High School English Teacher Laments Tribune “Pummeling”.

Recently the Chicago Tribune published a letter from Paul Easton, an English teacher at New Trier High School District 203.  Among other complaints, Mr. Easton bemoans the “pummel(ing)” teachers have been taking at the hands of the Tribune editors.”  He also blames “legislative malfeasance” for the current pension fiasco but says nothing about his $117,000 nine-month salary as having anything to do with it.  I am curious where in the private sector does Mr. Easton think an English major could make $700 per day plus benefits like retirement at age 54?
As is common with teachers, he exaggerates his career length; he says “nearly 20 years” when in reality this is his 18th.  Perhaps he is including the 2 years sick leave he will almost certainly have available to apply to years worked when he retires after 33 years at age 54.  I say “almost certainly” because under the terms of the current New Trier teachers’ contract, new teachers receive 180 days sick-leave credit on their first day in class.  Since a year in the public school system by definition is a brutal, almost slave-like 170 days, new teachers at New Trier begin their careers with more than one year of service credit before they ever show up for work.  Although the free 180 days sick leave is authorized by New Trier, every penny of the $80,000 cost is paid for by the state.  And teachers will claim that $88,000 gift is “guaranteed” by the constitution!

In addition to all of the above, Mr. Easton gets 90% health care funding, $125,000 in life insurance, free dental, long-term disability insurance, one year sabbatical after 6 years, tuition reimbursement, two personal days and free on-site day-care.  And to think the “oligarchic” Tribune (his terminology) says teachers are “union protected”.  Now where would they get that idea?

Have you received raises averaging 8.5% per year for the last 10 years?

Mr. Easton says he is “stuck in the economic downturn like everyone else.”  But I see no downturn for someone receiving an 8.5% salary increase each year in a job guaranteed by tenure.  Perhaps Mr. Easton should compare that with the average increase for workers in the Social Security pension system over that same time period – 3.65% with NO job guarantee.  If his salary increased by 8.5%/yr, so did his pension, and by and large that increased pension will be paid for by taxes on people whose wages increased by 3.65%.  And the 3.65 per-centers have to guarantee the pensions of the 8.5 per-centers.  I mean it’s in the Constitution – poor people guarantee rich peoples’ pensions even if they have to work until they drop.

Since the beginning of the current economic downturn in the summer of 2008, Mr. Easton’s salary has increased by $27,000. Somehow I don’t think Mr. Easton is as “stuck” as the rest of us.

SOURCE: Illinois State Pension Systems 2011 actuarial reports


So here is a Chart #1 showing Mr. Easton’s salary increase over the last 10 years compared to an average Social Security worker over the same period.  Big advantage to Mr. Easton I would say.  And of course, Mr. Easton is not done receiving big raises either.  According to state actuaries, teachers receive average raises of 7%/yr over their entire career, which if true in Mr. Easton’s case will result in a final salary 15 years from now when he retires of over $300,000/yr with a pension of over $200,000/yr.  If true, then I would say the teachers’ pummeling by the Tribune is richly deserved.



Now take a look at Chart #2 showing the difference between payments required by the taxpayer vs. an employee such as Mr. Easton.  See a “fairness” problem there?  Why are the 5% of the people benefitting from the state’s public pension systems contributing so little while the 95% who are not benefitting from those pension systems contributing so much?  Notice that although taxpayers are on the bottom when it comes to salaries in Chart #1, they are way, way on the top when it comes to paying for pensions as shown in Chart #2.

High salaries drive high pension costs.

There are 205,000 teachers in the four adjoining states of WI, IA, MO and KY. Mr. Easton’s salary of $117,000 is higher than every single one of them and he’s only halfway through his career.  If he were eligible for a pension now, his pension would start at $85,000 and would pay out over $4 million over his expected lifetime.  Imagine what it will be after 15 more years of raises when he will be eligible.

In total, if teachers’ salaries increased at 5%/yr over their average 25 year career instead of the current 7% plus, the TRS unfunded balance would be $24 billion instead of $43 billion.  Cut the automatic 3%/yr COLA (cost of living allowance) in half, and the unfunded balance goes down to a more manageable $14 billion.  So you can see that the funding problems can be laid at the door of outrageous salaries and post-retirement increases, not a shortage of taxpayer contributions.

Why do taxpayers have to pay 50% more for English majors than private employers do?

The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) says that for the Chicago metro area, “Editors/Media writers” i.e. English majors make $73,000 at the 90th percentile meaning 90% of such workers make less than $73,000.  So why do we have to pay a suburban English teacher 60% more ($117,000) than he would make in the private sector, not counting the outrageous pensions, tenure and 9-month work year?

It is only because of collusion between the billionaire-equivalent teacher unions and Illinois politicians.

Bring Illinois teacher salaries down to the level of WI or IA or MO or KY teachers and watch the unfunded pension melt away.

Combine that with 401K plans for all new employees, higher employee contributions and risk-sharing of investment returns and we are on the way to an affordable solution.