My top blog posts of 2019.

Kiss it goodbye.

120617egrandywieck02tdeExclusive to this blog from Kentucky teacher and pension activist Randy Wieck.

Here is an update on Kentucky teacher pension: KISS IT GOOD-BYE

Kentucky public school teachers were recently told by Governor Matt Bevin, that if the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected recent Senate Bill 151, (known in Kentucky as the Sewage Bill – all mentions of sewage were replaced with wording referring to teacher pensions in order to rush the bill through the legislature in the waning hours of the previous session) the teachers “could kiss your pension good-bye.”

The Supreme Court then proceeded to kiss SB 151 good-bye on procedural grounds.

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, the national credit rating agency Moody’s held that the court ruling was considered a “credit negative” for the pension as there was really no indication new funding was envisioned for the pension.

And as if that were not enough, Fitch rating agency stated in the last few days (January, 2019) that Governor Bevin’s proposed pension fix didn’t really address the underlying problem of underfunding.

This was a rebuke to the Governor’s claim that the “reforms” he had attempted to push through in the Sewage Bill 151 would “save” the Kentucky teacher pension, primarily by placing new hires in a 401K-style plan (effectively cutting off funding to the current plan).

Now, Republicans – who hold super majorities in both houses of the Kentucky legislature – have formed a working committee to “study” the teacher pension – and arrive at solutions to the problem.

This comes after actuarial study after expensive actuarial study (all effectively ignored by several Kentucky governors and legislatures) during the past 14 years have told Kentucky it needs to honor the ARC, (actuarial required contribution).

This new working committee can extend its working mandate if it so chooses, all the way to December, 2019.

Many would call the committee a new Flimflam Machine designed to forestall any hard decision that might result in properly funding the Kentucky teacher pension. How many more “studies” must be made? There is really only one determination that this committee could HONESTLY arrive at: FULLY fund the ARC of the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System, which – to restore the plan to a healthy level (around 90% funded) after years of plundering it to fund other projects – is estimated at roughly $2 billion per YEAR (GASB 67 rules) for the next 20 years or so, and this must be done WITHOUT taking money from the retiree health trust fund, $500 million of which was skimmed in the last budget, robbing Peter and repay Paul.

Will we Kentucky teachers ever learn?

WILL KY TEACHERS EVER WAKE UP TO THIS ONGOING SCAM?

– January 12, 2019

The Arne Duncan Rumor.

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If you don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time on social media you might have missed the breaking news the other day that Lori Lightfoot had put Arne Duncan on her transition team.

The news wasn’t that she planned to do it.

It was a fact.

And that fact – with no sources cited – was repeated and repeated and repeated.

Only it wasn’t true.

“Facebook friends” said that they knew it was true because they were told it was a fact at a CTU House of Delegates meeting. But I don’t know if that even happened.

Sometimes social media can be toxic.

If you live in the regular world of people who don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time scanning Twitter and Facebook, the Arne Duncan story may have gone right by you.

Other things may occupy your life. Like the poor pitching start of the Cubs. Or our government caging immigrants under an underpass of a freeway in El Paso.

At this point Anne told me to get off social media.

“Go take Ulysses for a walk,” she told me.

The next day, when Lori Lightfoot announced her transition team there was no Arne Duncan.

“This doesn’t mean it will never happen,” someone tweeted.

No. I suppose it doesn’t.

Living in The Trump World we can never claim that something will never happen.

I do, however, have a rule about social media rumors.

Ask for sources.

Wait 24 hours.

It is not a secret that I supported and voted for Lori Lightfoot,

For Chicago, like the nation in last year’s mid-term (and hopefully again in 2020) – Tuesday was a change election. It changed the City Council and the mayor’s office for the better.

It would be a shame if a small group of those on the Left who supported Toni Preckwinkle spend the next four years sniping and making stuff up about the mayor.

I have no doubt there will be real stuff to fight for and against. Those of us who are justifiably skeptical and critical of the way things are have a responsibility to hold those in power accountable.

There’s just no reason to make anything up.

That kind of opposition reminds me of the days of the Vrydolak 29 and Harold Washington.

So far, for me, the real news has been good: Support for an elected school board, demands for the feds to re-open the Laquan McDonald investigation, challenging aldermanic prerogative, standing up to Eddie Burke’s threats, looking into ways to stop or put limits of Lincoln Yards and expanding the powers of the Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

And it’s only Saturday.

-April 6, 2019

L.A. teachers are on strike. Arne Duncan is an idiot.

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31,000 teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors are walking in the rain in Los Angeles on strike.

The walkout began this morning.

At 10 schools, non-teaching employees will take part in a sympathy strike.

In addition to salary, a central issue is class size.

At Bancoft Junior High School (now Middle School) where I was a student 55 years ago, teachers have set up a GoFundMe site for strike support.

Which reminded me of Arne Duncan.

Duncan recently emerged from wherever he’s been to pen an article for The Hill attacking the L.A. teachers union for striking.

Let’s never forget the impact of a potential strike on Los Angeles’ most vulnerable students. Students who live in poverty and who are already behind will spend days or weeks not learning in the classroom. And we are talking about children who rely on school for two meals a day and whose parents are counting on those schools to be open so that their kids can be in a safe place while they’re hard at work.

It’s just like a family, when adults fight, it’s kids that lose.

Never mind that the central demands of the UTLA are focused on improving the teaching and learning conditions of what Duncan calls the city’s most vulnerable students.

Those students missing school did not seem an issue last May when Duncan and his old pal from the Obama Department of Education, Peter Cunningham, called on those same students’ parents to keep them home and to boycott school.

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By the way, Peter Cunningham is now a chief strategist for Bill Daley’s campaign for Chicago mayor.

Do you need further proof that Duncan is an idiot?

This is the same Arne Duncan who said in 2010, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”

I strongly suggest you read Glen Sacks response to Arne Duncan.

Glenn Sacks is an LAUSD social studies teacher and UTLA co-chair at his high school.

The Chicago Teachers Union contract with CPS expires this year. As in Los Angeles, class size limits will be one focus of bargaining.

Meanwhile, send a couple of bucks to my striking teaching colleagues at my old Bancroft Middle School.

When you’re walking a picket line in the rain and somebody shows up with donuts and coffee, it gives you a great feeling to see concrete support.

I know.

I’ve been there.

-January 14, 2019

Denver teachers strike over merit pay. An Obama-era school reform. First strike in 25 years.

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Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association at 160 public schools initiated the city’s first teachers strike in 25 years Monday morning after Gov. Jared Polis declined to intervene in their compensation dispute and 11th-hour contract talks with district leaders fell apart over the weekend.

The strike follows 15 months of negotiations over salary centered on the decade old practice of merit pay.

Under the current contract, teachers received so-called merit based bonuses for student performance on tests in a process that was impossible for most teachers to understand.

What began last year as the Red State Teacher Revolt has spread to red states and blue states.

Last month teachers in L.A. walked out for a week demanding smaller class sizes.

Denver’s strike is targeting a key piece of corporate school reform.

The theory is that you can improve school performance without spending more money. It calls for competition for resources among teachers, pitting one against the other.

It was a nation-wide experiment in educational social-Darwinism that has now shown to be a another corporate-driven reform failure.

In Denver the project is called ProComp, agreed to by the teachers union in 2006, it was hailed as a national model. It was later incorporated nationally in programs like Race to the Top, created by Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary.

ProComp and Race to the Top included more testing of students in order to gather evidence for the merit bonuses.

A win by striking Denver teachers and an end to the merit pay reform will be a win for students and parents as well, Not only will general teachers salaries improve, but the massive and bureaucratic testing system that supported the merit pay bonus plan may well be discarded.

-February 11, 1019

The time bomb that is Tier II.

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Remember a couple of weeks ago I had a discussion with Illinois State Representative Robert Martwick.

Martwick chairs the House Personnel and Pensions Committee. The have been holding hearings about what to do with the Tier II time bomb.

Let’s go back to 2010 when the Illinois legislature drank some pension reform kool aid and passed the bill that created Tier II. As if often the case, legislators acted without knowledge. It was all about what Madigan wanted.

A week earlier, the Illinois Education Association held its annual Representative Assembly. Ken Swanson was president of the IEA.

With the understanding that our pensions were secure by contract and constitutional protection, the IEA had a policy of directing its lobbyists not to appear willing to bargain a change in teacher pension benefits.

Swanson warned the delegates to the convention that our policy had to change or Madigan would act without any input from us. We had to be at the table. We had to let our lobbyists talk with legislators about pension reform.

I took to the microphone and literally begged the delegates not to go along with what Swanson was asking. I argued that if we agreed to Swanson’s request it would send the message to Speaker Madigan that we were willing to bargain something that was already in a locked box.

I lost the argument. Delegates voted with Swanson. A week later, with no hearings and no public input, in less than ten hours of legislative action, Tier II was passed.

Under Tier II, teachers hired after January 1, 2011 would pay 9 percent of their salary into the pension system, the same as Tier 1 employees. Of that amount, however, only 7 percent is actually used to fund those employees’ pensions. The other 2 percent goes to pay down the unfunded liability of the Tier 1 employees.

Tier 2 employees receive reduced benefits. The must work significantly longer until they  can receive a pension.

Post retirement raises are are capped at either half the previous year’s rate of inflation or 3 percent, whichever is less.

The time bomb aspect of the deal is that it is quite likely that the actual benefit will not meet the “safe harbor” requirements of the federal government and Social Security.

As we have said over and over and over again, those in the Teacher Retirement System do not receive Social Security. This saves school district’s a ton of money since they do not have to match what would be Tier I teachers Social Security contributions as employers in the private sector have to do.

But if it turns out, as is most likely, that Tier II teacher pension benefits do not equal the safe harbor of Social Security benefits, local school districts will be on the hook for the difference.

And all the back payments since 2011. Billions of dollars.

Testifying before Martwick’s committee Andrew Bodewes, TRS’s legislative director said,

“So that means once the Tier 2 teachers are retiring, each and every school district will have to perform a test on that member to see if they get a benefit at least as good as Social Security. And if they don’t, they (the school districts) will have to enroll in Social Security. They’ll have to enroll going backwards.”

That means school districts would have to make as much as 10 years’ worth of back payments into Social Security.

“This is not a TRS issue. We will not be involved in any way, shape or form,” Bodewes said. “This is a school district issue. It will come at an enormous cost to the school districts, both from an administrative cost and the additional cost, 6.2 percent of pay, that’s associated with Social Security.”

Officials from other pension systems – state universities, municipal employees and downstate firefighters, to name a few – also told lawmakers that the Tier 2 system was making it difficult to attract and retain employees. Some also mentioned the awkwardness of having two sets of employees working side-by-side, doing the same job, and earning vastly different pension benefits, with one group of employees paying a premium to subsidize pensions for the other group.

“When are we going to start being honest with the people that you folks work for and tell them they’re getting screwed by Tier 2 and pretty soon there are going to be chickens all over the place coming home to roost,” Rep. Steven Reick, a Woodstock Republican, asked at one point during the hearing.

While the Illinois Federation of Teachers and other groups representing public retirees in Illinois testified before Martwick’s committee, it doesn’t appear the IEA was at the table.

-March 16, 2019

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