I got an email this morning from TRS (Teachers’ Retirement System). Here is what it says:
“In recent weeks, a new website identifying 30,000 TRS members as a “$100,000+ Salary & Pension Club” has been circulated via social media and several news sites.
The website was created by the OpenTheBooks.com watchdog organization. In Forbesmagazine, the group said that Illinois is home to “the most out-of-control” and “corrupted… education pay-and-pension systems…”
However, a closer look at the numbers shows that membership in this “$100 K Club” was the exception for Illinois teachers, not the rule.
TRS provided the group with records through a Freedom of Information Act request. There were 30,492 active or retired TRS members in 2017 who either received a salary or a pension of $100,000 or more.
But here’s what OpenTheBooks.com chose not to mention:
- There were a total of 268,608 active and retired TRS members in 2017. Therefore, the $100 K Club comprised just 11.4 percent of these TRS members. In other words, 88.6 percent of active and retired teachers in Illinois were not members of the $100 K Club.
- School districts throughout Illinois paid 18,760 teachers a salary of $100,000 or more in 2017, out of a total of 160,488 active members.
- There were 11,732 retired members receiving a pension of $100,000 or more in 2017 – out of a total of 108,120.
- The average active TRS member salary in 2017 was $71,773. The average TRS pension in 2017 was $54,180.
The website created by the OpenTheBooks.com enables anyone to search a map of Illinois and pinpoint all TRS members who received either a salary or a TRS pension of $100,000 or more in 2017.
TRS did not provide OpenTheBooks.com with any member addresses or other personally identifiable information, but was required by the FOIA law to sort member salary and pension information by the school districts where active members were employed and by the last districts that employed retired members.
I didn’t see the post on social media or see the article in Forbes, but I’m willing to bet the point of it was to demonize those people in the $100,000+ range.
So, not that this is any of your business, but it is public information since my salary is paid using taxpayer dollars, I’m going to give you some salary information about me. My current salary is in the 90’s. There are 2 years left on our current contract. I am currently in the master’s + 15 column and on step 29. I have 18 hours beyond my master’s degree. The next column on the salary schedule is master’s + 30. I’ve set a goal to be in that column when we start the final year on the contract. I’m taking a grad class this summer. I’ll take one this fall. I’ll take one in the spring. And I’ll take one next summer. That will get me the 12 hours I need. Why do I want to be in that column so badly at step 31 (which means number of years of teaching experience, BTW)? Because at step 31 in the column where I have a master’s degree and 30 graduate hours beyond that degree, I will hit the $100,000 mark. Which means I’ll be part of that “club” that is apparently the root of all financial evil in Illinois. I call BS. I’ve earned that salary. I’ve worked diligently for literally decades for my district and I’ve developed myself professionally to get to that point. Nobody can shame me for that salary. I deserve it.
Now, the pensions? Well, let’s operate from an assumption that those retired teachers got those $100K pensions through high salary bumps and double dipping instead of hard work and dedication. Loopholes in the laws allowed those high salary bumps and double dips. When offered a loophole, were these teachers supposed to say, “No thanks”? Would YOU? You’re five years from retirement and someone offers you a legal way to noticably ramp up what you’ll get when you retire, do you say no? If you don’t like the loopholes, fix them. Find the laws you don’t like and pressure your legislator to change the laws. Some loopholes have already been fixed, like salary bumps. Not sure about the double dipping, though. I’ll do my research, though, and you can, too.
Ultimately, I know this blame game is because the pension system in Illinois is the hottest of hot messes. Again, not the fault of the teachers. We’ve paid faithfully into TRS every paycheck of our careers. The pension funds were raided by the state itself. But somehow the teachers keep getting blamed. It’s ridiculous. I am so sick of being seen as overpaid, underworked, pampered, and privileged because I’m a teacher.
I EARN my salary. And when I retire, I will have EARNED my pension.