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Crystal Lake-based School District 155 looking ahead to possible pension shift

Some state officials pushing for local school districts to begin paying teachers' pensions

CRYSTAL LAKE – Some school districts are starting to plan for the possibility that the state of Illinois will decide to shift pension payment responsibility to local school districts.

Community High School District 155 seems to have accepted that it might happen at some point, especially after Gov. Bruce Rauner suggested in February that doing so would lower property taxes.

No specific plans regarding a pension shift were discussed at a recent Finance Committee meeting, but the matter is on the minds of district officials.

“I don’t know how they can sustain it, I really don’t,” District 155 board member Ron Ludwig said of the state’s pension crisis.

In Illinois, the state pays local schools’ portion of pension costs. There has been talk of a shift of costs to local school districts for years. The state’s teachers pension deficit was $130 billion at last check.

“It’s gonna happen,” Ludwig said of a cost shift. “They just keep pushing it down the road. And we’re gonna eat part of it – there’s no doubt in my mind.”

District 155 assistant superintendent of finance and operations Jeremy Davis said the district would adjust if the state changes its policy, but Davis also previously said Rauner’s plan would not lower property taxes.

District 155 assistant superintendent of human resources Thomas Kim said a few peer districts in northern Illinois, such as Township High School District 214 in Cook County, have begun preparing for the potential shift of pension payment responsibility.

Some local taxpayers have said District 155 has enough money in the bank already, so there’s no need to raise taxes – even slightly, as the district board did with its November vote. But Davis said District 155 has fewer days of fund balance remaining in comparison with its peer districts. The term “days of fund balance” refers to the number of days a district can operate based on the money it has available.

District 155 board President Adam Guss said district leaders will need to settle on a target amount of money to keep on hand at all times to help drive spending decisions.

“There should be some understanding between the board and administration that this is the number we’re working toward,” Ludwig said, adding that establishing such a number would help drive decision-making when it comes to spending cuts, taxation and more.

“I don’t look at it as it being our personal savings account,” Ludwig said. “I look at it as being the community’s future. I don’t want to touch it. I want to work every other angle I can.”

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