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Another bite of the apple: Local educators react to bill calling for higher teacher minimum wage

June 15, 2018 GMT

STERLING – Among the stack of nearly 600 bills awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature, or veto, is a bill that has local school districts worried.

It’s a bill that would increase teachers’ minimum wage to $40,000 a year – and it doesn’t take a math teacher to figure out that would add up to more money coming out of districts’ budgets, and more than likely, taxpayers’ pockets.

Senate Bill 2892 was passed by both chambers and would require the higher minimum wage be in place by the 2022-23 school year. The bill calls for teachers’ base pay to start at $32,076 in 2019, $34,576 in 2020, $37,076 in 2021 and $40,000 in 2022.

State Sen. Neil Anderson R-Andalusia, voted in favor of the bill, while Sen. Tim Bivins R-Dixon, Rep. Tom Demmer R-Dixon, Rep. Tony McCombie R-Savanna, and Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport, all voted in opposition.

Some districts already meet the requirements for the bill’s first and second pay levels. What they would have to figure out is how to hit the $40,000 number mark by 2022.

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Starting salaries for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree are: $33,626 in Dixon, $36,000 in Sterling, $35,414 in Rock Falls, and $36,800 in Oregon.

According to the National Education Association, the national average for teachers’ starting pay in 2016-17 was $38,617.

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, said the measure would help attract more teachers at a time when the state is facing a growing shortage of educators.

Media Director Kenzo Shibata of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said, “Young people who want to give back to their communities through teaching should be able to do so while supporting themselves and their families. Meager wages combined with Gov. Rauner’s education cuts have pushed Illinois into a situation where some districts are experiencing teacher shortages.”

But Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said the state wouldn’t be able to afford the increased pension costs associated with a pay raise. He said the state already is billions of dollars in debt and shouldn’t be making promises it can’t keep.

It wouldn’t be easy for a school district to keep the state’s promises, either, especially smaller districts like Chadwick-Milledgeville.

Superintendent Tim Schurman said the district already offers a competitive wage, at least with the resources it has at its disposal.

“Sixty percent of our $6 million budget is allocated to payroll and salaries, and most of that budget comes from local property taxes since we’ve seen a decrease in education funding from the state,” Schurman said.

Schurman said the bill could cause staff cuts or reductions in hours, and that could cause increased class sizes.

“I think teachers need to get paid more, but we need more state funding because we aren’t a wealthy district property-wise,” Schurman said.

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Superintendents in larger districts, like Dixon’s Margo Empen, say the bill would stretch already tight budgets.

In an email to Demmer and Bivins, Empen said, “The financial impact on districts as well as the loss of local control with bargaining could have a considerable repercussions. ... It would be a minimum increase of $108,206 to the Education Fund.”

She did say, though, that the gradual increase in the minimum wage would make the $40,000 mark more manageable.

Oregon Superintendent Thomas Mahoney said he “fully supports adequately paying teachers, as long as the state continues to increase funding,” but “it can be a challenge for schools without the resources needed to do it.”

Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett agrees, saying teachers are asked to do more with less each year.

Another issue that could put a strain on budgets is whether other teachers already making more than $40,000 annually would get a raise as well.

“The teachers association will want to bargain the other salaries as a result, and that could cause a strain on an already breaking budget,” Empen said.

Worried about a way to pay for the increased wages, Morrison Superintendent Scott Vance shares Empen’s concerns.

“In theory, it’s a great idea. Teachers deserve what is commensurate for their education level, but where is the money going to come from?” he said.

Vance said a combination of higher property taxes and increased state funding would help, but he isn’t sure what would have to be done just yet.

Rock Falls High School is in year two of its 5-year contract. Superintendent Ron McCord said that once the bill is passed, the district will look into meeting those requirements.

Like McCord, Amboy Superintendent Jeff Thake said, “We’re going to take it one step at a time.”