Imagine you are in your mid-seventies and retired from the Chicago public schools for over a decade. You have a comfortable pension because you dedicated 39 years of your life to serve as a teacher and administrator in the school district.
When you finished college, you entered the profession you had dreamed about as early as you can remember. You taught in the inner city for most of your career. You were thrilled when you received your first two-week paycheck in the early sixties — $250. From paycheck number one throughout the next four decades, you faithfully contributed a percentage of your gross income to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. You were ineligible to contribute to Social Security so this pensions would be your main, and possibly, only source of income in retirement.
You were satisfied with that. After all, you didn’t become a teacher to get rich. You did it to make a difference, to teach, inspire and care for your students. You loved learning and found joy and pride in passing your passion on to the next generation.
Years flew by. You married, raised a family and were part of all the social and economic ups and owns of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. The Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations, the Vietnam War, several recessions, etc. You had a front row seat and sometimes were an active participant. Over the years, the school system was always short of funds and always being transformed by “experts.”
You addressed heart-breaking violence in the streets, which, too often, personally impacted your students and their families. Through all this you were there for your students. In some cases, you were one of the few stabilizing influences in their lives. Superintendents, mayors and grand educational plans to ‘fix the system’ came and went.
But, you were there for your students.
Now, after the Chicago Public Schools has been allowed to skip its financial obligations to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund for most of the last 20 years, the Fund is struggling. In December, the state Legislature voted to cut pension benefits for teachers outside Chicago. The mayor and the Chicago school system now want lawmakers to cut pension benefits for Chicago teachers and retirees.
Now it turns out, you are the problem, collecting a big pension when the Fund is in jeopardy. It should be noted that average teacher’s pension is $43,000 per year. It is comfortable. But it is not excessive in light of the fact that the teacher depends upon the pensions to meet his/her health insurance, medical expenses, and all the other obligations that we all have — housing, food, clothing, transportation, etc — with the pension being the sole income source. Nevertheless, the only way the ‘powers that be’ can deal with the pension dilemma is not to solve the revenue shortage problem; but to cut your benefits.
Got figure! You paid your part. They didn’t meet their obligations to you. So, the Legislature and other officials are making you pay for their mistakes by having your pension cut.
This imaginary retired Chicago public school educator is real and presently there are 27,000 real people out there. They are the folks who educated the last two generations of the city’s youth who attended the Chicago public schools. They have given so much to their profession and yet, the state, the city and the Chicago Public Schools are planning to show appreciation for their commitment by taking away the benefits they have earned. In addition, they have no viable plan to improve funding and address this issue for the future.
If you or your children attended a Chicago public school, is this how you want to reward the teachers who educated you?
John J. Garvey is a retired Chicago public school teacher and administrator.