Concerns arise over state plan

By Brian Slupski

Concerns over the state’s early retirement incentive plan were raised at Thursday and Friday’s Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting in Skokie.

This year’s early retirement incentive plan resulted in payouts totaling $17.4 million.

IBHE Associate Director of Public Affairs, Debra Smitley said, predictions anticipated that between 5 and 10 percent of all eligible employees will be retiring early.

The estimations proved accurate as 412 or 8 percent of all eligible employees took advantage of the incentive.

The strategy behind early retirement plans is that the state will save money as employees with a lot of experience and higher salaries retire. The replacements for the retiring faculty will have less experience and will receive lower salaries.

However, critics of the schemes claim the plans increase the liability of State University Retirement System (SURS). Some figures indicate SURS might be bankrupt by the year 2017 and early retirement plans are accelerating its coming fiscal collapse.

Board member Rey Brune said he was worried about SURS increasing “incurred liability.”

“We need to take a look at higher education’s incurred liability, (it) will be raging out of control. Something must be done about it,” he said.

Larry Poston, chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee said there is potential for a “head-on impact” down the road between SURS and state early retirement incentive plans.

He said there has been a “dangerous underfunding” of the SURS system and that this could cause problems in the future because Illinois is constituitionally obligated to pay retirement benifits.

Poston added some people are concerned the plans downgrade the quality of higher education by encouraging good experienced faculty members to retire in bunches.

The state plan, passed last January, allowed employees with eight to 35 years of service to retire early without paying a penalty to the SURS.

At NIU 13 out of 281 eligible employees retired under the state’s plan. NIU’s payout totaled $734,200. These figures do not include NIU’s own early retirement plan which was formulated after the legislative defeat of a more popular state funded early retirement plan.

Under the state plan that was accepted, 5,221 higher education employees were eligible for some early retirement benefits. If all had utilized the plan, payouts would have totaled $223.5 million.