November 3, 2017

Illinois schools struggle to cover the cost of raises and insurance


Illinois schools are already in, or are bracing for, a fight over the rising cost of employee pay and health insurance.

Many schools across Illinois are beginning to say they can't afford to both pay teachers and staffers more, and keep their insurance costs the same.

Galesburg schools assistant superintendent Jennifer Hamm said more than half of her district's money this year is going to salaries alone.

"We'll be spending about $27 million alone on salaries, out of a $50 million budget," Hamm said. "That doesn't include benefits, Social Security, IMRF [pension] payments, or TRS [teacher pension] payments."

Hamm added that many teachers in her district actually get three raises each year, a base increase, a step increase for longevity, and a lane increase for continued education. Those raises have averaged 3.17 percent a year.

And that doesn't touch the rising cost of health insurance.

Mike Jacoby with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials said the health insurance marketplace as a whole isn't getting any cheaper for anyone, and someone has to pay the costs. Some Illinois school districts pick up 90 percent of the health insurance premium costs for teachers.

"When you hear in the news under the Affordable Care Act, you know 25-30 percent, those increases are happening in school districts" as well, Jacoby said.

But those market realities aren't stopping teachers unions from saying "no" to proposals that would have them pay a higher percentage for their health insurance.

Teachers unions in at least two districts, Rockford and Quincy, are talking about striking because they don't want to pay more for their insurance benefits.