When Mary Ellen Barbezat started her teaching career in Elgin Area School District U-46 in 1965, the profession was attracting the best and brightest university students and teachers were well respected.
Now, Barbezat, who is retired, said proposed changes to the Illinois pension system and other austerity measures are unfairly putting the state's financial burden on the backs of teachers.
She joined about three dozen protesters in front of Sen. Michael Noland's office in downtown Elgin Friday to rally against Gov. Patrick Quinn's proposal that would increase individual contributions to the Teacher Retirement System and raise the retirement age to 67. Noland, a Democrat representing the 22nd District, is a member of Quinn's Pension Reform Commission.
"The red carpet was unrolled for us," said Barbezat of Elgin. "It breaks my heart to see what is happening to my profession. I am worried about what this means for new teachers in the state of Illinois. Legislators are using public schools as a scapegoat instead of putting money into them."
Protesters representing Occupy groups from Aurora, Elgin and Naperville, as well as Northern Illinois Jobs With Justice, successfully drew Noland to answer questions about proposed reforms. However, Noland said he was unsure why the group was targeting him.
"I am on your side and the fact that you are here is a mystery to me," Noland said. "I understand that you are frustrated with the process so far."
Noland said leaders of certain labor groups had misled members.
"We are not attempting to balance the budget on the backs of teachers," Noland said.
John Laesch, a member of the Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice steering committee, said the rich need to pay their fair share.
"We want the opportunity to at least have our voices heard," said Laesch, a union carpenter. "We want adequate funding for the TRS and a vehicle to do that is a graduated income tax taxing the rich."