Suburban teachers protest pension changes at Capitol

SPRINGFIELD — As no deal on curbing the state’s rising retirement costs appears imminent, suburban teachers were among a throng of workers at the Illinois Capitol Thursday urging lawmakers not to cut their pension benefits.

Sunday could start a possible three-day showdown over the issue before a new class of lawmakers is sworn in Jan. 9.

Union leaders want officials to wait until mid-January to begin negotiations anew, and teachers continue to argue that the state’s massive retirement fund debt was caused by politicians, not them.

“I’ve done what’s been asked of me,” said Ann Buch, a second grade teacher from Arlington Heights Elementary District 25. “I care very much about what I do.”

Teachers in the suburbs have had to watch this past year as lawmakers have debated cutting their retirement benefits.

On Thursday, Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, tweaked a proposal that would reduce benefits for state workers and lawmakers, but not teachers. He urged the Illinois House to approve his plan early next week and try to work out a deal on teachers later.

But suburban Democratic Reps. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Daniel Biss of Evanston have been touting a proposal that would make teachers work longer before they retire, cut their annual pension benefit hikes and put new teachers in a less generous retirement plan.

They argue the state must cut teachers’ benefits to save the state enough money.

That’s why suburban teachers are watching so closely. Rainy Kaplan, a Spanish teacher at Westmont Community School District 201, said she wanted to demonstrate in Springfield because her husband is a retired teacher and many of her family and friends are teachers.

“Everything about my life could change in this lame-duck session,” Kaplan said.

Union members and supporters rally for fair pension reform in the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield Thursday. Associated Press
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