Illinois Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. These unions or their affiliates gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to CTBA from 2012 to 2016, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

So it’s hard to believe Martire could be an effective taxpayer representative during District 90’s negotiations with union leadership.

Another example of this sort of slanted representation: Palatine’s District 15.

Negotiations for District 15’s current teacher contract were slanted considerably in favor of the union. Lisa Nuss, the head of the district’s human resources department, left her position as president of the Classroom Teachers’ Council of District 15 in June 2015 and started her school district job in July 2015.

Just months later, Nuss began “bargaining” with the very union she formerly led. Under her leadership, the school district agreed to an unprecedented 10-year contract with the union.

With representatives having strong union ties at the negotiating table, taxpayers have no chance at getting a fair deal.

Illinoisans needs transparency in contract negotiations

Secrecy in contract negotiations could be prevented, but the Illinois General Assembly has failed to act on proposed bills to remedy this problem.

House Bill 447 would have protected taxpayers from the backroom dealings pervasive in contract negotiations between school districts and teachers’ unions.

HB 447 required posting of tentative contracts followed by public meetings. That would allow taxpayers time to know about – and weigh in on – the contracts they fund.

But the bill failed. Seventeen Democratic state representatives voted to keep the bill from even making it out of committee.

In the meantime, taxpayers remain unprotected from contract deals made behind closed doors.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported teachers in Illinois contributed 9.4 percent of their salaries to the Teachers Retirement System. However, teachers’ required contributions have fallen to 9 percent from 9.4 percent going forward due to the expiration of an early retirement option in 2016.

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