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Reeder: Petulant IFT boss provides bad lesson in public discourse

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:23PM



Most of us think of educators as people who strive to foster dialog, debate and discussion.

That’s what makes a recent action by the Illinois Federation of Teachers so disappointing.

The state’s second-largest teachers union recently demanded the resignation of Richard Ingram, executive director of the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System.

His alleged sin? He dared to talk about reining in the annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, provided for retired teachers.

Mind you, Ingram didn’t propose an Illinois-specific solution. He just noted to a reporter that other states have tried it.

Here is what Crain’s Chicago Business magazine quoted Ingram as saying: “Look at every other state that’s done pension reform — what have they done? They’ve changed the COLA because that’s where the cost is.”

And Ingram added, “If that is where we need to go in Illinois, then we can do it in a manner that is targeted and effective and protects those that need it the most and, at least to a large extent, gets the job done.”

That was too much for IFT president Dan Montgomery, who issued a news release calling for Ingram to resign.

In a free society that values civil discourse, the best response to someone who says something you disagree with is to offer a rebuttal. At least that was what my teachers taught me, some of whom were IFT members.

Teachers unions have long prided themselves as champions of free speech and academic freedom. But it appears they don’t always practice what they preach.

When pondering how to solve Illinois’ pension crisis, we should expect many ideas to be considered. Teachers are just one stakeholder in this debate. Taxpayers are another.

Rest assured, the IFT’s voice will be heard. It is one of the most powerful political players in the state.

Apparently, the IFT believes that free speech is something worth protecting, as long as they agree with it. Why else would the union be calling for Mr. Ingram to give up his job?

Some states have addressed a pension crisis by trimming COLAs for people collecting huge pensions but protecting the annual raise for those making much less.

For example, former New Trier Township High School District 203 Supt. Henry Bangser receives a public pension of $269,520 per year. And he is guaranteed a compounded cost-of-living raise every year for the rest of his life.

Why not eliminate the COLA for people such as Bangser to protect the future solvency of the pension system for the hard-working teachers who will receive far less in their retirements? It would seem to be a progressive idea.

But the IFT’s Montgomery had this to say in his prepared statement: “It is inappropriate for Mr. Ingram, who is responsible for safeguarding the retirement benefits of 360,000 teachers, to promote his personal views by advocating for the destruction of TRS members’ retirement security.” 

Montgomery also insists that everyone adhere to the same interpretation of the state constitution and pension law that he holds.

One thing is certain — if Illinois does nothing regarding pension reform, the Teachers’ Retirement System and perhaps the state’s four smaller pension funds eventually will go broke.

The key to finding solutions rests in a free and open debate.

TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek said Ingram has no intention of resigning.

“Difficult decisions have to be made (as to pension reform), and there is bound to be differences of opinion,” Urbanek said.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.



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