Pensions and Politics as Usual

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CHICAGO – It’s politics as usual in Chicago, despite growing national attention to the government employee pension crisis, according to the president of one of the country’s largest taxpayer organizations.
“Despite such articles as the Wall Street Journal’s 9/22/2012 ‘Pension Crisis’ proclamation, elected officials here and across the country seem to think the problem will go away if they ignore it,” said Jim Tobin, president of Taxpayers United of America (TUA).
“We have been sounding this alarm here in Illinois and across the country, and yet many, including those in the media, continue to ignore the magnitude of the pension problem.”
“Nearly every community is reaching the tipping point at which services needed today are being sacrificed for payment of services provided in the past.”
“Pension fund payments are squeezing out services, and nowhere is that more apparent than here in Chicago, where bureaucrats are calling for a $5 monthly electric surcharge, aka tax, to hire 700 additional police officers — positions eliminated from the current budget.”
“You might think that the Chicago government teachers’ strike was all about pensions, but no, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel didn’t even try to scale back the bloated teacher pensions. The mayor completely missed the opportunity to work on the problem for his constituents.”
“The country’s state and local government budgets are on the verge of disaster, and here in Chicago, Rahm’s rhetoric provides hot air but no solutions,” said Tobin.
“At least some, like Michael Corkery, of the Wall Street Journal, are able to see through the smoke and mirrors and call attention to the real problem with the budgets: unsustainable government pensions.”
“At every turn, politicians are looking for ways to raise taxes through additional fees and surcharges, but what they aren’t telling taxpayers is that every additional penny goes to pay for pensions that are devouring tax dollars that could have gone for services.”
“Yes, Rahm was blowing smoke when he was quoted as saying, ‘In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more.’ Actually, Chicago homeowners will be paying more in real estate taxes, and the government-school teachers, not their pupils, will be pocketing the money.”
“But this isn’t just a Chicago problem, as many would like to believe. Our research of 18 states thus far in our nationwide pension tour reveals that government pension largesse is pervasive and consistent across the country, and very few bureaucrats have the political courage necessary to end unfunded pension liabilities altogether.”

Fox News Illinois | Taxpayer advocate says Chicago teachers’ salaries ‘out of this world’

TUA’s press releases on the Chicago Teachers’ Union and CPS administrators was featured in the following article at Fox News Illinois.
SPRINGFIELD – As striking Chicago public school teachers took to the streets to picket Monday, one taxpayer-minded organization criticized the current salaries of the district’s school administrators and teachers, saying they add up to too much for too little.
Jim Tobin, president of Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America, an organization that advocates for tax relief and responsible use of tax money, said the average teacher pay in the Chicago public schools is $76,000, not including employee benefits or pensions.
“That’s $76,000 for nine months’ employment in a system that isn’t even mediocre. This is one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country,” Tobin said. “And they want a 29-percent pay raise. It just boggles the mind. These salaries are out of this world.”
The Chicago Teachers Union announced at 10 p.m. Sunday that negotiations between teachers and the city of Chicago, which operates Chicago Public Schools, had broken down and that teachers would be on strike beginning Monday morning.
It’s the first time Chicago teachers have gone on strike since 1987. Chicago has the nation’s third-largest public school system, with more than 30,000 educators and 400,000 students at 675 schools.
Midnight Sunday was the deadline for negotiations. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said only two issues – a teacher-evaluation system that links teacher performance to students’ standardized test scores and principals’ ability to let go of teachers who don’t make the grade – remained unresolved.
The Chicago school district is grappling with a $700 million budget shortfall.
“The issues that remain are minor,” Emanuel said Sunday night. “This is totally unnecessary. It’s avoidable, and our kids don’t deserve this. … This is a strike of choice.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the union and school district officials found common ground on compensation but that cuts to health benefits remained a sticking point.
“This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could have avoided,” she said. “We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.”
David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said officials offered teachers a 16 percent pay raise over four years, which was double the amount of a previous offer. He described the negotiations as “extraordinarily difficult.”
According to a Chicago Teachers Union news release, the two sides also negotiated a variety of other matters during the talks. Among them:
Smaller class sizes.
More libraries.
Air-conditioned classrooms.
More social workers and counselors to help students.
Restoring art, music, language, technology and physical education classes.
Textbooks for students on the first day of school instead of waiting several weeks for the materials.
Training for teachers.
Concessions for nursing mothers.
Negotiations resumed Monday.
Tobin described as “ridiculous” the raises Chicago teachers are seeking, adding that school administrators are paid even more for doing less. According to 2011 salary figures provided by Taxpayers United, the top administrator in Chicago Public Schools, Chief Executive Officer Jean- Claude Brizard, earned $250,000. Dozens of principals in the list of top-100 salaries in Chicago Public Schools earned $140,000 to $150,000.
“The purpose of the government schools is not to provide education for children but to provide employees with huge salaries and benefits,” Tobin said. “If (teachers) really cared about the children they would be in school and trying to get these kids a better education. But they’re basically concerned about lining their own pockets.”
Teachers at Chicago’s charter schools are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, and students and educators at those schools were in class Monday.
Charter schools are public schools that are not restricted by the same guidelines as traditional public schools, but they are accountable for achieving certain goals and results, as set forth in their charters. Parents can choose to send their children to charter schools as an option to other, low-performing schools, and they can do so for no extra cost. About 52,000 students attend charter schools in Chicago.
John Tillman, chief executive officer of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think-tank, on Monday urged those at the bargaining table in Chicago to focus on reforms that empower parents rather than perpetuating “a broken system.” He suggested expanding the number of charter schools in Chicago, establishing opportunity scholarships and continuing to offer merit pay for good teachers who deserve to be recognized and rewarded.
Once those things occur, Tillman said, “…we can begin to chip away at the monopoly that the Chicago Teachers Union has over the city’s educational system.”
“We must empower parents to choose what is best for their children, instead of letting Karen Lewis decide when kids can and cannot learn,” he said.

Examiner | Both sides dig in for Chicago teachers strike

TUA’s release on the Chicago Teachers’ Union was featured in the following article at
Chicago. When the rules were changed to make it harder for Chicago teachers to strike, administration officials quietly bragged that the union would never garner the necessary votes to authorize a walk-out. Then, officials arbitrarily eliminated contractual raises the teachers were supposed to get. Then they lengthened the school day and instituted new evaluations. In response, the teachers union voted 98 percent to authorize a strike. Will they walk out? We’ll find out next week.
Teachers union steps up pressure
On Labor Day, a sea of red blanketed downtown Chicago as teachers and other sympathetic unions marched on City Hall in a show of unity. Taking their fight a step further, yesterday the union filed charges against Chicago’s schools citing ‘unlawfully imposing changes in working conditions’. As parents hope a strike is diverted, the two sides appear to be preparing for a walk-out next week.
In a show of unity and strength, the union released a list of 37 local and international organizations who, they explain, ‘have written letters of solidarity or contributed to our Solidarity Fund over the past few weeks’. As the CTU website states, ‘People across the country and the world are looking at our confrontation with the Chicago Board of Education as a key fight against the specious attacks on our public schools and the teachers and paraprofessionals who make them work.’
The union rejected a proposed 2% pay raise each year for the next four years. It also opposes a longer school day without additional compensation, pay for performance, testing of teachers, and the overall anti-teacher atmosphere they say was created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s zeal to reign in the city’s unions and replace them with outside corporations, in other words, charter schools and privatization.
Chicago Sun Times comes out against teachers union
Attempting to present both sides of the argument as the independent-leaning Sun Times often does, the paper’s editors came out publically today against the teacher’s union in an editorial titled, ‘If Chicago teachers strike now, it’s the union’s bad call’.
As the paper explains, ‘The union has made these talks a referendum on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools reform agenda. Emanuel may have tried to do too much at once – a recipe for poor outcomes in a district that often fails to pull off the best of ideas under the best of circumstances. But that doesn’t justify saying no to it all, as the union has done.’
Providing a compromise solution of its own, Sun Times editors suggest, ‘The answer to the mayor’s over-reaching isn’t a strike. The answer is hammering out compromises at the bargaining table.’ As a compromise on pay raises, the paper suggests that instead of 2% raises for the next four years, both sides should agree on 3%, bringing the total raise from 8% to 12%.
Opposing the teachers union
Critics of the various teachers unions in Chicago and Illinois have grown in number over the past few years with pension scandals and the sudden availability of teachers’ compensation packages and pension benefits.
A typical impartial Chicago taxpayer might suggest that it’s difficult to feel sorry for the teachers unions when they’re awarding million dollar annual payments to people who literally worked only one day on the job. Granted, that’s a rare example but a real one. The list of teachers who worked only one day in their life as teachers and now receive over $100k per year in their taxpayer-funded teacher pension is yet another reminder that the current teacher compensation system is broken.
One regular critic of the Chicago Teachers Union is the group Taxpayers United of America. They often release statistics such as – 6,700 retired teachers are currently receiving lifetime annual pension payments of over $100,000. According to the book, ‘Illinois Pension Scam’, in eight years, that number will surpass 25,000.
Teachers strike would be ‘just plain stupid’
That was the reaction TUA President Jim Tobin had in a statement released yesterday. “The average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 a year, according to Crain’s Chicago Business,” said Tobin, “and, in addition, Chicago picks up a 7% pension contribution for the teachers, which no other city does. The average Illinois statewide teacher salary is $63,000.”
“Depending on the source, they are demanding a 29% pay increase over 2 years (Chicago Sun-Times) or a 25% pay increase over 2 years (Crain’s), despite the fact that the CPS system is projected to have a $665 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending next June 30,” Tobin added, “For fiscal year 2014, the deficit will soar to $1 billion.”
The release by Taxpayers United of America included a downloadable database of the top 100 highest-paid teachers in the Chicago Public School system. They highest, they found, was a high school chemistry teacher who currently earns $183,777 per year.
TUA’s Tobin concluded his announcement saying, “Between 2007 and 2012, according to Crain’s, while many Chicagoans endured pay cuts and layoffs, teachers enjoyed pay increases from 19 to 46 percent. The Chicago Teachers Union’s demand for a huge salary increase of up to 29% while threatening a strike if these demands are not met, is outrageous, unrealistic and just plain stupid.”