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Teachers Rally in Plainfield to Oppose Pension Reforms

Educators say they want the chance to have their say before any big changes are made.

Several dozen teachers, both current and retired, office in Wednesday with one message: Don’t mess with our pensions.

Organized by Educators United for Strong Public Schools and partner Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, the event was held in protest of proposed changes that some educators fear would gut the pension system.

Dennis Grosskopf, president of the Minooka Education Association and former Will County Democratic Party chairman, said teachers just want to make sure their voices are heard.

“We’re turning in a petition asking for hearings on any pension changes,” he said, pointing out that lawmakers held weeks of hearings before voting on legislative redistricting last year.

“They haven’t done so on pensions,” Grosskopf said. “The public has to have input."

According to the Associated Press, Illinois has $83 billion in unfunded pension liability, with more than half – $44 billion — from the Teachers Retirement System. Many of the demonstrators said they believe proposed pension reforms would free the state of the financial burden, at the expense of teachers.

“We did our part for many years,” said Theresa Wiedman, a retired teacher. “It’s not our fault that we’re in this bind,” she added, noting that Illinois teachers pay 9.4 percent of their salaries into the pension fund.

“We haven’t missed a dime,” said Greg Bouchard, an English teacher at . “It’s not reform, it’s thievery … It’s about them trying to cheat and steal and not pay what they owe.”

Todd Mertz, a teacher at Neuqua Valley High School in , said rally organizers chose Cross’ office in part because Cross was a sponsor of Senate Bill 512, a reform bill that would have required state employees to pay significantly more into their pensions, or pay the same amount but receive lower benefits.

“Cross is important because he really wants to slam us,” Mertz said.

Another pension reform suggestion, supported by Gov. Pat Quinn, would shift the burden for paying out pensions onto local school districts.

Joni Lindgren, spokeswoman for EUSPS and a retired West Aurora teacher, led a contingent into Cross’ office, where they presented staff with the petitions. According to Grosskopf, more than 500 signatures were collected in print and online.

The group also attempted to reach Cross, who was in Springfield, by phone.

Though he did not speak to the demonstrators, Cross issued a statement to Patch, saying he wants to hear what the teachers have to say.

“Over the last year I have received hundreds of phone calls, emails, letters and visits to my office regarding the issue of pension reform,” Cross said. “I have tried my best to personally respond. I always welcome and appreciate my constituents’ opinions and concerns regarding the tough issues  we are dealing with at the capitol in Springfield.”

Joshua Wessell, district communications director at Cross’ Plainfield office, brought bottled water out to the demonstrators.

“They’re welcome here,” he said. “We hope they know that. We want them to know they’re being heard.”

Chanting slogans including “Keep our pensions,” the demonstrators stood at the intersection of Lockport and Des Plaines streets, cheering each time a motorist honked a horn at them.

Mertz said he wants to see legislators find new funding sources for pensions rather than gutting the system.

“They have not paid their full share [into the pension system] since 1953,” he said, suggesting making the switch from a flat tax to a graduated income tax system and expanding gaming as possible ways to increase revenue. “We’ve made sacrifices over the years and now they’re saying, ‘Too bad.’ There’s no shared sacrifice — it’s all on teachers’ backs.”

David August 18, 2012 at 05:26 PM
you might want to read about all the nice loans to the Stephens groups in Rosemont, IL...... research those loans
AL August 18, 2012 at 07:19 PM
I would love to have retired after 30 years received 75% of what my average salary was for the last 3 years then being young enough to find another job worked for another 10 years and receive a pension from another group. Then fully retire and have same income as if I were working with increases to my pension every year. But I was not smart enough to think of this when I was younger. My own fault but was happy in the job I had
Jason August 18, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Tim, the only thing I'd like to add and have you remember is that teachers are state employees. Teachers pay something like 9.75% of their salary to TRS every paycheck for those 34-39 years. Teachers depend on TRS to make wise investments. The problem is that the State agreed to give state employees, not just teachers, guaranteed benefit pensions. The fault lies with the State, not the teachers. I don't know what the State is going to do, but I still don't see what teachers have done to deserve the blame that lots of people ascribe to them for the financial mess in Springfield.
Tim August 19, 2012 at 02:52 AM
No Jason, they don't pay that. The D202 Board of Education, and D308(your property taxes) pay that 9.4% contribution to TRS, not a single cent comes out of the teachers listed salary for that. It is a union negotiated 'benefit' listed right in the labor contract. 64% of school districts in Illinois have this extra 'benefit'. For D202 http://www.psd202.org/Departments/AP/APT_Contract.pdf Page 28. Section 11.12 Although designated by the Illinois Pension Code as teacher contributions, the amounts herein required to be contributed by the Board are being paid by the Board in lieu of contributions by the employee. For D308 (the board also pays their Health insurance costs) http://76.227.214.198/assets/5/employment/contract_teacher.pdf Page 32. The Board shall contribute the 9.40% towards each teacher’s mandated (9.40%) contribution to TRS for teachers’ retirement and .80% towards the teacher’s’ mandated (.80%) THIS contribution to TRS for teachers’ health insurance for the duration of this contract.
my conscience August 19, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I suppose an even sweeter pension deal might be had by a State of Illinois politician. Let’s say are lucky enough to get elected to a state representative position, then you can contribute 11.5 percent of your $68000 annual salary and after just two 2-year terms in office you are vested into a lucrative state retirement program. You would have paid-in only about $16000 total, but would be eligible to receive a pension of 12 percent of your salary, along with 3 percent increases if retiring after age 60! And that pension payout increases to 27 percent of salary after eight years of in office, 45 percent after 12 years of service and finally the maximum 85 percent after 20 years!! I don’t know any private sector job that would fund someone’s retirement like that after just four years of work. (I also doubt any self-employed person would have such a successful 401k.) This is just an example of the General Assembly Retirement System of Illinois, and why we are in such a predicament financially. So, when we are passing the blame around let’s not forget the politicians.

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