SPRINGFIELD — A judge has ruled that it’s up to lawmakers, not the courts, to decide whether the state’s regional school superintendents will get paid.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — A judge has ruled that it’s up to lawmakers, not the courts, to decide whether the state’s regional school superintendents will get paid.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt issued a three-page ruling, in which he denied the regional superintendents’ request for a temporary restraining order to force Gov. Pat Quinn to pay them.

“The issue is … whether this Court has the authority to order payment of unappropriated state salaries,” Schmidt wrote in his opinion Friday. “The answer is no.”

The judge added that the Illinois Constitution gives the governor the authority to shape the state budget. The governor cannot increase it, but he can cut it or amend it, under the amendatory veto power.

But Schmidt said the Legislature needs to act on Quinn’s veto.

“The Illinois Constitution states very plainly that the governor may veto an item of appropriation,” Schmidt wrote. “To hold otherwise would thrust the Court into the appropriation process.”

Illinois’ 44 regional superintendents’ paychecks will be in limbo until late October or early November when lawmakers return for the fall veto session. Illinois’ fall veto session runs Oct. 25-27 and then again Nov. 8-10. No special session is planned to address this issue.

Quinn zeroed-out $11 million for the regional superintendents’ salaries in June, when the state budget was finalized and passed. The governor wants local taxpayers, not the state, to pick-up the tab for the salaries. Illinois’ superintendents make around $100,000 each and are tasked with a number of duties from certifying new teachers to grading GED tests.

Some local governments are providing funding for the superintendent’s office, as in the case in Rock Island County, but not every local government can do so.

“We’ve been utilizing county funds that come to our office each year, as well as grants, both federal and state funded grants to provide services,” Rock Island Regional Superintendent of Schools Tammy Muerhoff said. “For me personally, I’m going to continue as long as possible.”

Muerhoff, however, continues to work without a paycheck.

Only one regional superintendent has announced plans to quit. St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of School Brad Harriman said earlier this week that he was leaving in September no matter what.

“This didn’t even cross my mind until a few weeks ago,” Harriman said. “But my mind is made up.”

LaSalle County Regional Superintendent of Schools Jim Carlson said he talks with his wife each week to see how much longer they can keep going.

“Everybody has their own threshold that they can deal with,” Carlson said. “(For) some individuals, this will be a huge blow to them, because they needed dollars to start flowing immediately.”

Carlson said he is disappointed that he won’t be getting paid soon, but he does not blame the judge. The superintendent’s office has no say in county funding.

“Sometimes legal and illegal are not right and wrong. And that’s how I look at it in this case,” said Carlson.

Kelly Kraft, spokeswoman for the governor’s budget office, said she still hopes to get the regional superintendents paid quickly, but the decision rests with the lawmakers.

“We continue to work with legislators to gain support to shift the payroll appropriation for the Regional Offices of Education to Personal Property Replacement Tax,” Kraft said in a statement. “PPRT funds local elected official stipends, and we feel (regional superintendents), which are locally elected, should be funded in the same manner to relieve pressure from the general revenue fund.”

The Legislature would have to agree to switch the pot of money for the superintendents to the PPRT fund. Or the lawmakers could override Quinn and order the superintendents paid.

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said an override would be the quickest and easiest option.

“The Personal Property Replacement Tax has an impact on cities, counties and school districts. And a lot of those government bodies get concerned about losing money,” Mautino added. “I would hope to see an override.”

Even if lawmakers restore the money zapped by the governor, questions still surround how regional superintendents will be paid in the future.

“This is not going to go away with just an override,” said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. “The governor may attempt to do it with a little more efficiency that he did this year. But I think (it) is something that will not go away until it is finally settled by the Legislature and governor coming to an agreement.”

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