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Statehouse News: Unpaid superintendents to get day in court

August 23, 2011

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) decision to cut funding for the state’s 44 regional school superintendents will be put to the test Tuesday, Aug. 23.

The state’s 44 regional superintendents filed a lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court late Friday, Aug. 19 against Quinn and other state officials after working without pay for two months. The case has its first hearing before a judge Tuesday, Aug. 23.

The action that has been taken is viewed as totally unfair. State law clearly provides that we are elected and should be paid. That is why we chose this route, and we are looking forward to bringing this before the court to make our case,” Bob Daiber, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, which lobbies for the 44 superintendents, and Madison County regional superintendent, said.

Quinn originally zeroed-out the $11 million for the regional superintendents’ pay in his proposed budget in February. The Legislature passed a budget in May that restored the cuts, only to have Quinn veto the funding.

The Legislature could override Quinn’s veto, but it isn’t returning to the Capitol until late October.

Since regional superintendents are paid out of the Illinois Common School Fund, a pot of money that includes proceeds from the Illinois Lottery, they do not fall under the provision in the Illinois Constitution that states “an increase or decrease in the salary of an elected official of any unit of local government shall not take effect during the term for which that office is elected.”

Ann Lousin, a professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, said: “This is a very specialized situation. In fact, the term ‘regional superintendent of schools,’ I can tell you, doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution.”

Lousin said that since the superintendents’ pay is administered by the Illinois State Board of Education, they should be defined as elected state officials, giving Quinn the constitutional ground to cut the 44 superintendents’ average annual pay of $95,000 each.

However, the superintendent’s lawsuit is relying on a statute rather than the constitution. The lawsuit points to the law that sets the annual salaries for the superintendents and states that money is to be paid monthly or biweekly.

Quinn said Monday, Aug. 22, that he isn’t for eliminating the positions that run background checks on school employees, certify teachers and inspects schools for safety in the majority of the state’s more than 800 school districts.

I believe they should be paid out of local resources, not out of the state of Illinois’ resources, because I think we should use our state money (for educating children) in the classroom,” Quinn said Monday, Aug. 22, during an unrelated event.

Last week, however, Quinn said his office has been working on a plan to get the superintendents compensated.

We have some ideas there. I hope we can at least have something that ties us over until the General Assembly meets” in October, Quinn said Tuesday.

One idea put out by the governor’s office would shift the source of the paychecks from the Common School Fund to the Personal Property Replacement tax, a 2.5 percent income tax on corporations paid to local governments.

Support from local governments that are receiving less state funding would be unlikely. Beyond that, the shift would require approval from the Legislature. Quinn could call a special session before October, which would cost $40,000 per day.

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