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Illinois teacher pension proposal rough on downstate districts

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Illinois Democrats want local school districts to pick up the tab tor teacher pensions. It's tied to Gov. Pat Quinn's call for a special session on August 17 to resolve the state's massive $83 billion pension debt.

Registration day for the Silvis school district is like a fresh start.

"It's a new year with new beginnings," said parent Wendy Wenskunas.

"It's exciting," added parent Lavon Rannow.

But if lawmakers shift the cost of teacher pensions to schools, it will be another blow to downstate districts already struggling to make ends meet.

"Because they can't pay back a system they've taken from, they are now putting it on the school districts to pay for that system," said Mary Rossmiller, a fourth grade teacher and president of the Silvis Education Association. "It doesn't fix the problem."

The proposal would cost Silvis schools about $250,000 per year. The toll tallies more than a million dollars for larger districts in Rock Island and Moline.

"It's going to hurt us quite a bit," said Silvis Superintendent Ray Bergles.

As the district prepares to open a new school, its 625 students and families must brace for fewer teachers and program cuts.

"We're doing things now in the short term that's really going to hurt us in the long term," Bergles said.

Playing politics with the schools is like business as usual for downstate districts in Illinois. But the bottom line could hurt education.

"You're sacrificing that next generation if you're going to take more and more money from education," Bergles said.

If the plan pushed by Speaker Michael Madigan holds, it could lead to higher taxes. That prompts a mixed response from Silvis parents.

"I think we already pay enough taxes," said Melissa Brown.

"It's a joint effort," Wenskunas added. "Being in the state of Illinois is frustrating for everyone involved."

"I feel teachers deserve more than they're getting," said Rannow.

Frustrating for downstate school districts already leaping more hurdles than their Chicago-area colleagues, which get more funding and program priorities.

"The state of Illinois is in a desperate, awful situation," said Rossmiller.

If the special session takes place, it will be just two days after Silvis kids go back to school.

"You have to reduce expenditures," Bergles said. "But you hate to do that because who's getting hurt? It's the children always."

It's not what they signed up for on registration day in Silvis.