Monday, August 22, 2011

Quinn sticks to his guns after superintendents sue

By Jamey Dunn

Education administrators who have not been compensated for three months are suing the state for their pay checks, but Gov. Pat Quinn says the issue can be resolved outside of court.

Quinn used his veto pen to cut the more than $11 million that was set aside for the salaries for regional superintendents and their assistants in the budget lawmakers sent to him. Many superintendents stayed on the job for free. Bob Daiber, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said schools across the state would have had difficulties opening if the administrators had left work.

Diaber, who is a regional superintendent in Madison County, said regional superintendents inspect buildings and license newly constructed facilities for occupancy. He added that he gave out six such permits on one day in early August in Madison County. Without those licenses, he said any new schools or additions could not house students. “Without those occupancy permits, those schools cannot have children in those new addition and wings, legally.” He said regional superintendents also provided training to bus drivers in the weeks leading up to the new school year. “Schools are opening, their kids are getting on buses. … It is only happening because the regional superintendent continued to work without pay.”

Before the lawsuit was filed, Daiber said that the association was working “in good faith” with the governor’s office, as well as pursuing the possibility of a legislative override of the veto. “We have been working on an override. That’s a natural course of action that we have been encouraged to take by some legislators,” he said earlier this month. However, Daiber noted that administrators were willing to go to court if a clear plan to pay them did not surface. “It can be resolved by the legislative branch, the executive branch and if can’t be resolved then, it could go to the judicial branch. … That’s why we have three branches of government, right?”

The association now says the 44 superintendents across the state can wait no longer for compensation. "The injunction our members filed [on Friday] in Sangamon County Circuit Court seeking to immediately restore our pay is something we do not do lightly, but we simply had no other choice. We have exhausted all options in working with the governor's office to this date, and we have no other recourse. We have asked legislators for help in resolving this matter immediately. They cannot resolve the issue until they're back for the fall veto session,” said a written statement from Daiber about the complaint. The suit alleges that the state is bound by law to pay the superintendents’ salaries. The complaint says that by cutting off their pay, the governor is acting in “excess” of his power.

Despite the lawsuit, Quinn seems optimistic that a solution can be reached. “I think we can work this out,” the governor told reporters in Chicago today. Quinn also reiterated his opinion that the state funding, which has been used to pay the superintendents, instead be spent in schools. “We want to put the money for education in the classroom for students and teachers, not for bureaucrat.” Quinn is working on a plan to pay the superintendents through the local Personal Property Replacement Tax, which he says he hopes to pass during the veto session, scheduled in October. Such a plan would meet opposition from many local governments, as well as the Illinois Municipal League.

Quinn budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the superintendents, who oversee Regional Offices of Education, would get paid “soon.” She did not elaborate on a timeline or any plan to pay the administrators before legislation that would be needed to shift the cost to local governments could potentially be called for a vote. “We are continuing to work with representatives of the [Regional Offices of Education] to examine mechanisms to provide payment as quickly as possible. In addition to providing payment soon, we have developed draft legislation to restore the payroll appropriation [for Regional Offices of Education], and shift the obligation to Personal Property Replacement Tax. [The tax] funds local elected official stipends, and we feel [Regional Offices of Education], which are locally elected, should be funded in the same manner to relieve pressure from the general revenue fund,” Kraft said in a written statement.

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