Anger over pensions blocks solution

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted5/17/2012 5:00 AM

"Second Naperville District 203 teacher claims Golden Apple prize."

"Area schools ranked among best in state, nation by U.S. News & World Report."


"Buffalo Grove sixth grader gets perfect SAT math score."

"U-46 board recognizes Class of 2012 academic high achievers."

Headlines like these in our pages in recent weeks remind us of our public schools' roles in anchoring our quality of life in the suburbs. And not just for those with children at home, but also for anyone who hopes to see his or her community prosper.

Lately, though, ideals of superior suburban schools have collided with a crisis of funding, largely stemming from the state's failure to meet its obligations in an era of economic turmoil.

Teacher pensions are the fulcrum of the debate, which is heating up as Illinois lawmakers strategize over several proposals in their rush toward a May 31 deadline for approving a state budget that goes into effect July 1. The various Democrat-driven proposals would cut pension benefits for teachers and state workers, raise their retirement age, and push the state's share of payments for teacher retirement onto someone else -- with suburban taxpayers arguably being the most likely "someone."

With this classic battle over scarce resources as the setup, the rhetoric on every side fuels a conversation that is growing ever more nasty and divisive. Teachers are angry at the prospect of cutbacks in benefits promised to them. Taxpayers are angry over the thought of paying more for retirement benefits that are often more generous than their own.

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But pitting teachers against taxpayers and schools against their communities won't lead to an equitable solution. It could irreparably harm one of the suburbs' most alluring attractions -- the reputation for great public schools.

That's not to say we side wholly with the teachers unions. Or with Democratic lawmakers who seem bent on having the suburbs pay, while glossing over the legislature's share of guilt in creating the crisis.

We don't side with any of them because, unfortunately, no one side can win. There's no money to fund the status quo. The time for lines in the sand is long past.

Rather than falling for the spin doctors on every side whose tactic is to push the debate to become more shrill and destructive, everyone who cares about the future of our schools needs to tone it down and work toward a solution that's as fair as it can be to everyone involved -- including our students. Calm and logic are what's needed, and facts rather than "talking points."

A lot is at stake for the future of our suburban schools, and thus for the future of our towns.

Let's remember that's something we all agree on.

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