Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported a story on a union lobbyist suing over recent pension benefit cuts. The catch? He only taught for one day as a substitute teacher in order to exploit a loophole in state law.
Under an obscure 2007 Illinois law, passed under former Governor Rod Blagojevich (yes, the one who was convicted and removed from office), union officials could participate in the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System by teaching for a single day. Moreover, they could count their time with the Illinois Federation of Teachers toward a teacher pension. In response, two teacher union lobbyists, David Piccioli and Steven Preckwinkle each taught for a single day in Springfield, Illinois schools. (Who knows what, if anything, the two lobbyists taught their students in those two days.)
A one-day service requirement stands in sharp contrast to the 10 year minimum service requirement that Illinois legislators adopted for teachers in 2011. Any teacher hired on or after 2011 must serve 10 years in order to qualify for a minimum pension benefit. A teacher who teaches for 9 years just falls short, earning neither pension benefits nor Social Security for her time in the classroom. Heightening the absurdity, the lobbyists made substantively more in salary, the Tribune reported six figures each, than a typical public school teacher. And because pension formulas hinge on service time and final average salary, a higher salary will dramatically boost the pension benefit.
Later laws have since revoked the provision allowing union employee service credit to count toward a teacher pension. But both lobbyists have remained in the state teacher pension system, and Piccioli is now suing for his benefits.
In fact, if Piccioli wins, the state will be on the hook for paying even more in his retirement benefits for years, all for a single day of probably not great teaching. None of this is in the interest of schools, teachers, or students, and it stands in stark contrast to how the state is treating its full-time teachers.