More evidence that Illinois taxpayers pay too much for education, not too little

By Bill Zettler

Wisconsin: Top Teacher Salary $89K Less Than Illinois Top Teacher, Top Superintendent $170K Less.

If Illinois wants a model of how to run a public school system for a reasonable cost they would do well to emulate what Wisconsin is doing. When it comes to education everything costs less in WI.

Let’s look at some of the key facts about school salaries in Wisconsin vs. Illinois.

Key Comparisons Illinois vs. Wisconsin      




IL Higher By

Top Teacher Salary





Teachers with Salaries over $100K





Average Salary Top 100 Teachers





Top Superintendent Salary





Average Salary Top 100 Admin.





Education Salaries over $100,000





Education salaries over $200K





Teachers’ salaries WI vs. IL.

WI has exactly one teacher with a salary over $100K and at $100,037 barely over at that. IL on the other hand has 6,855 and with the built in 3% compounding COLA every one of those 6,855 will have a pension over $100,000 by the time they are 65 and most of them long before 65.

Even more telling is the average salary of Il Top 100. In WI there are only 8 education salaries, all superintendents, in the entire state higher than the average of IL Top 100 teachers.

Illinois has 2 music teachers, 3 phys Ed teachers and a librarian all making more than the superintendent of the 85,000-student Milwaukee Public School District.

Administrators’ salaries WI vs. IL.

What does IL get in exchange for the incredible $170,000 difference in salaries between the top WI ($198,500) and IL ($368,589) superintendents? Well, for a lot more money the IL superintendent supervises a school with less than 4,000 students while the much lower cost WI superintendent supervises more than 24,000 students. So we pay a lot more and get a lot less. As we have reported earlier the same is true in AZ where the top superintendent salary is $200,000 for a 25,000-student campus (see here). On a per student basis, IL superintendents often earn 30 times more than their peers in other states.

Wisconsin has big savings in pensions too.

In WI the maximum pensionable age is not reached until age 65 and it is 70% not 75% of salary as it is in Illinois. That’s because the annual pension increment is 1.6% per year worked instead of 2.2% per year in IL. In addition, any post-retirement increase is based upon investment return being greater than 5%. And there are no $300,000 Early Retirement Options (ERO) or sick leave pension credits like IL. In all likelihood there are no $100,000 teacher pensions in WI nor will there be any in the foreseeable future.

Teachers in WI can retire as early as age 57 with 30 years but their pension would then be 48% of a lower but reasonable salary as opposed to 75% of a much higher and unreasonable salary in IL. This probably explains why WI has more than 7,000 teachers over the age of 60 and 1,100 over the age of 65 still working. So much for the argument put forth by IL teacher unions that having teachers work beyond age 60 is cruel and unusual punishment.

We know that the top paid teacher in IL in 2009, a $189,000 music teacher, retired last year on a pension starting at $130,000/yr that will require a pension payout of about $6 million over his expected lifetime (see here). If we apply Wisconsin’s pension rules, including a 1.5% annual increase, to their top teacher we end up with a pension payout of about $1.7 million, still substantial but 70% less than the payout to the Illinois teacher.

What the next governor should do.

The next governor needs to use the bully pulpit to point out these huge salary and pension disparities between the education systems in WI vs. Il. If WI can find and keep teachers at a fraction of the cost of IL teachers then why are we forcing IL taxpayers to cough up an additional $5 billion/yr to make millionaires out of public employees?

He needs to explain that the cost of IL public sector salaries and pensions makes IL uncompetitive when it comes to recruiting new business. What business in their right mind would move to IL rather than WI knowing that public employee costs are far higher and on the horizon is a trillion dollar pension and retiree health care cost which will almost certainly be thrown onto the shoulders of IL business via higher taxes?

And while Pat Quinn wants to raise taxes to pump even more money into an already bloated education system, the new governor should ask why the IL education system costs $5 billion more than WI and what can we do to make our system more competitive.

And finally he should ask why IL’s higher cost system results in a 78% graduation rate while WI’s much lower cost system has an 85% graduation rate?

Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation. He can be contacted at this email address. Click here to read more by Mr. Zettler.