Column

Griffin: Teacher salaries should be determined locally

Kathi Griffin
Kathi Griffin

In his May 10 op-ed piece, defending the 3% threshold on pensionable salaries for members of the Teachers’ Retirement System and State Universities Retirement System, state Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, omitted a few points. 

When the representative – who voted “no” on the bill – says the provision was passed “on a bipartisan vote,” he implies that it was debated by lawmakers who knowingly approved it. In fact, that language was buried on page 741 of the budget implementation bill. Few lawmakers were even aware of it. Had they known, many would have opposed it. 

Here’s why. 

Because we believe in local control of schools. Sometimes school district boards may decide that, in order to attract/retain high-quality teachers, a salary increase greater than 3% should be offered for achievements that benefit students, such as earning a master’s degree, or for taking on additional duties such as coaching the football team, writing curriculum or directing the school play. 

Under this provision that Skillicorn now says he supports, lawmakers decided that you, the local taxpayer, not the state, should pick up that cost.

It was an unexpected and unnecessary eleventh-hour maneuver, hidden within the state budget. It provides no relief to the historic and consistent underfunding of the state Teachers’ Retirement System or State Universities Retirement System.

This law unfairly penalizes veteran educators in their final 10 years of employment and significantly reduces lifetime earnings for all teachers. This legislation went into effect in June and immediately created havoc in school districts negotiating new contracts with employees.

Because educators can qualify for a pension after five years and can leave their school district at any time, board attorneys began arguing for a 3% limit on all salary increases across the entire contract. Recognizing the effect of this harmful legislation, the Illinois Education Association immediately responded by setting a priority to have the 3% threshold repealed.

It is interesting to note that, in Chicago, there is no threshold. This measure that Skillicorn now says is “reform and something we needed to do,” only sets this threshold for teachers in your community and in the rest of the state, outside of Chicago.

When Skillicorn said this law was meant to end pension spiking and any claim that passing it helps add to the teacher shortage is “dubious,” he clearly doesn’t understand that this has had a chilling effect on educators’ entire careers.

Nor does he understand the effect it has on students. When positions go unfilled, team sports often are reduced or eliminated and after-school activities, too often, are abolished. Class sizes increase. Fewer courses are offered. Students suffer. 

When educators can’t afford to further their education to expand their teaching talents, students suffer again. 

The 3% provision is yet another example of state government, which has chronically underfunded our schools for decades, once again sticking local taxpayers with the bill for the state’s responsibilities.

• Kathi Griffin is president of the Illinois Education Association. The 135,000 member IEA-NEA is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preschool through 12th grade teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.

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