Dear Mr. Haley,
I think you are a great journalist and Wednesday Journal is a better paper than the Tribune. My husband and I canceled our subscription to the Tribune after 30 years, however, because of the paper's editorial policy on the pensions for state workers - especially those greedy, overpaid, underworked scapegoats de jour, teachers. The criticism of teachers and lament over the unfunded pension "promises" in your editorial [One school district - not ours - ends invisible 'step' pay hikes, Dan Haley, Aug. 11] were unwarranted and misplaced. Teachers and their unions are not responsible for the disastrous condition of the Illinois public pensions. You can place the blame squarely on the state and you, the taxpayer.
The public retirement plans have accrued a huge deficit because, for over 30 years, the state has illegally failed to fully fund the pensions, while teachers have faithfully continued to contribute 7 to 8.5 percent of their salaries for entire careers. Members of TRS (the pension plan for elementary and high school teachers) and SURS (the pension plan for state university and college teachers) were not allowed to pay into Social Security. If teachers held supplementary jobs to support their families, where they paid into Social Security, they are unable to receive their full share of retirement benefits because, except in rare cases, their public pensions will be decreased by the amount they collect from Social Security.
You may wonder why you, the beleaguered taxpayer (as if teachers do not pay state taxes), are liable for the state's raiding and underfunding of teacher pensions. You are responsible because, for the last 30 years, you were unwilling to raise the Illinois state income tax, or any other tax for that matter. You were able to avoid paying fair taxes because the state illegally plugged holes in its budgets and paid for programs by using the money that should have gone to pension funding. The state stole money from the teacher pensions to pay for programs, demanded by you the taxpayer, without asking you to contribute to the cost of the services you enjoyed. Who paid for those services? Teachers did, with money that was intended to fund their hard-earned pensions. How would you like it if the state garnished funds from your retirement plan to offset the cost of roads and other public services that you did not fund with your taxes? That kind of contract impairment, forbidden by the Illinois and federal constitution, would create a public outcry, but you seem to think it is fine to make teachers pay for public services enjoyed by all residents of the state.
Have you ever been a teacher, Mr. Haley? I was, for 10 years, before I graduated from law school in 1985. I have been a lawyer for 25 years, and I can tell you which job is more difficult: teaching. Teachers in this country have never been accorded the respect or status they deserve. To many Americans, teachers are nothing but the county's babysitters for working parents. Workers in private industries routinely get annual raises, profit sharing or bonuses, which are the equivalent of the step increases to which you refer in your editorial. The contractual raises, granted by local school districts, do not generally increase teacher salaries across the board, in addition to their annual step raises. The raises granted by school districts typically increase the dollar amount paid at each step. You contend that teachers are paid for "breathing and standing upright," a stinging indictment based completely on your own ill-informed opinion. I challenge you to teach for a day or two at OPRF, just "breathing and standing upright." The experience would educate and enlighten you, and may eliminate your penchant to reach for the facile quip, rather than research your subject matter, which I thought journalists were supposed to do.
Goldman Sachs, AIG and a host of Wall Street profiteers plunged us into this recession, and as remuneration for their conduct, they paid themselves outlandish bonuses. Are these tycoons, who invented arcane ways to leverage American wealth and reap unsustainable profits, vilified for their conduct? Actually, most were financially rewarded for it. Teachers, on the other hand, who are entrusted with children's welfare, are practically hung in effigy.
I am bitterly disappointed at your ill-considered criticism of teachers, and maybe our subscription to Wednesday Journal will have to go the way of our subscription to the Tribune. You owe teachers in this and other communities an apology. You also owe them some money.
- Rosemary Muller is a River Forest resident, former teacher for 10 years and lawyer for 25 years.