For the Good of Illinois

Champaign News-Gazette: Guess Commentary: The Teachers' Retirement System's $100,000 Club

July 2, 2018 07:00 AM
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Guest Commentary | The Teachers' Retirement System's $100,000 Club

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 7:00am | The News-Gazette

By Adam Andrzejewski

You can't educate children in the classroom when you're funding an expensive education administration. There's just not enough taxpayer money for both, as Illinois' property taxes, budget shortfalls and overdue bills clearly illustrate.

Let us introduce you to the Illinois $100,000 Club. It's made up of 30,000 superintendents, administrators, staffers and teachers. Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found more than 18,000 educators pulled in six-figure salaries last year, while nearly another 12,000 retirees received six-figure pensions.

Using data compiled from open-records requests of the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, we built an interactive mapping tool, on our government transparency website, OpenTheBooks.com. Now, every taxpayer can search the $100,000 Club by ZIP code.

Wouldn't you like to see which educators in your district make $150,000 salaries for teaching driver's ed or PE classes? What about the retired art teacher with a $120,000 lifetime pension annuity? Here are some examples of what you'll find in local school districts:

  • In Calumet CSD155, Superintendent Troy Paraday made $407,145 last year. Meanwhile, the students are struggling, with nearly 70 percent coming from low-income families and just 16 percent considered ready for the next grade level. Paraday made $23,000 more than the $384,138 he made the previous year.
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  • Six retired educators received more than $300,000 in annual pension payouts last year, including Lawrence Wyllie from Lincoln Way CHSD 210 ($331,086); Henry Bangser from New Trier Township HSD 203 ($321,834); Gary Catalani from Community Unit SD 200 ($320,403); Laura Murray from Homewood-Flossmoor CHSD 233 ($315,221); Mary Curley from Hinsdale CCSD 181 ($306,151); and Larry Fleming from Lincolnshire-Prairie View 103 ($300,813).
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  • Joyce Carmine, former superintendent of Park Forest SD 163, retired on a first-year pension of $290,526 (2017). In 2016, Carmine earned the largest salary in the entire system with a massive salary increase from $81,382 (2000) to $398,229. She received this enormous paycheck even though less than 1 out of 4 students in her district were considered ready for the next grade level, and 88 percent of students were considered low-income.

These highly compensated public employees are bleeding the education and the pension systems dry. The top 18,394 educators with six-figure salaries collected $2.3 billion last year. They out-earned 65,800 hardworking, rank-and-file teachers at the bottom half of the pay scale.

Upon retirement, these well-paid educators expect a handsome reward. The top 11,765 six-figure retirees received more than the bottom 50,500 retired teachers. That means the top 11 percent of TRS retirees soaked up more annual pension payments ($1.4 billion) than the bottom 47 percent.

It's only getting worse. We forecast that by 2020, there will be 20,000 retired Illinois educators with taxpayer-guaranteed pensions exceeding $100,000. That's nearly twice as many as this year.

Last week, executives at the TRS sent an email to its members admitting our data was correct. Still, they tried to reframe the claims, arguing that just 11.4 percent of educators and retirees received six-figure payouts. The TRS pointed out the average salary for an active Illinois educator is $72,000, and the average pension is $54,000.

What the TRS conveniently ignored, however, is that windfall pay packages reward those at the top of an education system impervious to improvement or reform. Six-figure salaries are driving huge retirement pensions that already cost the equivalent of $1 out of every $3 collected from the state income tax.

The bloated Illinois education bureaucracy values high compensation for those who know how to play the pay and pension lottery. One $300,000 administrator salary could fund the salary of one new teacher with $200,000 left over to enhance student learning. But, as this spending illustrates, classroom learning is not the concern.

Perhaps it's time for a compensation cap for employees at the education patronage farm. After all, in 2017, there were 518 school district managers and administrators out-earning every governor of the 50 states at a threshold salary of $180,000. That's excessive.

In the absence of a pay cap, our data at OpenTheBooks.com shows that unwarranted pay for superintendents, administrators, staffers, and some educators is making a bad situation much worse.

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