A taxpayers organization Thursday threw a spotlight on the salaries paid to New Trier District 203 employees and the resulting pension payouts that are financed primarily by Illinois taxpayers.
“These outrageous government-employee pensions are bankrupting the state,” said Christina Tobin, vice president of Taxpayers United of America, at a Winnetka media event to draw attention to the need for pay and pension reform in Illinois. The group contends the state’s 67 percent income tax hike is funding the pensions. With proper pension reforms, the state can retire the surcharge after four years, according to Taxpayers United.
“New Trier’s public school employees are really raking it in,” said Tobin, daughter of longtime tax watchdog James Tobin.
The highest paid employee on the New Trier District 203 payroll is Superintendent Linda Yonke, who was paid $266,420 during the 2009-2010 year. Associate Superintendent Donald Goers was second highest at $244,397.
Looking at former employees already drawing pensions, former Superintendent Henry Bangser is the highest paid retiree, pulling a monthly pension of $21,807, or $261,681 a year, from the state’s Teachers Retirement System. Pioneer Press has reported that in the years preceding Bangser’s “retirement” at age 57 five years ago, the School Board rewarded him with a series of 20-percent pay boosts that pushed his final salary to about $364,500.
He has received in excess of $1 million in pension pay since his retirement, while also drawing a regular paycheck as superintendent of schools in Ojai, Calif.
Taxpayers United of America pointed out that one retiree of New Trier High School District 203, Robert Larsen, has been paid more than $1.8 million in retirement. TRS records show that Larsen was earning $113,320 when he retired in 1990 at age 65.
The taxpayers’ group said the high pensions paid to government employees in general are sucking the system dry.”
Set by lawmakers
John Myefski, president of the New Trier District 203 School Board, said that employees are members of state pensions systems with terms set by the state. “They all make full contributions into these systems,” said Myefski. “The district does not set the terms. State lawmakers have been discussing these issues and we continue to watch their discussions.”
Myefski noted the pensioners cited by the taxpayers’ group all retired before the most recent state pension reforms, such as the limitation on end-of-career salary increases. “Our current employees will retire with these reforms in place,” he said.
Rae Ann McNeilly, the group’s director of outreach, said the campaign is not an attack on teachers. “They are being driven down this path by union leadership, which is trying to make sure their power stays intact,” said McNeilly. “It is all about the unions staying relevant.”
The group says the state’s pension systems should be overhauled so that new public employees are placed in 401(k) plans and are part of the Social Security system. Current workers should contribute an additional 5 percent of their pay toward their pensions and pay more for retiree health care.
Last year, Illinois lawmakers scaled back benefits for teachers and other state employees hired after Jan. 1 of this year. Threatened with a sharp downgrade of the state’s bond rating, legislators also took steps to rein in runaway benefits for highly-paid employees in future decades. The reform measure raised the retirement age for full benefits and placed a cap on the salary used to calculate contributions and benefits. The cap is tied to a Social Security figure, currently $106,800.
Legislative leaders in Springfield tried this year to make further reforms by forcing current employees to choose between paying more to keep their defined benefit plans in tact; paying the same for the “new employee” plan or switching to a 401(k)-style plan. The bill co-sponsored by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate President John Cullerton stalled during the final days of the legislative session.