By Ben Velderman
COLUMBUS, Ohio – You know things are out of whack when a school district can’t afford to pay some of its current teachers because it’s spending more and more of its budget paying pensions to retired teachers.
That dilemma exists all across the nation. A pair of Midwestern states – Ohio and Illinois – are exemplifying two vastly different approaches to solving the pension problem.
Ohio’s teacher retirement system is $13.3 billion in the red. Recently, state officials and teacher union leaders seemed to agree on a reform plan that would gradually require educators to work longer and contribute more to the system before qualifying for a full pension, according to SalemNews.net.
State lawmakers still need to sign off on the plan, but the fact that union leaders are willing to make some concessions is commendable.
Two states over, Illinois teacher union leaders are taking a much different approach.
A coalition of unions – including the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association – are denouncing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposals for shoring up Illinois’ teacher pension plan, which is $44 billion short, reports Galesburg.com.
The crux of Quinn’s proposal is to raise the retirement age, as well as teachers’ pension contribution by 3 percent. Illinois’ teacher union leaders say the proposal is “illegal” and violates the state constitution’s guarantee that pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired,” reports McDonoughVoice.com.
One local union president blamed lawmakers for failing to fund the pension plan properly over the past several decades.
“That’s why we’re in this mess,” said Galesburg Education Association President Russ Ullrich.
He might be right, but there’s little to be gained in finger pointing. That ship set sail on the Sea of Red Ink long ago – and it’s not coming back.
The Illinois unions should learn from their brethren in the Buckeye State, and look reality square in the face. The longer they delay, the worse the pain will be – for teachers, students and taxpayers.