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Pension ‘reform’ is a step backward

Updated: January 11, 2013 6:10AM

Pension ‘reform’ a step backward

The latest version of pension “reform” legislation introduced by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) is an improbable step backward in efforts to save public pensions.

Foremost in its regression is language that impairs and diminishes the constitutionally guaranteed pension benefits being received by current retirees. There is one indisputable fact that cannot be ignored: cutting or diminishing benefits to those already retired is a violation of the Illinois Constitution.

Furthermore, it is important to remember why these guarantees exist in the first place. Today, the unfunded liability of the Teachers Retirement System is in the neighborhood of 50 percent. When the authors of our Constitution crafted the language we abide by today, the unfunded liability of the public systems was virtually the same.

A teacher’s pension is a result of a solemn promise between the employee and the employer (constitutionally, the State of Illinois). At every juncture teachers, as the employees, held up their end of the bargain: They spent a career in the classroom, imparting priceless knowledge to young people in return for a middle-class salary and the promise of financial security in their post-teaching years. They contributed 9.4 percent of their income to that retirement security and were not entitled to contribute to Social Security.

To protect working men and women from the arbitrary nature of future General Assemblies and their tendency to misappropriate budgets, the constitutional authors guaranteed the retirement security of public workers by specifically determining that pensions are enforceable contracts under the law.

Until this legal guarantee is seriously addressed in negotiations over public pensions, we will not be able to seriously address pension reform.

James Bachman, executive director,

Illinois Retired Teachers Association

Progressive tax is answer

Jacob Sullum [column, Wednesady] maintains correctly that the poor should pay less for medical care than the rich. But means testing, the method he proposes to accomplish this, is administratively burdensome and wasteful.

The efficient way to do it is through a progressive tax, with care free for everyone at the point of service. The IRS does what it’s good at — collect money. Dentists, nurses, doctors, optometrists, and other health professionals do what they’re good at — promoting health and diagnose and treat illness — rather than serving as collection agencies.

Anne Scheetz, Logan Square

Kurtis hits right notes

Bill Kurtis, one of the great journalists of our time, hit all the right notes with his urgent warnings about global warming [Lifestyles, Dec. 4]. While some with extreme ideological views or bald self-interest continue to attack the integrity of scientists who study our planet, Mother Nature is now adding her voice more clearly than ever to the mix. There is no longer any doubt that the first symptoms of severe climate disruption — extreme droughts, heat waves, and killer storms — are making themselves known year after year. But there is still time to take action. The only thing lacking is political will. It will not come from the politicians, but from the people. We must demand a price on fossil carbon emissions, which will unleash the powers of innovation and investment in renewable energy. The health, wealth, and well-being of our children and grandchildren demand it.

Rick Knight, Brookfield

Arbitrary grade is misleading

As the leaders of organizations representing public school administrators, principals, teachers and school board members in Illinois, we feel it is important to respond to the recent “report card” issued by the private group Advance Illinois.

While we agree with Advance Illinois that we need to continue to strive to improve public education, we do not agree that an arbitrary “grade” of C-minus is an accurate depiction of what is going on in our public schools and, as such, it inappropriately erodes public support for education.

More than half of Illinois schools serve concentrations of at least 40 percent disadvantaged students, up from 35 percent 10 years ago, and the report notes “in the face of this demographic shift, Illinois’ academic performance improved modestly in the core subjects of reading and math” across all demographic and economic groups. The report states that Illinois has improved its national ranking as other states facing similar demographic change declined.

Included in the data but never mentioned publicly is this fact: When it comes to the percentage of students demonstrating college readiness on all four benchmarks on the ACT test, Illinois was No. 1 among the nine states in the nation that administered the ACT to all of its graduating class of 2012. It’s apples to oranges to compare us with states where the test is mostly taken only by college-bound students, but even compared to that group Illinois ranked 12th in the nation.

The U.S. Department of Education released its graduation report just last week for the 2010-11 school year and Illinois ranked 10th nationally with a graduation rate of 84 percent, just 4 percent from the top spot.

We would be the first to say that we must improve on closing the achievement gaps in Illinois. Having said that, the new federal report showed that, with regard to graduation rate, Illinois ranked 8th for Black or African American students (74 percent), 7th for Hispanic/Latino students (77 percent), 7th for White students (89 percent), 11th for Limited English Proficient students (68 percent) and 9th for Economically Disadvantaged students (75 percent).

This has been achieved despite the fact that Illinois ranks at or near the bottom in the nation in state funding for education, and has suffered an 11 percent cut in General State Aid and a 42 percent cut in transportation funding in the past three years.

Dr. Brent Clark, executive director,

Illinois Association of School Administrators,

Roger L. Eddy, executive director,

Illinois Association of School Boards,

Dr. Michael A. Jacoby, executive director,

Illinois Association of School Business Officials,

Cinday Klickna, president,

Illinois Education Association,

Jason Leahy, executive director,

Illinois Principals Association,

Daniel J. Montgomery, president,

Illinois Federation of Teachers

Only a starting point

“Just arrest everybody” is the way to solve the gang and violence problems in the city, but-as a starting point. The streets need to be emptied of these individuals who have no respect for life and kill indiscriminately. It sends a clear message to the criminals that they will be arrested and jailed.

After that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s efforts to revitalize the community policing program and prevent retaliatory actions by gangs are the next crucial step. Until the parents and community members are involved in fighting this problem without that fear, no progress will be made.

When the parents and community members are empowered to take responsibility for their own children and neighborhoods, the gangs and violent individuals will no longer have the power to hold their children and communities hostage.

While our educational funding is sorely lacking, do not blame the gang and violence problems on that. All the money in the world thrown at educating children will not make a difference when we have blind, indifferent or frightened parents and community members.

Beth Harper, Palatine

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