The [Wednesday] Papers
"Little-Noticed Pension Perk For Teachers Widespread In Illinois," the Tribune reports.
That's an interesting way to frame the article.
First, "Little-Noticed" implies something sly, but the "perk" you are about to learn about is quite well-noticed to administrators, teachers, districts and municipalities. It's only little-noticed insofar as every sentence in a labor agreement is little-noticed by you and me unless we're trying to actually notice it.
Second, is what we are about to learn a "perk," which implies a gratuitous bonus of sorts above and beyond standard compensation? It is not.
Third, does the perk exist just for teachers? No, it exists for administrators too.
Fourth, is it "widespread" in Illinois? Not if widespread connotes to you something above, say, 75%, to be generous (I could argue, say, 90%). In this case, it is under 65%.
(Synonyms for widespread: "extensive, universal, common, global, worldwide, international, omnipresent, ubiquitous, across the board, blanket, sweeping.")
Fifth, "in Illinois" suggests that Illinois is uncommonly "generous" with this "perk." But the article never compares Illinois to other states, so we don't really know.
Whew, that's just the headline! Now to the article:
A brief but significant phrase appears about halfway through the 106-page teachers union contract in northwest suburban School District 21:
This is certainly interesting - and newsworthy. Good idea to do this story. But it's the last paragraph of that opening that caught my eye: Thousands of educators across the state get a better deal than CPS teachers. That, to me, is the frame. Far from being "greedy," CPS teachers already lag their peers in compensation despite working in arguably the state's most challenging circumstances.
District and union officials say the practice can attract teachers in competitive areas or provide a benefit to educators who agree to accept lower salary increases in exchange for the district covering their pension obligations. In other cases, it's a matter of tradition - a perk gets written into teacher contracts and remains there for decades.
For example, teachers in our wealthiest suburbs get terrific compensation packages including this "perk" because those districts are competing to attract "the best." This is the same rationale someone like, say, Bruce Rauner, uses to "overpay" some of his appointees. It's also something residents/taxpayers of those districts (including many of our city's reporters and editors) "demand" of their schools - and are willing to pay for.
It's also, as noted, "a benefit to educators who agree to accept lower salary increases in exchange;" as noted, but quickly lost. If this is the exchange, the "perk" isn't above and beyond their standard salary, as implied.
As for being "a matter of tradition" in some districts, I highly doubt it. It's not ceremonial. Being a standard part of a contract is not "tradition," it is a long-standing "benefit" not unlike some other thing millions of other employers have offered their workers for a long time.
What I don't see in this article are the words "Social Security," which teachers don't get. They get these pensions instead. If the media was better at reminding everyone of this, the public who (rightly) won't stand for their Social Security "benefits" being messed with would better understand why teachers are so "sensitive" about their pensions.
A teacher salary study published in April by the Illinois State Board of Education shows that 499 of 769 districts that responded said they were covering all or some pension payments for their teachers, with most districts reporting that they covered the full 9.4 percent contribution. CPS is not listed in the study.
I have no idea what this means. You thought you were answering the right way but you are saying now you answered the wrong way. Please explain.
The situation is complicated because, according to state law, members of TRS, including teachers, "shall make contributions" to their pension plan. But districts send the contributions to TRS using money "from the same source of funds which is used in paying salary to the member."
Maybe I'm not understanding this, but isn't this really saying teachers are getting screwed because some of these districts are paying contributions at the cost of teacher salaries?
Ted Dabrowski is vice president of policy at the nonprofit Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative watchdog organization in Chicago and Springfield. He spearheaded a 2011 analysis called "Teachers' Pensions: Who's Really Paying?" using data from the state Board of Education's salary study and TRS, and reviewing about 300 teacher contracts.
But if districts didn't pick up part or all of those teachers' pension contributions, they would instead pay higher salaries, which would presumably cost taxpayers even more. Also, notice that we've found where the "little-known perk" language apparently originates: from the conservative "policy watchdog" (boy is that being generous) Illinois Policy Institute.
The state's two teachers unions, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, stressed that who pays is a decision that should be made together by teachers and district officials.
I'm not a shill for the unions, but that seems eminently reasonable.
At the IEA, spokesman Charlie McBarron said that when districts cover teachers' contributions, it's a cost saver. "If the money was paid as salary, it would be subject to FICA (payroll) tax and would, therefore, cost the district additional dollars," he said.
Which is what I just presumed. If true, the real story is that so many districts don't pick up the full contribution in exchange for lower salaries in order to save taxpayers money. Districts should be trying to pick up as much of these pensions as it can wrangle from the unions!
In addition, "districts want their students to have the best teachers in their classrooms. These agreements, where they have been negotiated, can make a district more attractive to prospective or current teachers."
I resent the fact that our "best" teachers decide to take their skills to the North Shore instead of the South Side - and I'm not sure those folks really are our best. But the point stands that districts are negotiating these agreements to attract talent. They're running their districts like a business!
In the most recent teacher contract in Cicero School District 99, the district and union agreed to get rid of the practice of paying teachers' pension contributions, instead putting the roughly 9 percent for pensions into the salary schedule, which boosts pay for teachers.
Districts are allowed to do that!
"It was a wash for the teacher, in terms of take-home pay staying the same," said Tom Smith, a regional field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
But how does it come out for taxpayers? I think you just got screwed in Cicero!
Rockford's District 205 just finished negotiating a new teachers contract and kept its long-standing perk of paying teachers' pension contributions, according to union officials and the district.
In other words, districts don't seem unhappy with this arrangement at all - and it seems to benefit taxpayers. That's why this article appears to have been framed with an upside-down premise.
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Posted on August 26, 2015
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