Education leaders skip state hearing

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Representatives of the Illinois State Board of Education were a no-show at a House hearing on Tuesday regarding the compensation package for the state’s new schools superintendent, Tony Smith (pictured).

At issue is a pension perk for Smith who, because of his hire date, came into the job with the less lucrative Tier 2 state pension, whereas his predecessor was under the state’s Tier 1 plan, which is no longer available to new hires.

In addition to his $225,000 salary, Smith will receive a stipend of about $11,000 to help offset smaller pension contributions by the state.

Committee chairman Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said he’s not done pursuing the matter and won’t settle for an exchange of letters with the state board.

“I categorically reject that request,” Franks said. “We are not a friendship society. We are the General Assembly, and we are the oversight committee for the state of Illinois. I cannot cross-examine a letter. I want people in here answering the questions, telling us the reasons, defending their actions and taking this out of the shadows.”

Franks said the superintendent’s stipend also appears to step around the spirit of the Tier 2 plan, which was enacted for employees hired beginning Jan. 1, 2011, as part of the state’s efforts to control its pension costs.

He also questioned what the board’s decision says to rank-and-file state employees.

“Talk about new hires or new teachers,” Franks said. “They have to do the Tier 2, but their boss — ‘Oh, that Tier 2 just isn’t quite good enough for the the boss. The big guy gets the extra $11,000 stipend.’ ”

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “They ought to be answering (for) that.”

Franks said he learned state board officials wouldn’t be appearing at the hearing only the day before, when a letter was dropped off at his office.

James Meeks, a former legislator and chairman of the state board, did say he would discuss the committee’s requests with board members at their scheduled meeting on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Illinois New Network’s requests for comment were not answered by State Board of Education communications personnel on Tuesday.

In an email statement, Rauner administration spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said, “The State Board of Education is an independent board. The (Rauner) administration is focused on enacting structural reforms that will save taxpayers billions and hopes Rep. Franks is ready to play a constructive role in that process.”

The GOP’s spokesman on the committee, Rep. Robert Pritchard of Hinckley, said, “I think it’s appropriate for the Legislature to have a discussion about compensation for not just the state superintendent but perhaps for all our department chairs and leading administrative officials.”

“Clearly when we talk about transparency and investigating these things, we need to be fair and open-minded ourselves about this and not just pick on something that might be a political issue rather than looking at what’s the most efficient and best way to govern our state,” he added.

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