Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for December 10, 2004

The following opinion/editorial piece was distributed to newspapers statewide in response to articles/comments about the Early Retirement Option (ERO) for members of the Illinois Teacher's Retirement System...

To the Editor:

There has been a lot of rhetoric emanating from the Statehouse lately, coinciding with newspaper editorials statewide, concerning the Early Retirement Option (ERO) for teachers who belong to the Illinois Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS). Let me offer a few words that describe ERO, which haven’t been used until now:

Fair. Money-saving. Good public policy.

ERO, a benefit that has been available to Illinois TRS members for a quarter-century, allows teachers who have had long, successful careers to retire a few years early without penalty. Local school districts throughout our state have saved untold millions of dollars over the last 25 years because they were able to replace their most experienced and highly compensated teachers with new teachers who are paid far less.

ERO has never made anyone rich, and it never will. ERO is merely an attempt to level the playing field for teachers who, for many years, did not qualify for Social Security and most of whom, even today, are unfairly barred by law from receiving full Social Security benefits.

As all who care about Illinois public education are aware, the state does not fulfill its Constitutional obligation to pay 51 percent of the cost of public education. This is why more than three-quarters of our school districts operate with a deficit. Virtually the only help the state gives local districts comes from the cost-savings generated by ERO.

Yet, some of the same people who, over decades, have failed to fix the broken school funding system, seem to be spending a lot of time and energy lately orchestrating anti-ERO stories and editorials in newspapers statewide.

By failing to adequately fund education the state has, in effect, thrown local school districts into a sea of red ink. Now, by considering taking away ERO, the State proposes handing drowning districts an anchor.

It has been suggested, as ERO is an early retirement program, that the state should simply let it expire and, if thousands of teachers choose to retire in 2005, so be it.

Reasonable people can disagree, but we consider comments such as “let them all retire” not only to be foolish but also very disrespectful to teachers who have dedicated their lives to making a positive difference in the lives of school children.

For the last 25 years, ERO has ensured a manageable turnover rate among teachers. If ERO is allowed to expire in 2005, it will create a “brain drain” because many of our best, most experienced and accomplished teachers will leave -- all at the same time.

We, the 120,000 members of the Illinois Education Association, believe the following:

Denying tomorrow’s children the most highly qualified teachers available is bad public policy.

Stripping teachers of a benefit on which they have counted as a means of balancing a career based on sacrifice is unfair.

Removing from school districts the only tool many of them have to stay financially afloat is morally wrong.

Teachers understand there are problems with the system. Some serious talk aimed at fixing problems would make much more sense from a public policy standpoint than inflammatory headlines and rhetoric.

If the energy expended on delivering a media blitz statewide was directed toward solving the funding problem that has plagued Illinois school districts and students for the last 30 years, we probably wouldn’t need ERO.

But we do need it. ERO is fair. It saves local districts millions of dollars. It is good public policy. ERO should be extended.

Anne Davis, President

Illinois Education Association