Pioneer Local

$100K pensions numerous among local school districts

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some retired more than two decades ago, but 61 former educators for three school districts serving Park Ridge are now earning more than $100,000 each year in pension payments.

Data obtained from the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System shows Kathleen Williams, former superintendent of East Maine School District 63, is the highest pension earner among the area's school districts, which also include Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Township High School District 207.

Williams, who retired in 2009 after nine years as superintendent of District 63, receives an annual pension of $170,039. Her final salary was $277,494, according to TRS.

Following Williams is Fred Schroeder, former superintendent of District 64, who retired in 2003. Schroeder, who at 54 was the youngest retiree among the area's Top 15 pension earners, earns an annual pension of $154,465.

Current District 64 Superintendent Sally Pryor is set to retire July 1. Her pension was not yet available from TRS.
District 207's highest pension recipient is James Elliott, who retired in 1995 and receives an annual pension of $152,567.

A total of 45 retired District 207 educators earn an annual pension that tops $100,000. In District 64 there are 12 retired educators who fall into this category, and in District 63 there are four.

Compared with the top pension earners in the state, the pensions of local administrators are considerably lower. Topping the list, according to TRS, is Laura Murray, retired superintendent of Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School District 233, who receives an annual pension of $238,881. Murray retired in 2008 with a final salary of $402,331.

And though her pension puts her above local retired educators, Kathleen Williams ranks 63rd among the state's top pension earners.

Seventeen retired educators in Illinois receive pensions of more than $200,000 annually.

In District 64, which covers most of Park Ridge and a portion of Niles, current teachers contribute to TRS from their salaries, but the district pays the contributions of district administrators, principals and assistant principals, said Business Manager Rebecca Allard. During the 2009-10 fiscal year District 64 contributed $256,027 to TRS for 18 employees. Allard described this as a "common benefit" among school districts.

The District 64 Community Finance Committee, which independently examines the district's finances and makes recommendations to the Board of Education, has not addressed the matter of educator pensions, as the bulk of pensions are funded by the state, not the local school district, said Craig Elderkin, committee chairman.

"Really, the district has no say (in how pensions are funded)," Elderkin said, acknowledging that, as a citizen, he is concerned about the state's inability to cover its pension obligations.

Unlike District 64, District 207 contributes to TRS for both teachers and administrators. During the 2009-10 fiscal year the district's total TRS payments totaled $6.54 million, according to Mary Kalou, assistant superintendent for business. District 207 was also required to pay $79,100 to the TRS Early Retirement Option, Kalou said.

In 2005 the Illinois Legislature, hoping to slow the runaway growth in pension obligations, clamped down on what many viewed as abuses of the woefully underfunded Teachers' Retirement System. The Legislature put a 6 percent lid on educators' pay raises in the four years preceding retirement, the years that count in calculating benefits.

Retirees who draw pensions from the Teachers' Retirement System receive annual raises of 3 percent a year compounded, which doubles the pension in 24 years. They pay no state income taxes on their pension checks, as retirement income is not taxed in Illinois.