McHenry County’s 18 school districts collectively spend nearly $3 million annually on superintendent salaries. The county has 17 superintendents — one for each district, with the exception of Richmond-Burton High School District 157 and Nippersink School District 2, which split costs 40/60 on Superintendent Tom Lind’s $155,000 salary.
Residents and government leaders have expressed concerns about the effect of school spending on resident property taxes. Illinois has the second-highest property taxes in the nation.
School districts represent the largest portion of a resident’s property tax bill, and employee salaries tend to make up the largest portion of a district budget.
These are among the reasons McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has been targeting school district taxes as he advocates for lower property tax bills. The County Board lowered its tax levy by 11.2 percent in the fiscal 18 budget. County taxes represent around 10 percent of a property tax bill.
Voters in March said yes to an advisory referendum that asked if school districts should reduce their own levies by 10 percent. Franks has since met with various school officials to discuss cutting costs.
“We need to rethink the structure of the schools,” Franks said. “It needs to be done. I don’t think it’s a question. We have some of the highest property taxes in the country, and 70 percent goes toward schools.”
Franks said he would like to see one school district for the entire county, which is a model Florida uses.
“We know what [McHenry County schools] are doing now isn’t working,” Franks said. “We don’t have a choice. We must reform if we are going to save the county, start to grow and have our home values go up.”
McHenry County superintendent salaries range by nearly $100,000, with annual pay starting at $145,000 and continuing up to $227,682.
Algonquin-based School District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid is the highest-paid superintendent with a $227,682 salary. Raises are subject to board review, and his contract includes a $230,000 salary cap.
The district offers Heid benefits such as Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois and Teacher's Health Insurance Security fund payments, additional retirement fund contributions, 12 paid sick days, two paid personal days, two paid religious holiday days and 25 vacation days in addition to legal school holidays, according to his contract.
Heid also is entitled to $400 a month gasoline allowance and could get tuition reimbursement for doctoral studies.
If fired before the contract is up, the board would continue to pay Heid and provide health, dental and vision insurance for six months, according to the contract.
District 300 covers portions of McHenry, Kane, DeKalb and Cook counties. The most recent numbers show an enrollment of 20,708 in its 26 schools, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Steve Olson, Superintendent of District 155, which serves Crystal Lake and portions of Cary, made a more middle-of-the-road McHenry County superintendent salary at $188,773 last school year. Olson’s contract runs through 2021, and he will receive annual 6 percent salary increases.
The district also pays contributions to TRS and the Teacher's Health Insurance Security fund.
Olson also is reimbursed for monthly expenses and mileage, and his contract includes standard health insurance benefits and paid leave including 25 vacation days and 12 sick days.
District 155 most recently had an enrollment of 6,277 in its four high schools, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
District 157 and District 2, which share Lind, also pay his TRS and THIS contributions, a $60 monthly cell phone allowance, business expenses, a $375 monthly transportation allowance and provide standard insurances. Lind is allowed 14 paid sick days and 20 vacation days, according to his contract.
District 157's most recent enrollment was 727 students at Richmond-Burton High School, and District 2's most recent enrollment was 1,144 in its three schools, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
McHenry County’s Regional Superintendent of Schools Leslie Schermerhorn said that she believes small districts in the county should be consolidated, but it’s not the right solution for every district.
“It’s not that easy. I wish it were,” she said. “There is a question of pay scale. When you combine two districts, you have one set of teachers coming into one district and expect to be on the same pay scale.”
High school teachers tend to make more than elementary school teachers, so the pay scale would cause an issue if the formerly lower paid teachers sought higher wages, Schermerhorn said.
Individual school boards are solely in charge of negotiating and setting the superintendent's salary.
“There seems to be a correlation between amount of pay and size of the school district,” Schermerhorn said. “The larger the school district, the more the superintendent is paid. … There is nothing in the [state] statutes about it. It’s whatever the market will bear.”