State lawmakers have passed a bill that dramatically increases the fines for charter schools that make late payments to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.
The pension fund is giving charter schools until Oct. 1 to pay up, and pension fund President Jay Rehak says more money is already coming in.
But the fund’s previous complaints about late payments, including a recent dispute with large charter operator UNO, have been met with criticism from operators who say the fund never addressed the issues with them – and, in UNO’s case, that the fund is improperly counting part-time teachers as pension contributors.
The new law doesn’t change who participates in the pension fund. (Previously, the pension fund had wanted to expand and include non-certified teachers and hourly staff.) But for the first time, it allows the fund to assume that all certified teachers and administrators are part of the system unless a charter operator proves they are part-time or don’t have teaching duties. And that is what some say is confusing.
“We are working with a bunch of schools on this right now because the prospect of these increasing daily fines has got a lot of charter schools worried,” says Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “All we want in the charter community is to have a clear understanding of the law.”
He charges that the pension fund has at times given schools conflicting information about their obligations. “I’d love to see a memorandum of understanding between CTPF and the charter community saying, ‘Here’s the deal,’” Broy says. “We get dozens of calls trying to help member schools on this, and without a lot of clarity, it’s difficult.”
Rehak says that it should be an open-and-shut question. “All they’ve got to do is look at the employee rolls and say, ‘Is this person certified? Do they work full-time here?’ If they do, they are in the pension fund,” he says.
He’s concerned that the discrepancies the pension fund has found in its audits could signal that “there are potentially teachers who’ve been in those schools for a number of years” who may not have been included in the pension fund.
The pension fund will work with charter schools to resolve questions and discrepancies. “The idea is just to motivate people to look over their books,” Rehak says. “Our position is, you have to demonstrate [someone is] part-time” in order to exclude them from contributions.
He adds: “My goal at the board of trustees is to look under every rock for every cent that we can get.”