CTU Rally, February 4th, 2016, where I and 5,000 other people protested the latest school budget cuts and layoffs. I’m with Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, holding up my sign, “I don’t want 2B pushed out of teaching, Rahm (Emanuel).” Photo courtesy of Sarah Jane Rhee.
It’s been very hard for me to write about teaching as of late. I think most of my friends and family know I’ve had a rough year stemming from work-related issues as well as just life stuff. I changed schools- this is my fourth school in 4.5 years. I moved twice within 7 months. I found out about my Tier II pension plan just a few months ago. And all of it, alongside the current budget crisis in Chicago Public Schools, is making me seriously consider leaving Chicago.
I love teaching. I love my current school. I have a great staff, and wonderful students. We work together not just on academics but so much social-emotional building. I finally feel like, in my fourth year, I sort of know what I’m doing. And it’s showing. (When I get to teach, anyway. Don’t get me started on the 3+ weeks of MAP/NWEA and ACCESS testing I and my students have just gone through, or the long teacher evaluation cycles, or the mounds of IEPs I have to write in the next few weeks).
What is pushing me out of Chicago right now is, really, not teaching and the stresses of it. I feel okay about that. Rather, it’s a combination of two things:
- The instability that is Chicago Public Schools.
- The Tier II Illinois pension plan I’m under.
Point #1: The hot mess that is CPS.
As y’all may know, Chicago Public Schools is going through its own crises- caused by years of pension holidays, spending of assets it should have been holding onto, funds like TIFs being spent on things other than schools, underfunding from Illinois state government (which hasn’t passed a budget in almost a year), and corrupt contracts (like the one that got our former schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, federally indicted), among other things.
In response, CPS is trying to cut promised teacher salaries and benefits alongside threatening layoffs. My union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), rightfully rejected a contract that would have had 2,000 educators, or 1/10 of our workforce, early retire for some bonus money, OR reopen the contract if not enough teachers early retired.
And now Chicago Public Schools, a day after that rejection, announced it would cut a 7% pension pickup 26 days from now, meaning I lose 7% of my paycheck soon.
More importantly, 1,000 educators will likely be laid off in the next two weeks, according to CPS budgets and principal discretion (of course CPS tosses the hard decisions to the principals). This is on top of layoffs that just happened summer 2015, and on top of the closure of 50 public schools in Chicago June 2013 and the subsequent pushout of teachers. I, as always, could be one of those layoffs, as an untenured teacher.
I can deal with layoffs, as I’m a young special education teacher with 3+ years experience and would probably find a job quickly. But I’m so tired of saying goodbye to yet another group of students, another school, another set of staff. I’m so tired of crying over this. I’m so tired of the tears shed when I think of all the students I’ve had to leave. I’m so tired of living in fear that I could lose my job any minute. I hate living in fear.
Of course, we’re going to fight this. 88% of voting members of CTU voted to authorize a strike when CTU was ready. We had 5,000 people blocking Congress Parkway and the entrance to the Eisenhower Expressway Thursday night.
But ugh, how demoralizing is this? How defeating?
Multiple veteran teachers who’ve taught 20+ years have told me it’s never been this bad in Chicago Public Schools. “If I were you, I would run.” I’ve been given this advice over the past 4 years by too many people.
Point #2: how young teachers get screwed under Tier II of Illinois’ pension plan:
Here is a chart of the differences between Tier I and II of Illinois’ current pension plan.
I’m sure I’m missing something, but here’s what I see with these plans:
- Tier I candidates are teachers who paid into teacher pensions before Jan. 1st, 2011. Tier II candidates are teachers who paid in after Jan. 1st, 2011.
- Tier 1 candidates could theoretically retire at 55, if they put in all their years. For a full pension, Tier II retire at 67. A TWELVE-YEAR difference.
- Caps for earnings for Tier I employees are higher than Tier II. By a LOT.
Now, I have always, ALWAYS meant to be a lifelong teacher. I graduated from Columbia in May 2011, at 22 years old, and started at CPS in August 2011.
I missed Tier I by a few months. Looking at this chart, literally, if I had finished college a year earlier, or I was born a year earlier, I would be at Tier I. I could retire with a pension at 55. After working 33.95 years, meaning I could retire at 56.
Under Tier II? I would get a full pension at 67. After working 44 years. FORTY-FOUR YEARS. I would have to work 12 more years, just because I happened to be born a year later. Moreover, I wouldn’t get half my pension at 62. After working 39 years, THIRTY-NINE YEARS, I wouldn’t get HALF my pension.
I get that pensions are political and the cause of our debt crisis in Illinois, and I get that compromises have to be made to get this together. But I CANNOT help but be extremely resentful. The economic crises of Illinois are being carried on young teachers’ backs.
When a financial guy in charge of my 403(b) retirement plan tells me, “Annie, go to ANY OTHER STATE than Illinois. The pensions are the most poorly funded in all of the United States. Literally any other state would be better than Illinois,” that’s when I need to seriously consider leaving Chicago and Illinois.
Someone at CTU told me they’re filing a lawsuit because we would get less under Tier II of a pension than we would under social security. Mind you, teachers do NOT pay into social security. I don’t know if I can wait for that lawsuit, or for laws to change. I frankly don’t think there will be a pension for any of us moving forward if funding solutions don’t come into place.
I still want to teach. I still want to be with students. I just don’t know if Chicago is the place to do it. I am tired of feeling crazy in this system when I know I’m not the crazy one. I’m not the only teacher feeling this.
I haven’t made my decision yet. I do want to be closer to NYC, where my parents are, but I have lots of things to consider. The logical choice would be Philadelphia, where I could still afford housing, where there’s an active social justice unionism and public education movement happening, and where my brother is.
A lot of me still wants to fight this system. Some of me thinks it’s masochistic to keep fighting to teach. Most of me know I can’t keep crying all the time about this system that so disrespects teachers. And I don’t want to continually be shattered by the chaos here in Chicago Public Schools. But who knows? It could be worse somewhere else.
The sad part is that this is exactly what Chicago Public Schools wants. To push teachers out before they get experienced- experienced teachers cost more. To privatize education because it’s cheaper and no longer the responsibility of the government.
“Every child, every school” is printed on my CPS ID card. What a joke.
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.