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Is There Really a Lack of Funding in Education? The Books are Open.

Guest Commentary
By Cedra Crenshaw
October 3, 2011

Thanks to For the Good of Illinois’s Open the Books Portal at www.openthebooks.com, Illinoisans finally have access to 95% of all local and state public salaries and pensions. A simple question can now be answered: How much does government cost?

Consider that in 2010, 4,789 educators retired. During their years of employment, these educators contributed $439 million into the pension system. Yet their first year pension payout totaled $222 million. They will recoup their invested basis in less than two years.

Likewise, in 2010, 23 educators retired in Valley View School District (“VVSD”), Bolingbrook, IL. During their years of employment, these educators contributed $2.6 million into the pension system. Yet their first year pension payout totaled $1.5 million. They will recoup their invested basis in just 21 months.

From there on it’s pure profit…on the backs of other active educators and taxpayers who do not have such generous pensions or pensions at all. Keep in mind that teachers in Illinois can retire at age 55 (except for new teachers) and the average life expectancy is approaching 80.

This irresponsible spending at the local level fuels our runaway property tax inflation and massive $80+ billion unfunded state pension liability. Look at the last six years of data for VVSD:

Click Here for the Chart of VVSD Retirees.

In addition to contributing a mere fraction of what they will actually draw out of the state pension system, teacher union leadership also takes advantage of taxpayers with a financially destructive practice known as pension spiking. Because Illinois teacher pensions are calculated based on the average salary of the top four consecutive years before retirement, teacher union leadership builds outrageous salary increases into the last 4 contract years known as “bumps”.

Salary bumps when added together equal salary spikes. Salary spikes inflate pensions, compounding the problem year after year as these pensions must be paid out. The total four year salary bump for just the following ten retired VVSD teachers and administrators is a whopping $509,665!

Click here for a Chart of VVSD Retiree Salary History

Look closely at the salaries before the salary bumps began. All of these educators could have retired on pensions much more generous than the 2011 maximum social security benefit of $28,392/year. But a more than generous pension is not good enough for teacher union leadership.

Teacher union leadership with the help of school boards continues the reckless practice of pension spiking while vastly under contributing to the state pension system. This is in spite of the fact that Illinois has the worst funded state pension system in the nation. Where is the shared sacrifice?

What will be left for educators with many more active years until retirement after the system has been gutted by retired and soon to be retired educators? Active educators need to understand just how much their colleagues are taking from them.

The outrageous bumps in the last four contract years before retirement should be used for active or additional teachers/aides and supplies needed in the classroom. $509,665 could have purchased:

• School supplies for 10,193 students at $50/student
• 10 full time classroom teachers with salary and benefits of $50,967/each
• 23 classroom aides at $20/hour, 6 hours/day, for 180 days/year
• Tuition for 8 special needs students at alternative schools at $63,708/student
• 101,933 library books at $5/book
• 509 computers at $1,000/computer
• 1,019 computer programs at $500/each
• 1,228 CPR adult and child mannequin kits at $415/each
• 8,494 heart rate monitors at $60/each
• 425 defibrillators at $1,200/each
• 2 weight rooms & 2 fitness centers with Hammer Strength equipment at $127,416/each
• 29,123 music recorders and two teaching books at $17.50/each
• 12,741 washable tempera paint kits at $40/each
• 15,289,950 sheets of construction paper at $10/pack of 300 sheets
• 62,154,265 sheets of copy paper at $41/pack of 5,000 sheets
• 17 driver education cars at $29,980/each
• 2,548 textbooks at $200/each
• Untold amount of educational enhancements for use in the classroom

Now that the books are open at www.openthebooks.com, we can see more clearly than ever that there is not a lack of funding in public education. There is more than enough money.

The problem is politicians, bought and paid for by teacher union leadership, have legalized the plunder of the public education system to buy votes. The result is a broken system that incentivizes educators to take from the children they are supposed to educate.

The only way to stop this madness is to shine the sunlight of public scrutiny onto government spending. Please use and share www.openthebooks.com. The time is long overdue to expose and push back against those who continue to treat the public treasury like their private piggy bank.


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