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Court delays superintendent pay case

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' regional school superintendents are going to have to show a central Illinois judge why he should force the state to pay them if they're going to get a paycheck anytime soon.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' regional school superintendents are going to have to show a central Illinois judge why he should force the state to pay them if they're going to get a paycheck anytime soon.

Illinois' 44 regional superintendents have been working without a paycheck since July 1, when Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto power to strip $11 million from the state budget. Last Friday, the superintendents filed a lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would force the Quinn administration to pay them.

But it will be Thursday before the superintendents learn if their case will go forward.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt on Tuesday delayed a hearing on the restraining order request, giving lawyers for Quinn more time to prepare their response to the lawsuit. Schmidt scheduled a hearing Thursday, and tipped both sides to the question he wants answered.

"Temporary restraining orders usually stop something," Schmidt said. "This request would force the state to start paying the superintendents. I'd like to hear arguments on that."

Terence Corrigan, assistant bureau chief for the Illinois Attorney General's Springfield office, argued the case Tuesday on behalf of the Quinn administration. Corrigan asked Schmidt for more time to deal with what Corrigan called the "serious constitutional issues" involved in the superintendents' requests.

Bob Daiber, president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, which lobbies for the regional superintendents, agreed that there are serious constitutional issues at hand. But he said the case before Schmidt is simple.

"It stops the state from violating the law," Daiber said.

Daiber has been talking with Quinn's office since July 1. He said the reality of two months without pay forced the superintendents into court.

"We're looking at going another complete month without pay. We realize that is we continue with talks, we'll probably go a third month without pay," Daiber said. "There are members of our association that feel we have exhausted our options."

Kelly Kraft, the governor's budget spokeswoman, said the administration continues to talk with Daiber and the regional superintendents.

"We continue to work toward a short-term solution to ensure payment through the veto session," Kraft said. "The conversations continue to be productive."

The governor has said for months that he wants to pay the superintendents, but wants to take the money from local sources. Local voters elect regional superintendents, but the state pays their nearly $100,000 a year salaries.

But Quinn's plan to shift superintendents' pay from the state to local taxpayers requires action from the Illinois General Assembly. Lawmakers are not expected to be back at the Capitol until late October. Once they return, there also is a possibility that legislators will overrule Quinn's veto and restore state funding for the superintendents.

Daiber is quick to say the superintendents cannot wait that long.

"We already have one regional superintendent who intends to leave at the end of this month because of the situation," Daiber said.

Daiber said St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Brad Harriman has indicated he will leave his post soon.

Harriman said his last day will be Sept. 7.

"I'm gone," Harriman said by phone Tuesday. "I've already made up my mind."

Harriman said he was not thinking about leaving his post until recently. Even if the state starts sending checks in September, he said he will not not stay.

"This is something that wasn't even on my mind two weeks ago," Harriman added. "And I know I'll take a hit to my pension, but I'm going to retire early."

Harriman was elected to his second term in 2010. He said he does not have another job lined-up.

Both the Quinn administration and the superintendents are due back in Schmidt's courtroom Thursday afternoon.

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