In 2001 the CTPF was nearly fully funded. By 2009, when Duncan left, it was only 75% funded.
Peter Cunningham, who once was Arne Duncan’s spokesman and now runs an education blog funded with $12 million dollars of Eli Broad money, claims (in a Tweet to my brother Mike Klonsky) that my brother – or maybe he means all Chicago teachers – should be grateful to Arne Duncan for CPS teachers’ high raises and their pensions.
Yet, how grateful should we (or they) be?
(Paul) Vallas, who will submit his proposed $2.9 billion budget to the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees Monday, said he trimmed $161.8 million by reducing 1,700 central office staffers and trades workers; eliminating waste from special education and other departments; and gutting an elaborate program designed to network the district’s computers.
At the same time, he came up with $206.8 million in revenue by contributing less to the teachers pension fund; keeping some of the discretionary funds schools get for low-income students; putting 20 surplus properties up for sale; and shifting to the general fund monies that financed after-school programs at school fieldhouses.
When Duncan succeeded Vallas, he continued with the repurposing of funds that were intended for the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.
In 2001 when Duncan took over CPS, the CTPF was 99% funded. When he left in 2009 to become Obama’s Education Secretary the funding level had dropped to 75% according to the CTPF.
With help from allies in Springfield, the Daley administration pushed to have the pension code rewritten so property tax money that normally went to pensions would go to Chicago Public Schools coffers. Under the old law, the district’s pension bill was slated to be $93 million in 1995. Instead, it paid just $10 million.
CPS officials went back to Springfield the following year and had the law changed again. This time, the district would have to put money into the pension only if the fund’s level fell below 90 percent.
For the next decade, the district’s contribution to the retirement of tens of thousands of public school teachers was zero. In all, the pension holiday cost the teachers fund more than $1.5 billion from 1995 to 2009, according to fund documents. The state was supposed to help soften the blow by contributing to the fund, but that never happened.
At first, the pension fund was able to make up the difference with investment income, thanks in no small part to an overheated stock market fueled by the tech bubble. When that burst in 2000, however, the returns fell. Together with the massive pension holiday and a string of benefits increases averaging about 6.4 percent a year, the pension’s funding level started slipping, fund documents show.
Peter Cunningham. You’re a communications expert. We are supposed to be grateful to Arne Duncan for his work on preserving teacher pensions.