Ill. officials disagree on pension reform approach – CBS News

CHICAGO — Illinois officials emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday divided over the next steps in solving the state’s most pressing financial issue: somehow closing an $83 billion funding gap for its retirement systems.

The top Democrat and Republican in the Senate and the House Republican leader argued for quickly adopting a proposal that has the widest support before continuing to negotiate. But Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan are insisting on a more comprehensive solution that would include a transfer of pension costs to school districts, a proposal that scuttled negotiations last week.

Legislative leaders, taking up the issue after talks collapsed in the final days of the spring legislative session, are under pressure to act soon as bond-rating agencies have made it clear they will downgrade the state’s already-low credit rating unless Illinois finds a way to reduce the strain state pensions put on the budget.

At the heart of lawmakers’ dispute is whether to make suburban Chicago and downstate schools pay for their own employees’ retirement costs, which the state currently pays. Republicans and some Democrats fear that would lead to property tax increases, but Madigan and Quinn say the change is necessary to fix the pension system long term.

“We have to eliminate the free lunch for local school districts,” Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, told reporters after the meeting. “That’s how we should move forward. If you wish to provide for reform of the pension systems, if you want to have responsibility in developing pensions, then you have to provide that the people who spend the money actually pay the bill.”

Senate President John Cullerton, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Tom Cross want to put aside the question of who pays the employer share for teachers and immediately pass a widely supported measure reducing retirement benefits for state employees and legislators.

Quinn’s public stance on the schools cost issue has shifted. Last week, he asked Madigan to take the issue out of a proposed bill, and Quinn’s original pension proposal contained no specifics on the cost shift, focusing on cost-of-living adjustments and the retirement age.

“I always believed in the principal of the cost shift,” Quinn said Wednesday. “How you implement that is the nub of the debate right now.”

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor was willing to set aside the cost shift provision last week because it didn’t have enough support. She said legislative leaders are willing to look at the issue now.

The two-hour meeting in Chicago came the same day as a bulletin from Standard & Poor’s said that Illinois budget and pension reform were key in evaluating the state’s credit rating. The agency has given Illinois one of the worst ratings in the country. Lower credit ratings generally mean a state will pay more interest when it borrows money by selling bonds.

“It’s very important to understand that this issue cannot be delayed, it can’t be a partial solution,” Quinn said.

The state contributes to the pensions of hundreds of thousands of public employees but hasn’t paid enough to keep the retirement systems healthy. The money available for Illinois pensions is around $83 billion less than what will be needed in the future. Closing that gap requires state government to increase contributions dramatically each year, leaving less money for other services and threatening Illinois’ shaky finances.

Legislators came close to overhauling the state’s retirement systems last week but ran into personal conflicts, policy disputes and legislative deadlines. Quinn has said he’ll call lawmakers back for a summer legislative session, but Cross, Radogno and a Quinn spokeswoman said the matter was not discussed Wednesday as lawmakers struggled to move forward.

Radogno said including the cost shift in a pension reform bill now would be a “poison pill” that Republicans and many downstate Democrats would not support and could derail pension reform altogether. Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, pays its own retirement costs.

“The concept of looking at the accountability for schools and whether or not involves a cost shift is a legitimate issue. What’s not legitimate is to tie that together with the benefit reforms,” Radogno said.

Radogno and Cross said they wanted more details on what the cost would actually be for schools and colleges before proceeding further on the schools issue. The leaders said they would meet again later this month to discuss the issue.

Cullerton did not speak to reporters Wednesday. He told The Associated Press a day earlier that passing the pensions bill without addressing the schools issue would be a simple fix that could get to the governor’s desk quickly.

Instead of 3 percent annual cost-of-living increases, retirees would get the lower of either 3 percent or half the inflation rate. And the increases would no longer be compounded. Employees who reject that offer would face major increases in health insurance costs, and no future raises would count when figuring out their pensions.

via Ill. officials disagree on pension reform approach – CBS News.

Former bookkeeper accused of stealing $100K from R-B schools : Pantagraph.com | Central Illinois

EUREKA — A Woodford County grand jury indicted a former Roanoke-Benson school district bookkeeper Friday, accusing the recently retired school employee of stealing more than $100,000 over the past decade.

Woodford County State’s Attorney Gregory Minger said Katherine “Katie” Capponi, 73,

of Roanoke is charged with one count of theft from the district, a class X felony that would carry a sentence of six to 30 years in prison if she is convicted.

Prosecutors allege Capponi used her access to take more than $100,000 in government checks from the district from 2002 to January 2012. Minger declined to release the total amount of the alleged theft.

Minger said school officials discovered something was amiss after Capponi’s retirement in January after 42 years of service.

Roanoke-Benson Superintendent Rohn Peterson was unavailable for comment Friday, but he issued a statement in which he said district officials had discussed the matter with Capponi following her retirement and thereafter made records available to the Woodford County Sheriff’s Department.

Peterson said the district will continue to cooperate fully with authorities.

“If the former employee is eventually convicted, the district hopes to receive as much restitution as possible,” Peterson wrote. “The district is also investigating possible other sources of restitution.”

School board President Mike Blunier declined to comment, citing his reluctance to speak about an ongoing court case.

Minger said he understands there may be frustration at the lack of public information, but professional standards dictate full details wait until they’re revealed in court.

“I will say that they (school officials) have been told not to release too much information because we are prosecuting a criminal case,” Minger said Friday. “(Capponi) has the presumption of innocence just like any other defendant. I understand if people are upset with the school district, but we are bound by ethical rules not to release too much information.”

Police arrested Capponi on Thursday, releasing her later that evening after she posted $10,000. An arraignment is scheduled July 11 in Woodford County Circuit Court.

Capponi did not return calls left at her home Friday.

via Former bookkeeper accused of stealing $100K from R-B schools : Pantagraph.com | Central Illinois.

Unit 5 teachers OK union contract : Pantagraph.com | Central Illinois

NORMAL — A new contract for teachers and other professionals will go before the McLean County Unit 5 school board Wednesday night after the union voted for it Tuesday.

“The vote was not unanimous, but it was decisive,” Unit Five Education Association President Vickie Mahrt said of Tuesday’s vote.

As is customary, both the union and district officials declined to release details of the contract before both sides vote on it.

The union represents about 950 teachers, social workers, psychologists, nurses and speech pathologists.

“We believe it is a fair deal,” Mahrt said. “Of course we always wish it was better; our teachers work hard.”

Niehaus could not be reached for comment after the vote Tuesday, but he said earlier in the day that he was glad the contract was close to a conclusion. Having the cost of pay and benefits in hand allows the district to plan next year’s budget, and that helps when state funding remains unsettled, he said.

“It gives you a number for the following year,” he said.

The current contract is set to expire Aug. 21, the day before school starts. It was set to expire in 2011 before being extended for one year.

Under the current agreement, a beginning teacher with no experience earns $33,428. A teacher with at least 18 years experience, a master’s degree and an additional 48 hours of graduate studies earns $79,559.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. today at the district’s headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., Normal.

Board members also are expected to consider approving the salary and benefits package for food service employees, noncertified and certified administrators, technology staff, medical personnel, occupational and physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.

Also on the schedule is a public hearing on the amended budget for 2011-12 and an update on enrollment, which apparently increased by about 200 students in 2011-12 to about 13,000 students.

via Unit 5 teachers OK union contract : Pantagraph.com | Central Illinois.

Watertown Daily Times | Watertown Education Association forms new contract

After nearly three years of negotiations behind closed doors, the Watertown Education Association has a new union contract.

The city school district’s Board of Education approved the document June 5.

According to WEA President Dianne H. Loonan, the past several years have been used to negotiate three major changes while waiting for the economy to improve.

“It was about working together,” Mrs. Loonan said. “That’s what negotiations are about: give and take. I think we were both waiting to see what the economy was going to do.”

Because the last document ended in 2009, teacher salary increases from the previous years had to be included. In school year 2010-11, salaries rose 2.5 percent.

During the budget process in May 2011, members voted against a pay freeze after 25 teacher and aide positions were cut. During the current year, salaries jumped 2.7 percent. From this fall until summer 2014 they will rise 2.9 percent each year.

In addition, 12 percent of teachers’ paychecks will go toward health insurance beginning July 1. They were previously paying 11 percent. Next July, it will be increased to 13 percent.

Health insurance for retirees also changed. Retired teachers will have to pay half of their health insurance premium next year. In the existing system, they pay none of it.

A tentative deal was reached in early March. The last contract ended June 30, 2009, but remained in effect under state law.

Teacher salaries continued to be increased a “step” every year, an average of 2.1 percent annually, according to Mrs. Loonan.

The WEA teachers union has about 350 members, according to this year’s count. A new five-year contact will be needed again in two years.

“I think this is a good contract for the times. The process will begin again in 2013,” she said. “We’ll survey our numbers. We’ll start compiling things.”

Superintendent Terry N. Fralick was unavailable to comment.

via Watertown Daily Times | Watertown Education Association forms new contract.

Oak Brook approves three-year contract with police – The Doings Oak Brook

Following six months of negotiations, Oak Brook and the Fraternal Order of Police have agreed to a new union contract for the village’s police officers.

The three-year contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 and runs through Dec. 31, 2014. The contract includes annual raises and more health care contributions from the officers.

Officers will receive a 2 percent salary increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 and a 0.5 percent increase on July 1. Wages will increase another 2 percent on Jan. 1, 2013 and another 0.5 percent on July 1, 2013. In the contract’s final year, wages will increase 2 percent Jan. 1, 2014 and 0.5 percent on July 1, 2014.

In 2014, merit increases will be reduced for officers moving their way through the pay grade. Merit increases will range from between zero percent to 3.5 percent.

The most noticeable change will be the switch from an eight-hour shift to a 12-hour shift for the officers beginning on June 24. According to trustees, the union pushed for the change.

“This was an item the union wished to have included in the new contract,” Trustee Stelios Aktipis said. “It was also an item our administration, police chief and his staff thought would be a workable change that might have some advantages for everyone concerned.”

The two sides met for only five bargaining sessions without using an attorney, an approach Aktipis estimates saved the village about $25,000 in legal fees.

Trustees spoke highly of the negotiating process and those involved.

“Everybody stayed focused, calm and rational,” Trustee Asif Yusuf said. “We are returning to the 12-hour shifts we previously had. We wouldn’t have gone with this if our chief didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

As part of the agreement, in 2014 on insurance, the employee PPO share will rise from 17.5 percent to 20 percent, the HMO will increase from 12.5 percent to 15 percent and the HD PPO will go from 10 percent to 12.5 percent. Deductibles will rise in 2014 from $350, $700 and $1,050 to $400, $800 and $1,200, respectively.

Prescription drug costs will increase in 2014 as well.

According to a village memo, the new agreement will bring the police union employee portion of insurance cost sharing up to 20 percent in 2014, saving the village an estimated $15,000 annually.

April 2011 brought closure to over three-years of negotiations between the village and fire union and the board was happy to accept the new police contract after only a few bargaining sessions.

“It took over three years to finally come to an agreement on the fire contract and now this took six months,” Trustee Mark Moy said. “It was smooth and non-contentious and that was due to the fact the police chief was involved and cooperation of the policemen who were negotiating for the union. It was about as smooth as it can go.”

After receiving word the union, which represents 30 employees in the department, had ratified the new agreement on June 1, trustees unanimously accepted the contract Tuesday night.

“A special thanks to our police chief (Jim Kruger),” Trustee Mike Manzo said. “What was obvious in this negotiation is there was trust between the officers and the chief. I think that goes a long way when you’re negotiating a contract.”

via Oak Brook approves three-year contract with police – The Doings Oak Brook.

Ex-professor makes plea deal for indecent exposure charges brought by student – TwinCities.com

June 2012 courtesy photo of Clark Calvin Griffith, DOB 10/17/41, of Minneapolis, who pleaded guilty 6/12/12 in Ramsey County District Court to indecent exposure in an incident involving a William Mitchell Law School student of his. He taught at the school and is son of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith. Photo courtesy Ramsey County sheriff’s office.

A former adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law and the son of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith has entered a plea bargain for indecent exposure charges

A 24-year-old student reported that Clark Calvin Griffith, 70, unzipped his pants in front of her on Victoria Street in St. Paul.

Griffith, an attorney specializing in sports law, made unwanted advances toward the woman Jan. 24 after they were discussing a law clinic in which she planned to work with him, she alleged.

Griffith entered an Alford plea in Ramsey County District Court on Tuesday, June 12, to the misdemeanor charge, which means that he did not admit guilt but agrees that the state has enough evidence for a jury to likely find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He’ll be sentenced July 26.

He and the female student were meeting weekly at a bar/restaurant near the law school to discuss assignments for the law clinic, according to a criminal complaint filed March 21.

During the third meeting, Griffith urged the student to sit next to him in the booth, asked her how pornography affected dating in her generation, complimented her appearance and placed her hand on his groin area, the complaint said.

After insisting that he walk the woman to her car that evening, he placed her hand over his groin area again, unzipped his pants and exposed himself, then kissed her, the complaint said.

Contacted at the time he was charged, Griffith called the allegations “ridiculous” and said

there was “nothing to this.”

Steve Linders, a spokesman for the law school, said Griffith resigned Jan. 30, six days after the alleged incident.

The school’s dean, Eric Janus, sent a letter to students, faculty and staff Feb. 7, saying it “took steps to ensure the person accused had no contact with Mitchell students” and “terminated the attorney’s relationship with the college due to a violation of our policies.”

Griffith previously taught at Hamline University School of Law.

The criminal complaint contains the following additional details:

Despite being told by the law school to have no contact with the student, Griffith “repeatedly attempted contact with (her) via voice messages, text messages and direct messages on Twitter.”

— The day after the alleged exposure, Jan. 25, the student received a voice message from Griffith. He said, in part, “Any hint of anything here and I get shot. You don’t want that, do you?”

— On Jan. 26, after the student reported the alleged conduct to the school, Griffith sent a message via Twitter asking if it was she who complained. She confirmed that it was. He replied, via text message, “I am very sorry. It is my fault. Instead of a complaint to the school, you need only tell me. Now I risk life, marriage, career and reputation and the hurt my daughters would suffer is too horrible to consider. I don’t think you want to do that.”

He said that if she withdrew the complaint, he promised to “be a gentleman” and “(do) what I can to help you. … We’ll get over this if we keep it contained.”

— During a phone conversation recorded by police, Griffith apologized but said, “You kissed me.” The woman vehemently disagreed. He described being in an “absolute daze” when “I unzipped.”

Griffith spent 18 years in the Twins’ front office as treasurer and executive vice president under his father, Calvin Griffith, the former Senators owner who relocated the club from Washington, D.C., in 1961.

Before his father sold the Twins to local banker Carl Pohlad in 1984, Griffith worked for Major League Baseball for nine years as a labor consultant on the Players Relations Committee and as chairman of MLB Properties, according to his resume on the social media site, LinkedIn.

Griffith serves as vice chairman of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University and chairman of the Sports Law Division of the American Bar Association. Griffith also has hosted seminars and written about labor relations and antitrust laws in professional sports and has consulted with baseball general managers on arbitration and contract negotiations, according to a biography on his firm’s website.

via Ex-professor makes plea deal for indecent exposure charges brought by student – TwinCities.com.

Pension reform will help decide school pain : Herald & Review | Local news from Decatur, Macon County and Central Illinois

It’s clear that Illinois elementary and secondary schools will take a hit from next year’s state budget.

How big of a hit depends on how the General Assembly addresses the issue of pension reform.

The $33.7 billion spending plan that was approved by legislators included a cut of $161 million in general aid to schools. That means that most districts will receive about 89 percent of what they would normally receive for each of their students.

That’s not as bad as many had expected, leading State Superintendent of Schools Christopher Koch to sound almost relieved. “While this is a significant reduction, it is not as bad as we had feared it could possibly be, giving the dynamics of the final days of the session,’’ he said.

But there are variables that could change that number dramatically.

The big elephant — we’re talking a mammoth creature — is pension reform. Democrats, particularly House Speaker Michael Madigan, have been pushing the idea that the funding for teacher pensions should be pushed onto the school districts. The increased funding would be phased in over several years, but in effect, the state would be shifting the cost from the state level to the local level. Republicans oppose that idea, saying it would increase property taxes.

There is logic to having districts responsible for pensions: Chicago taxpayers pay for the Chicago teacher’s retirement system and cities and villages pay the pension costs for their employees. The sticking point is the unfunded pension liability, created by the state when it did not make necessary pension payments.

If the pension costs were shifted, some school districts would undoubtedly be forced to raise taxes. But there are also school districts with substantial reserves that could avoid raising taxes and other districts are in counties where taxes are capped and would not be allowed to raise taxes. The funding shift doesn’t automatically mean an increase in taxes.

School districts have also been generous in awarding pension benefits that are paid by the state. Many districts have negotiated contracts that give employees pension benefits instead of pay raises. The result is that districts have avoided immediate costs by shifting the long-term costs to the state. Looking at the total picture, both local and state officials have been less than stellar stewards of our tax dollars.

Throwing money at the current education system is also a questionable tactic. The state has more than 850 school districts, ranging from large to tiny. Any discussion about future school finances should revolve around how to streamline Illinois education so there are fewer bureaucratic costs and more dollars making it to the classroom. Consolidation of districts, along with eliminating bureaucracy at the state level, has to be a part of that discussion.

Those issues can’t be addressed in time to resolve the current budget situation. But until educators and politicians understand that the current system is not serving students or taxpayers adequately, every year will be a funding struggle.

via Pension reform will help decide school pain : Herald & Review | Local news from Decatur, Macon County and Central Illinois.

Pension reform backers endorse DeMaio for mayor – San Diego, California News Station – KFMB Channel 8 – cbs8.com

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Four present and incoming members of the San Diego City Council — all of whom supported the pension reform initiative passed by voters last week — endorsed Councilman Carl DeMaio for mayor Monday.

San Diego City Council President Pro-Tem Kevin Faulconer, Councilwoman Lorie Zapf and Councilman-elect Mark Kersey expressed their support for DeMaio as did Scott Sherman, who holds a slight majority in his council race with tens of thousands of ballots still to be counted.

DeMaio said he hopes to work with those four to form “a consensus on the City Council.”

The councilman edged out Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, in last Tuesday’s primary election, 31.9 percent to 30 percent. They face off again in the November general election to succeed termed-out Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Filner’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Faulconer said he and DeMaio have found common ground on “fundamental and powerful principles” that San Diegans are uniting behind.

“This mayoral election presents a very clear choice between two candidates with very difference visions for San Diego,” Faulconer said.

Zapf said DeMaio would continue with reforms that have resulted in balanced budgets, increasing core services and addressing deferred maintenance needs, “or we can have a return to the past — past practices that got us in trouble in the first place.”

Kersey, who ran unopposed, will fill DeMaio’s seat on the council, representing Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch and Rancho Bernardo. DeMaio decided not to run for re-election so he could devote his time for the mayoral campaign.

Sherman had 50.6 percent of the vote after Friday’s count in his district — needing just one vote over 50 percent to avoid a November runoff.

The four, along with DeMaio, were major backers of Proposition B, the pension overhaul measure that passed with the backing of two-thirds of the voters.

DeMaio said his team would provide “common-sense solutions” but promised not to ignore ideas that come from elsewhere.

“In my administration, we’re going to reach out to Democrats, Republicans and independents,” DeMaio said. “I will work collaboratively with the City Council and all city officials on a proactive agenda to tackle San Diego’s challenges, to bring people together.”

via Pension reform backers endorse DeMaio for mayor – San Diego, California News Station – KFMB Channel 8 – cbs8.com.

Firefighters Sue to Stop Mayor Slay’s Pension Reform Plan « CBS St. Louis

ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–They warned they would do it, and now they have. St. Louis Firefighters file a lawsuit to try to block Mayor Slay’s plan to overhaul the firefighters’ pension system.

The six-count suit, filed by the Firemen’s Retirement System of St. Louis, seeks a temporary restraining order, an injunction and declaratory judgement against the city of St. Louis.

The lawsuit aims to stop cold Mayor Slay’s effort to opt out of the current state-supervised system, and create a new system locally controlled.  Slay’s plan is now working its way through the board of aldermen.

The Mayor has warned local control is essential to control runaway costs of the system, which he blames for cutbacks in funding to police, firefighters and other city services.

Firefighters fear that without social security, they’d be left strapped in retirement, if local politicians have the power to cut their benefits.

via Firefighters Sue to Stop Mayor Slay’s Pension Reform Plan « CBS St. Louis.

San Diego Union-Tribune | Unions at war with math, reality | Conservatives4Palin

On Tuesday night, as the word spread that sweeping pension reform measures for public employees had won landslide victories in San Diego and San Jose, the highest-profile group opposing such reform in the Golden State put out a conciliatory statement. The Californians for Retirement Security said it respected the decisions of voters. But the union-funded group also lamented the failure of city leaders to pursue such cost-saving reforms through collective bargaining.

Not mentioned: the fact that when it comes to real pension reform, as opposed to tinkering on the margins, unions’ consistent response to elected officials has been, “Get lost.”

And on Wednesday and Thursday, it became clear that “respect” for voters’ decisions didn’t mean accepting those decisions. In San Jose, public employee unions sued to block the pension reform initiative. In San Diego, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith outlined his plans to try to defeat similar lawsuits filed earlier and to fight off the union-allied state Public Employment Relations Board, which tried to scuttle the city’s pension reform measure months before it was voted on. And in Sacramento, Democratic legislative leaders once again made clear that Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform proposal is just not a priority.  read more…

via San Diego Union-Tribune | Unions at war with math, reality | Conservatives4Palin.