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Pension reform could hit oldest retired teachers the hardest The oldest, like Daisy Rittgers, 105, have the smallest pensions to begin with and often depend on the potentially threatened 3% annual increases Daisy Rittgers (E. Jason Wambsgans / February 3, 2013) MAPS Shelbyville, IL … Continue reading
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Lack of Pension Reform Affects All Illinoisans January 13, 2013 10:10 AM SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois’ budget crisis is expected to worsen after lawmakers failed to enact pension reform last week, and residents will feel the impact across Illinois. The state’s … Continue reading
As the Illinois General Assembly grapples with pension reform proposals, contingency plans already are under development by the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois, Springfield. RELATED CONTENT STORIES Texas Teachers CIO took home more than $1 million in … Continue reading
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Governor Pat Quinn today was joined by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and several Republican legislators in the governor’s push to strengthen comprehensive pension reform by Jan. 9, the end of the current legislative session. The governor met with suburban … Continue reading
Most Illinoisans were outraged earlier this year when they found out that some teachers in Chicago were collecting six-figure public pensions based not on their classroom salaries but their better paid union administrative jobs. Lawmakers quickly moved to close that glaring loophole.
Well, the Chicago Teachers Union is outraged that anyone else is outraged. Recently it filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the action. The union argues that benefits once given can’t be taken back.
This union has no shame. State lawmakers never intended, for example, that former union president Marilyn Stewart would collect a $150,000 annual public pension — more than double what she made as a teacher. It’s only because people figured out how to game the system that she’s collecting that.
How sad that the union won’t allow lawmakers to correct a glaring situation that affects only a fortunate few. The union’s action gives the many rank-and-file public employees who collect modest pensions a black eye.
By Jason Grotto, Chicago Tribune reporter October 30, 2012
Pension reform in Illinois got a rare legislative victory when the General Assembly moved to close loopholes that allowed labor leaders to land six-figure public pensions based on their much higher union salaries.
The measure, which deals with abuses exposed by the Tribune and WGN-TV, affects a small number of city workers on leaves of absence to work for their unions, and it passed with little dissent.
Now the narrow change is being challenged in court. A lawsuit spearheaded by the Chicago Teachers Union this month seeks to overturn the law, and the union’s leaders are making it clear they will aggressively counter any push to solve the pension crisis on the backs of public-sector workers.
“I would disagree with the characterization that it’s a reform,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “There is a lot of politics being played, and part of that has to do with looking for people to blame.”
CTU leaders say reforms to the pension system should include additional revenues to shore up the funds, not just benefit reductions.
Under the new law, CPS teachers who go on leave to work for the union will be barred from participating in the public pension plan, which means they no longer can get deals that have long been a staple of the system.
For example, CTU President Karen Lewis, who makes about $148,000, can collect a public school teachers pension worth as much as 75 percent of her union salary averaged over four years.
Even though she hasn’t worked for CPS in more than two years, the teachers pension fund bills the district for contributions on her behalf as if she were still earning $82,000 a year as a high school science teacher. The union covers additional contributions required to make up the difference between that salary and her union paycheck.
It’s the same deal former CTU President Marilyn Stewart received. When she was ousted by Lewis’ caucus in the 2010 union elections, Stewart retired from the district, and now she collects a $150,000 teacher’s pension — more than double what she had made as a schoolteacher six years earlier.
Future CTU presidents would be affected by the measure, forcing them to rely on retirement benefits provided by the union. But Lewis and Stewart are still eligible for the public pensions, which have long been a perk of those jobs.
More than affecting the pensions of union leaders, however, the law also slashes pension benefits for low-level union employees who receive two retirement packages for the same time period of work, one from the city and the other from their union.
The lawsuit, filed by the CTU, laborers’ Local 1001 and Local 9 of the electrical workers’ union in Cook County Chancery Court on Oct. 9, alleges those measures violate the Illinois Constitution by diminishing pension benefits for public workers who already had retired.
“The law was the law,” Lewis said. “Then to change it and go back retroactively, take people’s pension, is problematic for us because that’s not constitutional.”
Sharkey said the union is open to adjusting benefits for workers, but not before the city puts additional, guaranteed revenue streams into the system.
“We think the Legislature got it wrong and went too far. That’s why we filed the suit,” Sharkey said. “It was a law that ended up catching the minnows in a net intended for the whales.”
Last year, the Tribune and WGN-TV detailed dozens of examples of labor leaders who took extended leaves of absence, in some cases up to two decades or more, then retired from their old city jobs and collected public pensions based on their much higher union salaries.
Many of those union officials collected a second or even a third pension from their unions for the same period of work, even though a law on the books was supposed to prevent that from happening.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, who sponsored the new law, said provisions in the bill do not violate the state constitution’s prohibition against diminishing retirement benefits because it merely clarifies the original intent of the pension code. By allowing union employees to collect multiple pensions for one job, the funds misinterpreted the law, he said.
“To be blunt, they were gaming the system,” he said. “Where someone now comes along and says, ‘We interpreted this a lot more aggressively than the General Assembly originally intended, and so we’re going to collect two pensions for essentially doing one job.’ Where’s the fairness to the taxpayer?” read more…
CTU sues to stop pension reform
With its first strike in a quarter century past them, the Chicago Teachers Union is taking part in a new fight. It’s suing to stop pension reform in Springfield.
The many pension investigations produced by WGN and the Chicago Tribune led Springfield lawmakers to pass a rare bi-partisan piece of reform stopping union leaders from getting two pensions for one job.
But as the CTU told WGN, the law designed to catch whales, instead has unfairly snared minnows. It points to a library assistant who left that city position to take a union office job with the CTU. It meant she not only gets a city pension, but a second union retirement plan. Republican House Leader Tom Cross argues that’s double dipping and something the state’s pension system cannot afford any longer.
Our WGN-Tribune investigation is the first to shine a light on this lawsuit which could put the brakes on any pension reform designed to start the state digging out of a gigantic pension deficit.
Chicago public school teachers and the district’s new CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett officially have contracts for the coming years.
Byrd-Bennett will make $250,000 per year running the city’s public schools—the same as what her predecessor Jean-Claude Brizard made annually during his short tenure.
Brizard stepped down two weeks ago in the wake of speculation about his performance and how much influence he had in shaping policy. Brizard gets one year’s salary as part of his severance.
The new appointment came at the same time the Board of Education approved the new Chicago Teachers Union contract. In the first year, that contract will cost the district $103 million, officials said, but the average annual cost is pegged at $74 million. The higher cost in year one is partially due to the 3 percent raise, as opposed to a 2 percent raise in years two and three.
The new costs come even as the district’s operating budget remains in limbo.
School officials delayed a vote on the amended budget that would make room for the changes. That’s because there was not enough public notice for the hearings held last week; those hearings were meant to get feedback from the public on the changes to the budget approved in August.
Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said there would again be public hearings on Nov. 5 and the amended budget would be up for a vote at the end of next month.
Board members peppered Cawley with questions and concerns about what they called “one-time fixes” used in this year’s budgeting process. Some of those one-time measures include restructuring some of the district’s debt and draining the reserve fund.
Board member Andrea Zopp said even the amended budget includes a number of things that are yet to be done. She asked for regular updates.
“I would just ask that we be kept in the loop on a fairly regular basis,” Zopp said. “I kind of like to see the train coming before it’s going to hit me.”
District officials are already projecting a $1 billion shortfall next school year due to ballooning pension costs when the current legislative relief expires.
Cawley said district officials are already looking ahead to next year.
“Work is underway now to look for pension reform, as I mentioned, that’s got to be our number one item, to think of ways we can generate additional revenues, and then also to think about ways to restructure our district to change our cost structure,” said Cawley.
That restructuring could include multiple controversial school closures and consolidations in the coming months.
The Chicago school board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the hiring of Barbara Byrd-Bennett as new Chicago Public Schools chief at $250,000 annually for three years.
Byrd-Bennett, the fifth CPS chief since 2008, will earn the same base pay as her predecessor, Jean-Claude Brizard, who departed recently after only 17 months on the job.
She’ll also be paid $30,000 in “relocation and transition expenses,” and her contract will contain “terms for compensation and benefits,” according to the resolution passed unanimously by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked school board.
Byrd-Bennett’s contract is still being finalized and won’t be available for weeks, CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said.
Byrd-Bennett was welcomed by Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale, who invited her to say a few words at the meeting’s start. She jumped right into her presentation honoring two schools that won a national Blue Ribbon.
Vitale cut her off: “That’s what I like about Barbara. We always get immediately down to work,” he said.
She took the hint to tell the room: “I am a teacher who happens to be the CEO.” She promised to restore trust in the wake of the district’s first strike in 25 years and to work transparently with staff and the community.
CPS expects a $1 billion deficit by summer; the nation’s third-largest district will announce which schools it seeks to close by Dec. 1.
The board also approved the new three-year Chicago Teachers Union contract.
The atmosphere overall at the new CEO’s first board meeting was markedly more conciliatory than it had been in the months before Chicago’s teachers went out on strike. Byrd-Bennett committed to setting meetings with several of the community groups that brought gripes to the floor to figure out solutions. Union and community leaders pleaded with her to seek public input before announcing which schools could close.
“I’m hoping that as we move forward on something like this it’s going to be done in a participatory and transparent manner with not only the [Chicago Teachers Union] but the public involved in what’s going on here,” CTU recording secretary Michael Brunson said.
For the first time, anyone who wants to register for two minutes’ floor time before the board can do so online at cpsboe.org starting Nov. 5 instead of lining up outside CPS headquarters early in the morning before each monthly board meeting.
More public input on the district’s amended budget also is coming, and a vote is set for the next meeting on Nov. 14. Hearings are scheduled for Nov. 5, though locations have not yet been announced.