Dr. Genevra Walters

Genevra Walters

Statistics show 87 of Kankakee County’s current and retired educators pulled in six figures last year, with slightly more than half of them pension recipients.

Recently, OpenTheBooks.com compiled educators’ salaries and pension payouts statewide.

In Kankakee School District 111, the county’s biggest district, 16 of the 30 current retired educators are making more than $100,000.

At Bradley Elementary School District 61, six of the nine educators pulling in six figures are pensioners. Members of the Teachers Retirement System do not get Social Security.

Under state law, government pension recipients get 3 percent compounded increases every year. So if an educator retires and gets an initial pension of $100,000, it will rise to $103,000 in the first year and $134,000 by the 10th.

This is more than double the rate of inflation over the last decade. If a $100,000 salary had increased with inflation since 2008, it would have grown to about $116,000.

According to OpenTheBooks.com, the top-paid educator in the county in 2017 was Genevra Walters, superintendent of Kankakee schools. Among the retirees, Barbara Howery, the Pembroke district’s former superintendent, was the highest paid, making $165,000 in 2017, an amount that will rise to $222,000 in a decade.

The number of six-figure pensioners in the Teachers Retirement System only will rise, said Ted Dabrowski, president of Wirepoints, which bills itself as a nonpartisan research organization.

“You’ve got tons of new educators who are already pulling in $100,000, and they’re getting more salary increases. The pensions will get larger and larger as time goes on,” he said.

The result is higher taxes and cuts in services that taxpayers depend on, Dabrowski said.

Ralph Martire, executive director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said the misconception is that the state’s growing pension liabilities are a benefits issue. He referred to state figures showing just 46 percent of the state’s pension costs were for pension payouts in 2017. The rest was for debt payments, he said.

From 1996 to 2016, the fourfold increase in unfunded state pension liabilities was mainly attributed to inadequate state contributions and changes in assumptions on the rate of return for pension fund investments, according to an analysis by Martire’s organization. Less than 2 percent was because of benefit and salary increases.

Martire blamed the debt problem on long-term “bipartisan malfeasance” in which lawmakers delayed required contributions to the state pension systems.

“For generations, lawmakers intentionally underfunded pensions to fund current services — education, health care, social services and public safety,” Martire said. “For well over 40 years, taxpayers in Illinois have not paid the full cost of services they consumed. Legislators and governors of both parties simply wrote IOUs to the pension systems.”

Because of the poor decisions, he said, costs grew dramatically.

“If we were just paying for the benefits, the costs would be middling-to-low and entirely affordable,” Martire said.

A version of this story appeared in the Friday digital edition of the Daily Journal.