Local school officials think Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to pull a fast one.
The governor wants to shift the cost of teachers pensions from the state to local school districts and recently released numbers that showed to show that many of those districts had plenty of cash.
Gov. Quinn's office released numbers showing that school districts had cumulative reserves of more than $9 billion, and 822 of 864 Illinois districts in the state have more than 60 days of reserves in place.
But school officials are crying foul.
The governor's numbers showed that Rockridge School District had just over $4 million in reserves. That was true in June of 2011, said superintendent Chester Lien, but the number now is $2 million.
Mr. Lien also pointed out that the snapshot of school finances was taken in early June when the district was flush with newly arrived property tax dollars. It was like showing an individual's bank account right after they get their paycheck, he said, instead of after they've paid their bills.
Rockridge also needs to have healthy reserves because the state is often late in sending funding to the district, Mr. Lien said.
He spoke on Monday at a news conference organized by State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, against the proposal to shift the cost of pensions from the state to local districts.
Chicago school districts pay for the cost of their pensions, but districts outside Chicago don't. Chicago lawmakers such as House Speaker Michael Madigan say that's not fair. Shifting the burden also would save money for the cash-strapped state.
The cost shift is being discussed by the state's political leadership as part of a broader package to cut the cost of pensions for teachers and downstate university and college workers. The pension fund has an $83 billion unfunded liability.
Rep. Morthland said the shift would result in higher property taxes and more hard times for schools.
"This is a Chicago v. downstate issue," Rep. Morthland said. "They are coming after us. Our state's governor has basically declared war on downstate."
Downstate Democrats joined Republicans in criticizing the idea when it was floated during the Spring legislative session.
"It was the consensus of the downstate people that it wasn't going to fly," said State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan.
Supporters of the cost shift to local school districts say it would be spread out over a number of years to soften the impact.
Mr. Lien estimated that for Rockridge the cost of pensions for his teachers being picked by the state now was around $500,000. For the much larger Moline School District, the number is $3.1 million, according to Illinois State Board of Education, and it's $2.5 million for Rock Island School District.
School districts already are coping with cutbacks in general state aid and transportation reimbursements.
Silvis Superintendent Ray Bergles, who also spoke at Monday's news conference, said his district is expecting to get around $200,000 less in general state aid for next year.
The talk about the cost shift for pensions adds to the uncertainty over the future, Mr. Bergles said, making it difficult to plan.
However, the opposition to the cost shift could be too strong for the idea to survive.
"This is a plan that is a non-starter," said State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. "It makes for good political rhetoric but I don't think it has a chance of becoming law."
School districts' fund balances end of fiscal year 2011
East Moline $2.6 million Moline $31.9 million Rock Island-Milan $30.7 million Silvis $4.7 million Carbon Cliff-Barstow $1.5 million Erie $9 million Annawan $2.9 million Sherrard $7.8 million Rockridge $4 million Riverdale $1.6 millio Source: Illinois State Board of Education
Today is Saturday, May 25, the 145th day of 2013. There are 220 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: The annual review of the fire department of this city took placeyesterday and made a fine showing with machines and hose carts in tip-top order. 1888 -- 125 years ago: Last night's prayer meeting at Central Presbyterian Church wascalled off due to water in the basement, residue of last week's flood. 1913 -- 100 years ago: The junior class of Rock Island High School will hold a riverexcursion on the steamer St. Paul next Tuesday. 1938 -- 75 years ago: The 75th Anniversary of the Rock Island Arsenal today finds thenation's largest ordinance manufacturing plant filling many important orders for the army. 1963 -- 50 years ago: Miss Patrice Daly, Rock Island, a senior at Rock Island HighSchool, won second place in the recent state public speaking contest held in Peoria underthe auspices of the Knights of Pythias. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Hampton's sesquicentennial committee and the Hampton HistoricalSociety have scheduled a full slate of activities, which will be held throughout the year, to celebrate the village's 150th birthday. The first celebration will be the Memorial Dayprogram at 10 a.m. May 30, at the Brettun and Black Store Museum on River Road. Therewill be a sesquicentennial display.