I have been a teacher in the Homewood community for more than twenty years. I am also a proud member of the Illinois Education Association. Today, however, I wear the hat of a citizen, a resident of Homewood. I want our community and ALL Illinois communities to understand the ramifications of Governor Quinn's Pension Proposal. It will not only affect me as a teacher. It will greatly affect the students in Homewood and all students in Illinois, now and well into the future.
First of all, understand that the villain in this crisis is Illinois government. Over the past several decades, the General Assembly has used our pension fund like a credit card. Many years, they have not contributed their share toward the pension fund, as stipulated in the Illinois Constitution. Instead, monies were diverted for other needs in Illinois. Meanwhile, teachers and school districts have paid their fair share each year. Now, like a credit card, the interest is too high and Illinois is facing a much higher pension price than would have been necessary if the bill had been paid on time year after year.
Now, in 2012, after many years of misuse of the pension fund on the part of state government, Governor Quinn feels that he "was put on this earth to solve the pension crisis". And, how does he plan on doing that? He will place the burden on teachers and the districts in which they teach. By law, teachers contribute 9.4% of each paycheck to their pension fund. Governor Quinn's proposal would raise that to over 13%. This is grossly unfair when teachers have paid their fair share. Also, it is in violation of the Illinois Constitution. Another part of his plan is putting part of the pension burden on the school districts themselves. In other words, he is putting the burden on our children. In Homewood, the Governor's proposal would cost Homewood 153 an estimated $1,000,000 annually. Add to that the proposed cuts in General State Aid and transportation, and the state making even less allotted scheduled payments in the future, and Homewood will pay over $2,000,000 more than it currently does each year. The Homewood community overwhelmingly passed a referendum last year and the Homewood teachers have already taken a pay freeze. The district has made the budget cuts it can without reducing staff and programs. We simply do not have the money to pay these added costs.
So, what will happen in Homewood if Governor Quinn's proposal comes to fruition? Hard decisions would have to be made. Personnel would have to be reduced. The very core of what Homewood prides itself on is what we are able to do for kids. Gone may be extracurricular activities, art and music classes, music programs, small class sizes, and so on and so on.... Who will lose out? The children will suffer because the quality of education will not be the same. Is it fair to put the pension burden on our children, our future?
We all know that if our schools are not doing well, the health of our community will soon decline as well. If Homewood cannot pay its bills because we lack the "surplus" funds that Governor Quinn seems to think all districts have, what will happen? Our students, our teachers, and our community will all pay the price for the mismanagement of funds by our General Assembly over many, many years. The price is too high. Everyone should be outraged by Quinn's proposal. Everyone needs to speak up. Contact your senators and representatives and demand fairness. Our kids are our future. We cannot fail them. They did nothing wrong. They are the innocent bystanders in this madness.